As a kid, I always found that a plate full of salad was about as appetizing as a plate full of dirt, grass, worms and tree bark from the forest. I would think, "Mom, how can you expect me to eat this"? But when my mom served snacks of baby carrots or cucumber spears, I gobbled them right down. When I was old enough to hold a trowel and plant a seed, my parents involved me in growing my favorite snacks in the family garden. I can remember running out to the garden, excited to see the first harvest of the season. As the plants grew, so did my enthusiasm. I’d even wake up early to sneak out and eat fresh, edible-podded snap peas before my brother snagged the biggest ones!
Why not bring the excitement of participation to your family this summer by creating an organic garden that will produce delicious vegetables that are easy to snack on! There are lots of easy to grow, healthy vegetables that your kids and you will love to snack on, including carrots, snap peas, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and kale.
Don’t tell the kids, but there are some major health benefits of these wholesome, easy-to-snack-on veggies!
- Carrots are high in fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamin A, which helps keep eyes healthy.
- Snap peas provide Vitamins A, C, and K, which helps build strong bones by aiding in the proper use of calcium in the body.
- Cucumbers have a high content of lignans, which may lower the chances of developing some kinds of cancers. Cucumbers also deliver vitamin K and lots of crunch for very few calories.
- Colorful cherry tomatoes are a good source of the healthful antioxidant, lycopene, along with fiber, and vitamins.
- Kale is arguably the healthiest vegetable on the planet -- rich in calcium; vitamins A, C and K; antioxidants; and fiber!
- And all these vegetables are low in saturated fats and sodium, two things that are found in high amounts in many convenience food snacks. Now there should be no question in your mind that replacing the packaged, “on-the-go” snacks that children often eat, which are high in sugar, sodium, and unhealthy saturated fats, with these nutritious and delicious vegetable snacks is a good move!
Let’s start to plant! Here are some tips for “snackable” success. Find lots more about growing these vegetables at www.garden.org.
Snap peas are early birds, ready to go in the ground as soon as the soil is dry enough to work in the spring. Peas grow well when the weather is cool, but seeds planted in cold, wet soil sometimes rot before they germinate. To get your peas off to a reliable early start, pre-germinate your pea seeds indoors. Place the seeds between moist paper towels enclosed in a plastic bag or container and set in a dark spot at room temperature. Check after 24 hours. Once you see tiny roots beginning to emerge from the seeds, they are ready to go in the ground. Handle them carefully so you don't snap off the roots and don't let them dry out. Pre-germination usually takes just 1-3 days. Provide your pea vines with a support around which their tendrils can curl; be sure to set it in place before you plant your seeds. Once the harvest starts, pick the pods frequently – a great jobs for kids! Snap peas are at their most delectable, crunchy best when the pods start to fatten but the before the seeds inside really begin to swell.
Kale is the belle of the vegetable garden ball. Blue-green curled kale is as lovely as a bouquet; lacy-leaved 'Red Russian' provides color and texture; and lacinato, also called Tuscan or dinosaur kale, has long, puckered leaves that are especially tender. Whichever variety you grow, kale is a nutritional superstar. Seeds of cold hardy kale can be planted as much as a month before the last spring frost date. Begin harvesting individual leaves as soon as they reach usable size. Kale also makes a good fall crop; in fact, it tastes the sweetest when it’s picked after it has been touched by frost. Start seeds 10-12 weeks before the fall frost date for a late season harvest.
Carrots are probably the veggie kids love to harvest most. Pulling a bright orange carrot out of the soil is like unearthing buried treasure. For easy snacking, grow short varieties like the 1-2 inch long, round Parisian market types. After a quick wash, kids can pop them right into their mouths. Seeds can go in the ground as early as 3 weeks before the last spring frost date. Seeds are tiny, so for kid-friendly planting look for pelleted seed, with the individual seeds encased in a natural clay coating so they are easier to handle. Carrot seeds are also slow to germinate, so mix them with some
quick sprouting radish seeds at planting time. The radish plants will mark where the carrot seeds are planted, and their sprouting will break up the soil crust, making it easier for the carrot seedlings to pop up. Plus when you harvest the radishes, you’ll automatically thin the carrots. And as a bonus, radishes are a snackable veggie, too!
Cherry tomatoes are warmth lovers, so wait a week or two after the last frost date to set plants in the garden. Started transplants are widely available at greenhouses and garden stores, but if you are ambitious you can start your own from seed 6 to 8 weeks before your setting out date. Just be sure your seedlings get plenty of light so they grow strong and sturdy. Growing plants under fluorescent grow lights is the most practical option for most home gardeners. Give your tomato plants support with stakes or a wire cage. This keeps leaves and ripening tomatoes off the ground and makes for harvesting right at kid level.
Cucumbers also like it warm. Don’t rush your planting -- wait until the soil is nice and warm and all danger of frost is past. Cukes are fast-growing and don’t transplant easily, so sowing the seeds directly in the garden works well. But if you’re shooting for the earliest harvest, you can start seeds indoors in individual peat pots 3-4 weeks before the set-out date, and then transplant young plants carefully, pot and all, into the garden. Unless you are growing bush varieties, give cucumber vines some support to climb up, such as a trellis. Juicy cukes are mostly water, so keeping the soil consistently moist (but not soggy) is vital for producing tasty cukes. For a unique harvest, grow lemon cucumbers. These small, round, pale yellow cukes are especially sweet and flavorful.
Consider serving the veggies from the garden to your kids with a homemade dip! A few recipe ideas are provided below. The hummus dip will increase the amount of fiber and protein that your kids get, which will help to keep them full for longer. It also helps to maintain blood sugar levels. Hummus has a high amount of fat but it’s good fat from olive oil and sesame paste, not saturated fat. The sight of good and fat in the same sentence may leave you scratching your head. However, the fats in the dips help make the healthful phytonutrients, like carotenoids, more available for absorption in the body. The recipe for the yogurt dip is another healthy choice to enhance the vegetable snacks. The yogurt-based dip is a good source of calcium, which is important for your kids’ growing bones. While your kids are having fun dipping into these tasty snacks, these combos will curb their appetites and deliver important nutrients. Involve your kids in the process of making these basic dips for the veggies that you grow, and you’ll find lots more veggie enthusiasm!
- 1 15-oz can chickpeas
- Juice from one large lemon
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp cumin
- 2-3 tbsp water
- ¼ tsp paprika (optional)
- Drain the can of chickpeas and rinse.
- Using a food processor or blender, blend together half of the chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt, and cumin for 1 minute at low speed stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Continue to blend and scrape for another minute until ingredients are combined.
- Add remaining chickpeas and blend until smooth, about 1 minute.
- With the food processor or blender on, slowly add the water to further smooth out the hummus to your desired consistency.
- Transfer hummus to serving dish and garnish with paprika (if desired).
Store hummus in refrigerator in an airtight container for up to one week.
YOGURT BASED VEGGIE DIP
- 1 ½ cups plain Greek yogurt
- Flavoring options (select 4 or more as desired):
- 1 tsp chopped chives
- 1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tsp chopped dill
- ½ tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp finely chopped onion
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp chopped cilantro
- 2 tbsp finely chopped cucumber
- 2 tbsp finely chopped carrot
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Combine yogurt and selected herbs and spices in a large bowl and mix well to combine.
- Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.
- Enjoy the next day with fresh veggies.
DEHYDRATED KALE CHIPS
- 1 bunch of kale
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp sea salt
- Wash kale under cool running water and throughly dry with lint free cloth or paper towels.
- Tear dry kale leaves into medium to large pieces removing the stem.
- In a large bowl gently toss with sea salt and olive oil.
- Place coated pieces in a single layer on dehydrator trays.
- Stack trays onto dehydrator base and dry for 2 hours.
- Remove finished kale chips from the dehydrator and serve.
NOTE: If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can bake your chips in the oven!
Preheat oven to 325ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Follow instructions as noted above for steps 1-4, spreading the kale on prepared baking sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes turning half way through cooking time.