Given the incredible weather we’ve had this summer, the harvest is well ahead of schedule, so look to your garden for fun harvest activities. What better way to bring in the harvest than to have your kids make a summer salad and help with dinner. This builds skills, a love of food, and is a great activity to do with your kids.
Skills that come with this activity, helping with dinner:
· Opportunities to learn new skills
· Increased creativity and imagination
· Increased self-esteem that comes from seeing their accomplishments
Even at age one, children can help make a salad by tearing leaves and putting them in a bowl. They can also pick the vegetables with help from a parent. At age 2-3 they can pick the vegetables with some guidance and even on their own. They take great pleasure in choosing what goes into a salad. 4-5 year olds will be able to pick the vegetables and may even approach the salad as an art project. Have fun, and see the creativity blossom in your mini-chefs.
What you will need: heading out into the garden you will need a 1-2 bowls, a small cloth or garden gloves, and scissors.
Here are a few popular choices for ingredients and some tips to help harvest.
Lettuce: if you’ve planted lettuce in your garden, children will love the colours , textures and tastes that come through the different varieties. My favourite mix is Vesey’s Baby Leaf Blend , it’s a really nice mesclun mix that you can pick for weeks; it is colourful and grows quickly. If you plant a new batch every 3 weeks, you should have salad right through into the fall. Start picking when the leaves are 3-4 inches tall, it’s easiest to have your child use scissors to cut the leaves at soil level so they don’t uproot the plant. Where leaves will grow back in a week or so, you’ll get two to three harvests from the same plant. A tip on picking lettuce - pick early in the morning, when the lettuce is cool, sweet and crisp then wash and store in the fridge until dinner. If you wait until the end of a hot day to pick lettuce, you may find that it is more brittle & bitter.
Tomatoes: Kids love colour and with tomatoes we have so many great varieties to choose from. Any of the small tomatoes, Grape, Tiny Tim, Cherry, are fantastic as they are a perfect size for kids to pick. These come in a whole range of shapes and colours from the more common red and yellow, to orange and even purple. Tip: store tomatoes at room temperature to keep them sweet. Putting them in the fridge nulls the Z-3 hexenel in tomatoes, so what makes ‘em sweet, essentially cooling them makes the texture grainy and makes them taste like water.
Cucumbers: Pick cucumbers when they are fairly small and green, just watch out for the small prickly thorns that protect the skins. I give the kids garden gloves or a cloth to hold the cucumber and a pair of children’s scissors to cut the cucumber.
Carrots: While the kids love to pick the carrots, if they want to grate them for their salad, make sure they have adult supervision.
Peas: Kids can’t get enough of sugar snap peas, Halifax Seed has a really sweet and crisp variety. Also, this is the time to plant a second harvest of sugar snaps that will be ready in late September, early October.
Herbs: Mixing herbs with sour cream makes a flavourful dressing or dip for the salad. Children can use their sense of smell and taste to become familiar with their favourite herbs, I find chives, basil and dill are always top of the list.
Deirdre Evans is founder of www.urbangardener.ca, a garden coach and mother to two young boys. Deirdre helps people grow fresher, healthier, tastier food in urban garden boxes here in HRM.