Written by Kate Tietje, Contributing Writer
I am so excited. It's finally May, which means that the farmer's market is now open! Well...we're lucky -- there is a winter market near me. But I never went (I know, I know). I just love the outdoor market in the summer, with all of its fresh produce, warm sun, lots of healthy people running around.... It can be overwhelming, but it is an amazing experience. Even when things are a bit expensive, I go at least once a month just to be there.
My kids are getting a little older now (almost 4 1/2 and almost 3, plus a 9-month-old) and we're starting to do a little homeschooling with them. One major part of their education this spring and summer is on gardening and growing. We just painted some clay pots and planted their vegetables of choice (my 4-year-old chose watermelons; almost 3-year-old chose pumpkins), and we'll be watching them grow throughout the season.
But man cannot live on pumpkins and watermelons alone. :)
That means when we visit the farmer's market, we'll be doing a fun project. Try this with your kids!
Vegetables at the Market
We have some pretty neat farms that exhibit at my favorite farmer's market. Many grow heirloom and unusual varieties of vegetables. They're often ones I've never cooked with or even heard of. Of course, I grew up eating SAD and that meant frozen peas, corn, broccoli -- the "usual." So when I run into radicchio or mustard greens, well...I'm not always sure what to do with them!
I hope my kids will be different!
At the market, I'll be allowing my kids to choose several different vegetables of their choice. These may include things like:
- Swiss chard
- Asian greens
- Tomatoes (including heirloom varieties)
- Peppers (various types)
- Bok choi
- ...and lots more!
There's no telling what you'll find at the market. Not all of these things will be in season at once. And not all of them are in season yet. Wait a couple months though and you should find most of these. :)
The only way to learn about these vegetables is to dive in and try them. Let your kids select a few to take home with you. Encourage them to sample whatever is out for that purpose, or purchase some and encourage them to taste what you've bought. Make sure to get a wide variety...and don't be afraid of them even if you've never heard of them or cooked with them, either!
Image by limevelyn
Take Your Veggies Home
Bring the veggies home and see what you've got. What was in season? What's the most unique thing you have?
We'll be taking the time to look up the veggies we bring home so we can learn more about them. We already know when they're in season and where they're grown, but we want to know more. We're looking to answer questions like:
- What family are these veggies from? What more recognizable veggies belong to this family?
- Are there other varieties of this veggie?
- What's the best way to prepare it?
...and then, we're going to eat them!
Our research has told us how best to prepare our veggies. I envision a salad, because this early in the season, it's greens that are mostly available. Of course, if you decide to try this later in the season (or we try again!), feel free to try cooked dishes, too, if you prefer. Some of these vegetables are definitely better if cooked.
Let your kids help you in the kitchen. Older ones can help to chop the veggies; smaller ones can tear greens for salad or use a spoon to stir. Watch what happens to the veggies if you cook them -- do they lose a lot of water and shrink? Do they change color? (Purple string beans do!)
Then comes the most fun part...eating them!
Taste the Veggies
Kids can sometimes be reluctant to eat veggies. Even my kids, who have always had several varieties offered, often finish everything on their plates and only pick at the veggies. (This does vary by day -- some days they only want veggies; others they completely refuse.)
When kids are invested in a project, though, they're a lot more likely to taste. Since the kids chose their own veggies and helped to prepare them, they will probably at least want to take a taste! If they're nervous (mine probably would be), let them know they don't have to eat it if they don't like it. But they need to take a little taste! And so do you. :)
Helping Kids Taste Those Veggies
Although it won't be feasible for many families to go to the farmer's market (or grocery store, if there are no markets near you) everyday or even weekly, you can still involve your kids in choosing the vegetable dishes you prepare and helping to actually prepare them.
Sit with your kids and look through cookbooks (ones with lots of pictures, if at all possible) and recipe websites. My kids love doing this. Have them choose which dishes look interesting and add them to your meal plan. Ask them to help you prepare them when it's time. When they're involved in the planning, it's totally different than simply having it served to them.
Plus, it's awesome to teach your kids early to select a wide variety of veggies, to learn about what's seasonal, to learn the importance of local eating, and to learn how to cook and prepare traditional foods. What a gift to give them!
Women like me, who grew up on SAD, have had to teach ourselves everything. I learned to cook by watching the Food Network, reading cookbooks, reading blogs, and a lot of kitchen experiments. How I wish I could have had someone to come alongside me and teach me to cook. My own kids already know how to knead bread, shape meatballs, brew and bottle kombucha (check out my video), and a lot more! To them, that sort of thing is totally normal, it's just "what you do." I love that.
Involve your kids in the kitchen as much as possible. It's awesome for so many reasons.