Figuring out how to get your kids to eat broccoli and spinach without nagging might sound like mission impossible, but for Azuré Keahi, business manager at Soul Fire Farm, it’s just another day in the office. The Troy, New York-based mother, writer and grower is dedicated to helping youngsters, including her own two kids, connect with nature and develop an interest in healthy food choices. The key, she believes, is in engaging kids’ senses and turning them on to growing their own greens.
That approach is on full display at Soul Fire Farm. This Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)-centered community farm—a nonprofit partner OXO supports through 1% for the Planet—is committed to uprooting racism and seeding sovereignty in the food system. Team members share skills about sustainable agriculture, train future farmer-activists, support home gardens in urban environments and much more. The farm also regularly hosts Work and Learn days for families as well as youth workshops, driven by a belief that young people make healthier choices when they have a connection to the natural world and see how their everyday actions make a positive impact.
If you’re searching for ways to get your youngster hooked on veggies, follow Ms. Keahi’s tips.
Connect With Nature
Help your child establish a relationship with nature that’s all about exploring and participating, recommends Ms. Keahi. “If you have the privilege of growing a garden, great,” she says. “If you don’t, model to your child how to be an active observer. Walk around your neighborhood, notice the trees and see if you can find any fruit.” If you spot a tart crab apple, take a bite. Kids will be more open to trying new things if you make it an adventure, says Ms. Keahi.
Encourage Help in the Kitchen
“My kids love being in the kitchen and ‘helping,’” says Ms. Keahi. “I have two sons, ages 2 and 5, and the participatory energy in the kitchen makes it fairly easy for them to eat whatever veggie is in front of them.” If you’re looking for ways to engage your child in the kitchen, tasks like washing off fruits and vegetables are easy for little ones (help them reach the sink with a stool), while older children can help peel.
Snack Straight from the Source
Gardens are a wonderful place for kids to taste-test. “It is not a rare occasion that I’ll be puttering in the garden, look up and one of my kids is chomping down an armload of kale like a goat,” says Ms. Keahi. “Being able to choose and explore at their own pace is an invitation for them to try and celebrate whatever they find. I even let them plant beans wherever they want every year. The vines take over; it’s chaotic, prolific and beautiful.”
Show your kids ways to use garden produce they never thought of before. A few suggestions from Ms. Keahi:
- Make sumac tea. “We harvest sumac buds in a bucket and cover the sumac with water,” she says. (Sumac berries are popular in the Middle East and Mediterranean; they are also found in the U.S. and were used by Indigenous Americans for medicinal purposes.) “I let the kids massage the berries, then we let it steep, strain it a few hours later and add a touch of maple syrup.”
- Concoct herbal cocktails. “I let the kids harvest herbs—lemon balm, mint, bronze fennel, anise hyssop, whatever— then we pour hot water over them, let them steep and strain out some pretty magical teas.”
- Cucumber slices with herb sprinkles. An easy way to get kids involved in cooking, Ms. Keahi chops a bunch of random ingredients and divides them in a muffin pan so kids can grab and decorate as they please.
Mulching, composting and planting are all great ways to get kids interested in the garden and what grows in it. “My kids do a lot of mulching!” reports Ms. Keahi. “My partner is an arborist so we’re often moving wood chips to prevent weed growth, build up organic matter and promote moisture retention. In the springtime, when more planting is happening, I let the kids do a lot of digging and filling flats with soil. They also like helping turn the compost and looking for worms.”
Check out more of Soul Fire Farm’s inspiring ways to engage kids in food and gardening and make your own kid-friendly, veggie-packed meal with these recipes. You can also check out Ms. Keahi’s tips for reducing food waste.