This is the lunch my son has been requesting every day for weeks now: a taco with refried beans, cream cheese, and a generous helping of alfalfa sprouts. When I shared this picture on Facebook, my friend (a father of four boys) asked how I got my little guy to eat a veggie as strange and exotic as sprouts. He said his kids only eat vegetables that were well-covered in butter and even then they’d only eat just so much.
Part of our secret to getting our son to eat his veggies is that my husband works on an organic vegetable farm, so we always have a lot of veggies on hand. But there was one fateful moment when our boy was just learning to walk that forever cemented his love of vegetables.
It was spring and we were out playing in the yard. My son was picking violets and giving them to me as presents when I told him, “You know you can eat those.” He looked at me like I’d grown antlers or something. “Really, you can eat it. Look!” I popped one of the purple flowers into my mouth. Delighted, he tried one…and then another. I told him he could eat the leaves, too, and he tried them. He was so excited about the idea of foraging a wild salad that we filled a little bowl with violet leaves and flowers and then added his favorite salad dressing (balsamic vinaigrette). He had a little salad picnic right there in the yard. He’s been fond of salad ever since.
(Important note: If you teach your children about foraging wild foods be sure to tell them they can only eat the plants if they’ve asked an adult and the adult says that it’s ok. Many times my son has brought me the flowers of a little yard plant called Creeping Johnny and asked if he can eat the violets. While Creeping Johnny is still an edible plant, it is most definitely NOT violets. There are berries and plants growing outside that can make your child sick or worse. Be sure that you know what they’re eating and ask permission before eating any wild plant, especially berries! Safety first!!)
Sometimes my son still balks at the sight of salad greens and I remind him, “They’re leaves!” Usually, he will dig in. I think the fact that sauropod dinosaurs and pandas eat leaves has helped this make sense for him. We saw a documentary where the panda rolls his bamboo leaves into a little cigar shape and munches them down. After that, our son started rolling his lettuce leaves the same way and calling them “bamboo tacos.” Hey, whatever works!
But, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times that our kid turns up his nose at veggies. He hates sweet peppers and steers clear of onions. He’s wary of asparagus and spits out Brussel sprouts. But, even if he turns some of them away, he manages to eat his fair share and is usually game to try new things, which is so important.
The lesson I take from my kid that will help picky eaters become veggie lovers is to get them as close to the source of their food as young as you can. This simple lesson really stuck with him because he was so young at the time. It’s never too late to connect your kids with the source of their food.
A friend of mine is an environmental educator and she told me about a project where she helped inner city kids grow a school vegetable garden. At harvest time, they made a huge veggie tray and made their own buttermilk ranch dressing from scratch. The kids went nuts! Vegetables they had grown themselves. Getting kids close to the source of their food, in whatever way you can, can make all the difference.
If you’re excited to connect your kids with their food source but not sure where to start, you can easily grow alfalfa sprouts on your windowsill. All you need is organic alfalfa seeds for sprouting (I bought mine on online), a wide-mouth mason jar (the ones that come with a metal ring lid), and a wide-mouth screen lid.
Here’s how to help your kid grow sprouts:
- Pour a tablespoon of seeds in the mason jar.
- Cover with water and screw on the screen lid.
- Let the seeds sit in water for four to six hours.
- Pour out the water and leave to drain upside down on the dish drainer.
- Rinse your sprout seeds two to three times a day, always leaving the jar to drain upside down afterward.
- After a few days, your seeds will sprout (your kids will be so excited!) You can start to keep them near a window, once they’ve been fully drained so the sprouts will green up.
- After about 5 days total, you’ll have little sprouts with green leaves in your jar. Almost ready to eat!
- The last step is to pour the sprouts into a large bowl full of water to rinse out the unsprouted seeds and seed hulls. (Don’t worry about getting them all, just let the ones that want to wash away get out of there.)
- Before you drain your sprouts for the last time, pour a glug of vinegar into the rinse water and swirl the sprouts around in it. Then, scoop the sprouts out and back into their jar. The vinegar washes away any weird germs or mold that have grown in there. Don’t skip this step!
- Time for the big reveal! Give your kids a handful of sprouts and have them eat some. My son’s first proclamation was, “They taste like dirt!” Don’t let that phase you. Kids say weird stuff, but they’ll probably eat more. Put the lid back on your sprout jar and let drain upside down on the dish drainer.
- When thoroughly drained, replace the screen lid with a solid lid and place your sprout jar in the fridge. They’ll keep in there for a few days or so. Serve them to your kids as I did with my son’s signature tacos (see above), on sandwiches of all types, or simply as a side dish. My son can be picky about mixed foods. I’ve found that if he won’t eat a taco with lettuce on it, he’ll eat the pile of lettuce if I put it on the side. Maybe your kids would just like a pile of sprouts on their plate next to whatever dinner you’re having. Sprouts that they grew themselves.
- And don’t forget to start a new jar of sprout seeds, too! We start new seeds every three or four days.
A version of this post was previously published at Authentic Arts by Jenny Hoople and is republished here with permission from the author.