Peeper, in all her almost-three-year-old wisdom, has become quite the
picky discerning eater. Tool around the internet searching “picky eater” and you’ll find about a billion recommendations to miraculously make your preschooler ask for seconds of that spinach-quinoa-frittata you whipped up. The tip that has made a lot of sense to me, though, is having your kid help grow the food you want her to eat.
Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a black thumb. I have somehow managed to kill a half-dozen cacti and succulents in the last year, not to mention the less hardy plants that have perished on my watch.
But I refuse to give up—especially if persistence means fewer power struggles around the dinner table. So this spring and summer we are growing some edible plants in planters.
First up on Peeper’s homegrown menu: tomatoes!
Getting her hands dirty
Peeper was so excited to plant the tomato starter. She’s been checking on it daily as the poor plant languished in its tiny pot for weeks. (See my earlier note about killing plants. Oops!)
We couldn’t find the trowel in the rat’s nest of our garage, so Peeper helped scoop potting soil with a little Mason jar.
What kids learn from growing food
I’m most excited about the (theoretical) expansion of Peeper’s menu, but there are other benefits to helping kids grow food.
Planting a seed, tending to it and watching it grow is a tangible lesson in where food comes from. Hands-on gardening teaches kids about the life cycle and the effect of the environment (like what happens to a plant after a rain storm or a scorcher).
Growing food also teaches kids about how a plant grows. Peeper got up close and personal with the tomato plant’s roots as we loosened the packed dirt around the root ball.
Kids also learn ownership and responsibility. Peeper has asked to water the plants we repotted and loves to check their progress. The patience she’ll gain, too, as she waits for a tiny green tomato to turn into a beefsteak is a bonus for any preschooler.
Making a pretty tomato cage
Once we repotted the tomato, we had to stake in the tomato cage. We explained to Peeper that tomato plants grow big and heavy, and the cage helps support it.
When I’d gone to the hardware store to buy the cages, I wanted to get the beautiful, brightly colored ones—but couldn’t justify paying three times more for a pink or green one. Instead, I bought the regular silver tomato cage—and gave it a 60-second facelift!
DIY colorful tomato cages
Using stuff you probably already have in your garage, you can make a tomato cage even prettier—in about a minute!
- a metal tomato cage (mine cost less than $3 at the hardware store)
- cardboard or newspaper
- spray paint (I used a can that was lying around from a previous project, so it was free!)
- Lay out your cardboard or newspaper on a flat surface. Make sure it’s bigger than the tomato cage so you don’t spray paint the ground.
- Set the tomato cage on top in a way it won’t move around.
- Following the directions on the spray paint can, spray a layer of color on the tomato cage.
- Wait until the layer of paint is dry, then turn the tomato cage over. Spray paint that side.
- Wait for the paint to dry fully, then stick the tomato cage in the ground. It’s ready to support those tomatoes in style!