With 3 growing boys, I seem to spend a lot of time around a food-filled table. So it’s always been important to me to “make it more than a meal.” After all, that’s where family life really happens… around food. One way I figured out long ago to make meals extra special was to involve my boys in the process, from seed to table.
So from the beginning, before my guys could even walk, they were in the garden with me. While gardening with a toddler is never what I’d call “easy,” I’ve figured out some tips and tricks through the years that have made the process much more manageable for me and truly special for the kids. When they get to help mom make a meal that involves food they’ve helped grow? Now that’s what I call making it more than a meal!
Help your little ones know where they’re not supposed to walk.
Whatever works for you as a way to mark your rows and let your little one know where they can and can’t venture in the garden.
-Cover walking rows in grass clippings, straw, or wood chips
-Surround the “can’t walk here” areas with a border of mulch so little feet know when they’re on the mulch they have to stop.
Create a just-for-you area in your garden for your toddler.
Mark off a little section that is all theirs. Maybe have a little bucket filled with their gardening items that they get to carry to their spot whenever it’s gardening-with-mama time. Their bucket could include:
-mini plastic tools
-old plastic cups
-mini watering can
-an old spray bottle
While you do have to tell them “no” a lot in the garden, and they have to learn to respect that space, you also want the whole experience to be wonderful. You’re raising the next generation to understand where their food comes from and how important real food is. With the toddler’s garden corner, the message in the garden can be a 100% “Yes!”
Have fun. It’s okay for your toddler to get covered in mud. (Trust me, with 3 boys on our farm, I know a lot about messy mud-covered little ones.) Soon enough they will be planting in rows. This is the time to have a joyful garden; if it winds up pretty jumbled in the process, that’s okay.
Keep your gardening goals simple. No one expects your garden to be perfect. And your little one would never remember it if it was. But they will remember that Mama took them with her into this wonderful place where they could get dirty and grow something delicious.
While my boys are a little older now, and genuinely helping on our family farm, I’m so thankful for the time I invested in piquing their interest in real food when they were young. If you’re new to gardening, feel free to take it in baby steps and find great local farmer’s markets to supplement what you are able to grow yourself.
And never feel guilt over store-bought food. Even for those of us who do raise our own meat and veggies, trust me we all have plenty of store-bought goodies in our pantries. The secret is to be picky about the purchased items in your pantry.
I’ve created a FREE list of healthy pantry staples at the store that itemizes some of the best choices when homemade isn’t an option. Because everyone needs to improve their pantry and incorporate a little more real food in their family’s menu!
If you’d like lots more tips on gardening, real food, and food-growing, please join me over on Instagram.