March 27, 2019

Gardening with kids

Kids who put in the effort to plant, water, and patiently watch things grow are more likely to taste, eat, and enjoy fresh vegetables.

I always liked the idea of having a garden, but I did not actually make this happen until I had kids. We bought an above-ground raised bed box when my first child was a year old and started our gardening adventure. It has now become one of my kids’ favorite things to look forward to as the seasons turn.

We tend to do a spring and winter garden, changing it out 2 times a year (we’re lucky to live in California where this is possible!). My kids love to be hands-on and help. They are great at using a kid-sized shovel to turn the soil, add new soil or compost, and of course, to dig the holes for planting.

My kids enjoy our biannual trip to the garden store to pick out what to plant. I like to do a combination of planting by seed and buying starter plants. Planting by seed takes a little extra preparation, but to take a dry tiny seed and grow a plant in a matter of days to weeks is quite incredible and can be a magical experience for a child! However, I also get starter plants because I have had less luck planting some vegetables from seed. I always let each of my kids choose at least 1 to 2 veggies to plant along with my favorites and what I know is fail-proof. Every soil and climate is different, so you have to experiment with what works best in your area.

These are some of our favorites:


  • Lettuce (you can find a great variety at garden stores, many that you wouldn’t find in grocery stores)
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Pea pods
  • Green beans
  • Cherry tomatoes (I like to plant some yellow/orange and some red)
  • Herbs
  • Jalapeno peppers


  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • Beets
  • Celery
  • Herbs

I truly feel that teaching kids where food comes from helps them understand health. Kids who take the time to pick out their veggies to grow, and put in the effort to plant, water, and then patiently watch things grow, are more likely to taste, eat, and enjoy fresh vegetables. The excitement on my kids’ faces when a big crown of broccoli is ready to be harvested is priceless! And I have finally resigned myself to the fact that I will never get to enjoy my cherry tomato crop, as it has become a snacking garden for my kids and their friends.

Here are my top tips:

  1. Don’t be afraid to let the kids get dirty! As a pediatrician, I have never seen an illness due to kids playing in (and even eating!) some dirt from a home garden.
  2. Let your kids (even as young as 1 to 2 years old) pick out at least 1 item to plant.
  3. Get kid-sized tools so they can easily help dig, rake, shovel.
  4. Great lessons can be learned by something not growing well (over- or under-watering, bugs, pests, etc.). It’s an opportunity to teach problem-solving skills!
  5. If you are intimidated to start a full garden, start with large pots. Herbs, cherry tomatoes, and peppers all grow well in large pots. You can also buy something called an “EarthBox,” a container garden that is almost fail-proof as you water from the bottom and excess drains out. Great for tomatoes!
  6. Let your kids harvest the veggies and herbs and help decide on a seasonal menu based on what is ready to pick.

Contributor: Allison Collins, MD