Our partnership with Lettuce Grow supports a record number of K-12 educators who want to start or sustain edible learning spaces with Lettuce Grow Farmstands amidst COVID-19 pandemic.
Our healthy eating philosophy at Whole Kids Foundation is centered on three simple principles:
- Eat a rainbow of colors.
- Eat leafy greens first.
- Eat as close to nature as possible.
We help kids eat better by connecting them to food, sparking their curiosity, and inspiring them to make healthier choices. And there are lots of ways you can too. One fun approach is by growing leafy greens at home with your child.
Why greens? Green vegetables — especially dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, and arugula — are packed with nutrients including fiber. So, greens make you feel full while staying low in calories. And bonus: Greens are easy to grow. (There is no better way to fuel a child’s enthusiasm for tending a garden than to see results quickly!)
There are three ways to grow greens at home: You can regrow from scraps; start from seeds; or begin with seedings.
Regrowing from Scraps
For new gardeners, regrowing from scraps is a great place to start. We recommend using scraps from organic vegetables, which are grown without harmful persistent pesticides and herbicides.
Romaine lettuce can easily be regrown. The roots sprout quickly, and the process is low maintenance. So, next time you’re chopping romaine lettuce for a salad, hang onto the root end (about 1-2”). Here’s how to use it to regrow romaine:
- Place in water: Fill a shallow bowl with water and add the root end. Make sure that the top of the root end is above the waterline. Place near direct sunlight.
- Spritz with water often: Encourage growth by spritzing the top with water every few days. Make sure to replace the water every few days too. In about a week, new leaves will start to sprout.
The regrowing process will not grow a full head of lettuce but you can harvest leaves for your salads or sandwiches. You can also regrow green onions, celery, beet greens, and carrot tops in a similar way. (Yes, carrot tops are edible! Chop them and add to a salad or make carrot top pesto.)
Starting from Seeds
If you want to participate in the growing process from the very beginning, start with seeds. It takes attention, time, and patience but is very rewarding too. Two easy leafy greens to grow from seed are spinach and kale. They grow well in pots, on a patio, or in a garden, if you have space.
Before starting, read the instructions on the seed packet, especially details about spacing needs and details about germination times.
One way to ensure success is to sprout the seeds before planting. First, find a domed clean container like a plastic to-go container. Lay a paper towel in the bottom of the container. Make a row of seeds. Fold the paper towel over the seeds and then add some warm water until it’s just moist. Close the lid, and you’ve just made a miniature greenhouse! Place the container somewhere warm like on top of the refrigerator or on a sunny windowsill. Check daily to make sure the paper towel is still damp, and as soon as you see a little root with tiny leaves, very gently plant the spout into soil in a seeding pot.
Another of our preferred methods for seed starting is with peat pucks. To learn more, check out our blog post on How to Start Seeds for Home Gardens.
When your seedlings are a few inches tall and have four leaves or more, they are ready to plant outdoors. First, however, you need to prepare them for the transition by hardening off, which involves exposing your plants to the elements gradually. This process helps the stems of the plant get stronger so they can withstand weather like wind, rain and sun. On the first day of the hardening off process, place your seedlings outdoors for one hour, and then bring them back indoors. Gradually increase the amount of outdoor time every day for up to two weeks.
Shortcuts with Starter Plants
Alternatively, you can get a jump start on growing greens by purchasing small starter plants (also called seedlings or transplants) from a local farmer, nursery, home improvement store, or your local Whole Foods Market.
Starter plants are typically several weeks old, have been nurtured through the most delicate early stages of growth and are ready to plant. Look for healthy plants with bright green (not yellow) leaves that are organic. Starter plants are ready to go into a larger container or directly into the ground. Just be sure to water your plants as soon as you replant them.
- For kid-friendly hands-on activity, check out our Scrapkins seed starter DIY, and make one for a friend, too.
- Engaging your child in how their harvest will be enjoyed is part of the fun and can solidify their commitment to both growing and eating greens. Let them brainstorm what to cook, and then encourage them to help with the food preparations.