Eat Your Veggies! How One Chef Got Her Kids to Love "Green Things"

little girl holding full bowl
Photo by Ryan Nicholson Photography

By Carolyn Sweeney Hauck

Twelve years ago, Darsetta Wood walked into Blue Springs KinderCare and applied to work as a cook. It was one of the best hires the center has ever made. Since then, she's turned two-year-olds into organic gardeners—and five-year-olds into connoisseurs of zucchini and okra. That’s just what Wood does: She spreads her passion for gardening and cooking everywhere she goes. And the people she loves cooking for most in the world are also notoriously the pickiest: children.

“I love to give them new foods and help their little taste buds grow,” Wood says. “My kids eat zucchini, tomatoes, green onion, you name it. They have to have variety.” Wood is not only an exceptional cook and gardener, but a healthy-eating advocate as well—don’t get her started on kid menus at restaurants that feature everything fried, fried, and more fried. “Think of the kids, think of their health, and think of the benefits fresh foods have for them.”

Wood and kids working together
Photo by Ryan Nicholson Photography

Wood is so passionate about cooking for kids and giving them good nutrition, that she even provides culinary research for KinderCare’s Nutrition and Wellness program. When KinderCare needs to figure out, say, the average time it takes to make a recipe, or if we’re looking for honest answers about whether or not kids will enjoy a new dish we might be considering, Wood is one of our go-to test chefs, and her kids our taste testers. (Wood and her children’s feedback recently helped us develop the perfect Tuscan Salad recipe, for instance.)

Wood makes sure that the magic doesn’t only take place inside the kitchen, though. “Gardening goes hand-in-hand with cooking,” she explains. “There is no better way to teach a child healthy eating than through a garden. It gives them a clear understanding of where food comes from.” So the little green thumbs under Woods’ tutelage don’t just eat food—they get to grow their own by planting, watering, and harvesting veggies in their very own garden.

little boy with mouth full
Photo by Ryan Nicholson Photography

 “Food is essential to our lives,” says Wood about her passion for teaching children the joys of food. “When you’re eating, you feel good. When you’re with the people you love, what better way to connect than over a good meal?”

We couldn’t agree more.

child watering plant
Art created by Amy Martin Illustration

Home Guide to Eating Fresh

How can you eat (or emphasize) fresh when you’re short on time, which most of us certainly are?  We’ve got a few easy-peasy ideas for getting past processed foods (at least on occasion) and growing an appreciation for what’s fresh.

1. Pick a Pack of Seeds.

Most local supermarkets, hardware stores, and even drug stores carry seed packets. Let her pick one. (Don’t worry if she picks watermelon. Just go with it!) Planting seeds in soil and watching them grow sometimes needs to be less about actually harvesting the fruits of your labor, and more about giving kids an understanding of where their food comes from. It’s magic to their eyes!

2. Don’t Have a Lot? Grow It in a Pot!

No backyard? Low on space? That’s okay! As long as you have a windowsill, you can grow herbs. Start with a few basics like basil and oregano, which are ubiquitous in pasta recipes. Lettuces grow easily on their own as well, and do well inside during the winter.

3. Crudité* His Way.

He’ll feel like the big man in the produce section when you let him pick out his own veggies to arrange on a tray. Take ‘em home, chop ‘em up, and serve on a plate with hummus or ranch dressing. (Extra party points if you teach him how to not be a double dipper.)

* That’s a fancy term for a plate of chopped veggies.

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