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Green Bites: Eat Your Salad, Save the World

Girls eating healthy salads and loving itThe problem with young people today? They don’t eat their salad.

You may be blessed, as I am, to have children who eat their salad, but I bet, like me, you had to work for full-family green-salad acceptance.  

Indeed, I occasionally cross paths with a non-salad-eating adult, and I am always shocked and horrified, and totally convinced that the person in question was never properly introduced to lettuce. You can guess what happens next.

A properly prepared salad can save the world

If everyone ate more salad than red meat in North America, our carbon footprint as a continent would be radically different. Our food economy would be much more sustainable. Anyone can grow their own salad (you can forage many greens for free!). Not everyone can grow their own cow.

To be fair, a green salad isn’t always pleasant to eat. Lettuce has a habit of dodging the fork, getting stuck sideways and waving awkwardly from your mouth as you chew. Lettuce that isn’t torn into bite-sized bits, especially for little mouths, can just be too daunting to eat.

A properly prepared salad of crisp lettuces that have been quickly soaked to remove grit, spun dry and chilled briefly, and then torn to bite-worthy bits and lightly dressed with homemade vinaigrette is pure joy.  If this salad was grown and prepared by your children — ambrosia for the parental palate, I assure you.

It is one of our noble and age-old duties as parents to get our children to eat their vegetables — but we don’t have to be grumpy bores demanding clean plates of our progeny. To green the family diet, we have to set our children up to love vegetables for life. (And to face down any salad undaunted, even if they have to chase those wily leafy greens around the plate with a fork.)

Tending the family lettuce patch is one way to get kids excited about salad.

The family that grows salad together, eats salad together

Fresh from the garden, a good green salad is one of life’s simple pleasures. Growing a window box or a small-space container of lettuce is amazingly easy to do in the Pacific Northwest, where we have ideal weather for growing greens.

Lettuces take up little space, produce quickly and reproduce easily. By harvesting the outer leaves and leaving the inner leaves, you can get several salads out of a few plants. Leave the last bit to bolt, and the kids can harvest the seeds.

If you make a container out of salvaged materials, use potting soil from your family worm bin and grow your lettuce from seed — your family can have fresh salad greens very inexpensively. (In my world, free salad is the ultimate goal.)

Run in tandem with a worm farm, a lettuce patch makes a nifty lesson in permaculture. Kids can harvest the potting soil created by the worm farm to start their lettuce container-garden and the “worm tea” from draining the bin to fertilize lettuces. After the two-month growing season, kids can feed bruised leaves and any green waste from the salad back to the worms.

How to start a family lettuce patch container-garden

Lettuce in small container garden on chairIf you are feeling totally clueless about container gardening in general, review our Container Gardening for Beginners before you start.

1. Choose a container for your lettuce patch
. Lettuce is shallow-rooted, requiring relatively small amounts of well-drained loamy soil — so you can plant it in pretty much anything, so long as the container affords good drainage. For example, you can try growing lettuce in an old box crate, a shopping bag, or an old colander. You could even make a vertical lettuce patch from a pallet, as seen in this inspirational Seattle Seedling video.
2. Decide on the best location for your lettuce patch. Lettuce likes little sun and lots of water, so a semi-shady spot close to a spigot is a good choice. If you are planning on enabling your children to tend the patch, you will want to choose a spot away from your prized begonias where a little gardening mess is not a big deal.  

3. Set up and get your leafy greens growing. Take the kids to the garden center or hardware store and look at all the lettuce seed options together. Read the seed packets for information about moisture and light requirements, germination times and seasonal planting particulars. Decide together what variety of lettuce sounds the most exciting or appetizing. Fill your container with potting soil and sow seed with your kids per packet directions. Keep your future lettuce patch moist until the seeds germinate. (This may be a good time to consider a plant monitoring process as a family activity.)

4. Tend the family lettuce patch. Even if you decide not to fancy up your lettuce-patch protocol with family science, you do need to set up a child-friendly watering schedule. Even tots can be given a watering can and set to task. It’s a good way to get a little outside time in the morning.

5. Harvest and enjoy with your children. Most lettuces can be cleverly harvested by clipping the outside leaves with scissors, leaving the inside leaves intact and still growing —  what a perfect activity for children who like to give themselves haircuts! If your child is not yet scissor-trustworthy, he or she can help with rinsing and drying the lettuce and salad preparation.

Even growing just a little bit of our food sends a powerful message to our children. To save the world, everybody has to eat their greens — and love it.

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