Of 13,000 teenagers surveyed in 2017, only 2% ate the recommended amount of vegetables, and 7% ate enough fruit. Surprised? In 2021, the picture has worsened. Teenagers have sat steady at 2%, but in the past 15 years, children from the ages of 1-19 have dropped their fresh vegetable consumption by 50%. And adults? Don’t get cocky just because you are older- 90% of adults don’t eat enough vegetables.
Vegetable intake is low across all socio-economic levels and across all groups- including boys and girls, of all shades of skin.
Why don’t kids eat more vegetables?
The two most important reasons are that parents are not eating enough veggies (remember that 90% of adults not eating enough veggies), and veggies aren’t branded. There is a reason that food companies spend a lot of money on advertising their brand- it works. What was the last food you saw advertised? Most likely not microgreens or carrots. Advertising is powerful. It affects what we eat- and by extension, what we do not eat. When was the last time you saw fresh vegetables advertised? What do we need to do to counteract that lack of advertising and encourage the young people under our care to become one of the 2%?
To become one of the 2%, children must be exposed to plenty of fruits and vegetables early in life. “Exposure, and repeated exposure even after they reject a food, is important,” says Angela Lemond, a registered dietitian, and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Just because they don’t like a food once doesn’t mean they won’t tomorrow.” As parents, not only do we need to model eating vegetables, we must not be quitters.
Including children in choosing not only the vegetables at the supermarket but choosing recipes to use them in helps them feel ownership in their meals.
But, the best way to encourage vegetable-loving children is to let them grow their own.
Now, I know what you are thinking- “I don’t have time or space to grow a garden and my kid won’t spend his summer working in the dirt”. A garden plot and weekends are not necessary to grow vegetables. You can do this!
Microgreens are tiny, tasty, nutritious veggies that are grown indoors in a space as small as a windowsill and are ready to harvest in 10 days. Because they are up to 40% more nutritious than full-grown veggies, children do not need to eat as much to get the micronutrients that they need for their growing bodies and minds. Plus, children as young as three can grow microgreens with 5 minutes a day of help. Microgreens can change a 98-percenter into one of the healthy 2%.
This is why I do what I do. Why I am building a resource for parents and families to grow, learn, and explore with microgreens. Because the health of a generation of children is at stake.
What Are Microgreens?
Microgreens are tiny vegetables that are harvested at the most nutritious stage of a plant’s life cycle.
Grown indoors on a windowsill or counter, microgreens are up to 40 timesmore nutritious than mature vegetables, and twice that of sprouts. With hundreds of important phytochemicals and micronutrients in each one, it means that you need to eat a much smaller portion of microgreens than you would mature vegetables to get the necessary nutrients in your diet each day.
For those that do not like the texture or taste of vegetables, microgreens are also the perfect answer- they taste much sweeter than full-grown vegetables and are small and easy to ‘hide’ in a meal.
Stage 1 – Sprouts (2-5 days old)
Stage 2 – Microgreens (8-21 days old)
Stage 3 – Baby greens (15-30 days old)
Stage 4 – Mature plant (40-160 days old)
Sprouts vs Microgreens
Both sprouts and microgreens are baby plants. However, they differ in the way they are grown, the way they taste, their nutritional content- and in safety. Sprouts are the first stage of a plant’s life cycle, the ‘infants’ of the plant world. They have just barely germinated and are grown in a warm, humid environment for 3-5 days. The entire sprout is eaten, from seed to stem. They’re typically pale in color because they have not yet begun making nutrients through photosynthesis.
Sprouts also have a deadly side to them and unless kept scrupulously clean, and rinsed thoroughly 3-4 times a day, can become a health hazard. They are not recommended for pregnant women or young children.
Microgreens are the 2nd stage in the plant’s life cycle
This is the ‘toddler’ stage of a veggie plant- one of rapid growth and activity. Typically at about 10-14 days old, the plant has more key nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants per ounce than at any other stage of plant growth. At this point, the cotyledons (the seed leaves) are open and help the baby plant become a photosynthetic organism. The process of photosynthesis begins to rapidly increase the nutrients in the tiny plant. When we harvest at this stage, not only do we have the nutrients from the seed and cotyledon, we consume all the nutrients that it is packing on before it begins its growth spurt into a full-sized plant.
Microgreens are usually 3-5 inches long and can be grown in soil or a growing medium such as coconut coir. Harvesting is as simple as cutting them just above the soil level with a pair of scissors.
An important difference between sprouts and microgreens- or why you should be growing microgreens instead of sprouts.
The warm, humid, and low-ventilation conditions used for sprouts are also ideal for the growth of bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. Sprouts continue to be a major offender in Salmonella outbreaks and are not recommended for those with health risks. Any bacteria present can multiply dramatically during the sprouting process because of the warm, humid growing conditions.
Microgreens, however, are grown with good airflow, no excess humidity, and light- exactly the way nature intended seeds to grow. They are planted in an organic, clean substrate that is prepared especially for microgreens. Each of these conditions provides a safe, healthy, and nutritious way to grow fresh vegetables indoors. The risk of contamination is dramatically lower than sprouts, as well as store-bought greens such as spinach. Microgreens are a healthy, safe choice.