Deborah E. Gauthier: Fresh from the vine

Deborah E. Gauthier

I was told years ago to never use the word 'kids' when writing about children; 'Kids' are baby goats, not children. In this case, however, 'kids' is the appropriate word. Let them loose in a vegetable garden - a garden with beautiful, green pods bulging with scrumptious peas - and they'll behave just like goats and eat everything within reach.

Little girls who turn their noses up at mushy peas in a can eagerly pull back the covering on fresh, baby peas. They eat the peas, they eat the pod, and go back for more.

Little boys who gag at the thought of slimy, green balls sliding down the backs of their throats have no such revulsion when the peas are fresh and plump and sweet.

It's like eating candy, said a 9-year-old grandson.

My husband and I have had two meals that included fresh peas from the garden over the last couple of weeks, and I'd planned to freeze a few meals of peas for a winter treat.

Instead I'm letting the grandchildren graze like graceful, two-legged deer or nibbling rabbits.

Aha, I thought, I've found the secret to getting children to eat vegetables.

It turns out, however, it's no secret at all. It's a well-known phenomenon that children are more likely to enjoy a food if they have knowledge of its origin.

The Rose Byrne Child Development Center at Keene State College in New Hampshire developed a program, now spread to 10 preschools, that definitively shows children are more willing to taste a new food if they know something about that food, and even more willing to try something new if they've grown it.

Called Early Sprouts, the program is being praised as one way to teach children the importance of fruits and vegetables in the diet. The kids learn about six vegetables, four of which grow in my garden right now.

The peas were planted by two of the grandchildren on an early-spring day that I thought too early for planting, even for peas. But the boys were bored and it gave them something to do. To my surprise, the peas sprouted and flourished.

While the kids foraged around the pea plants two weeks ago, I pointed out that the flowers on the green bean plants will turn into green beans, the flowers on tomato plants will soon be tomatoes, it won't be long before the beautiful, yellow blooms on the squash and cucumber will be ready for a taste test, and the fern-like tops of the carrots hide what will be a delicious surprise under ground.

The potatoes have sprouted, the radish are ready, the pumpkin is blooming, the corn was knee high on the 4th of July, and the watermelon... we'll let's forget about the watermelon.

The kids that brighten my world are anxious to try most of them.

What a difference a garden makes.

Deb Gauthier can be reached at