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Want to get your kids to eat their veggies? Grow microgreens. Not to be confused with sprouts, microgreens are the first true leaves of a vegetable or an herb — and just about any vegetable or herb can be grown as a microgreen.
Microgreens have long been prized by chefs for their aesthetic and concentrated flavor profiles, like nutty-sweet sunflower shoots or earthy beet greens. But there’s more to microgreens than looking and tasting good. These tiny but mighty greens are destined for superfood status, and they’re easier to grow at home than you may think.
What Makes Microgreens So Mighty?
A study conducted by the University of Maryland’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science and published in the July 18, 2012 edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, concluded that microgreens pack 4 to 40 times more nutrients than their fully-grown counterparts. These nutrients for growing children include building blocks like protein, which promotes muscle growth and development; essential vitamins C, E and K; and beta-carotene and lutein, which are vital for eye health. Of the 25 microgreens studied by the University of Maryland’s Department of Nutrition and Food Science, red cabbage, daikon radish, cilantro and red garnet amaranth contain the highest concentrations of four different vitamins and carotenoids.
You don’t have to be a chef to incorporate microgreens into your family’s diet, since they can easily be added to smoothies, sandwiches and salads. You also don’t have to eat large quantities of microgreens, since so much nutrition is packed into a small serving size. And while your kids may not dive in right away, microgreens’ tiny size and cuteness factor make them less intimidating for kids to try than broccoli or kale, for example.
Brendan Davison, founder of Good Water Farms and author of “The Microgreens Cookbook: A Good Water Farms Odyssey,” can vouch for this firsthand with his 13-year-old daughter, Naya. “I’ll have them on the counter and my daughter just walks by grazing on them, picking and eating them one at a time, without me saying anything like ‘eat your vegetables.’ In that 30-second stop, she's getting all the daily vitamins she needs,” he says.
Grow Your Own
Davison believes access and exposure are often the biggest obstacles to getting kids to try anything new, so he recommends growing your own microgreens as a fun family project. Monica Irwin, creator of Veggie Buds Club, a blog and monthly vegetable-themed box subscription service at veggiebudsclub.com, agrees that getting your kids involved in the growing process is essential, especially since growing microgreens is so rewarding.
“We do a new veggie every month and some of the growing projects take a long time, so it’s nice to see something go from seed to table in a week or two,” Irwin explains.
The project is simple, can be set up anywhere and requires very little special equipment. Irwin’s family successfully grew micro basil — the featured project in Veggie Buds Club’s December 2017 box — in just 14 days during the middle of a Minnesota winter. (See the sidebar for instructions on how to grow micro basil.)
Irwin’s 2-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter are proof that kids will at least try a vegetable if they’ve had a hand in growing or preparing it. Irwin says her daughter loved being part of the project, checking the microgreens’ daily growth; smelling and running her hands over the lush, fragrant leaves; and snipping some along the way. Her kids devoured micro basil-topped English muffin pizzas and tried it as a garnish on vegetable soup and pasta.
Can’t Wait — Must Buy
Purchase microgreens from gourmet grocers like Whole Foods; local farmers markets; Sweet Peas Urban Gardens in Raleigh (sweetpeasurbangardens.com/farm); Copeland Springs Farm in Pittsboro, which also sells microgreens at farmers markets in Apex and Cary (copelandspringsfarm.com); and Open Door Farm, which also sells microgreens at farmers markets in Carrboro and Chapel Hill (opendoorfarmnc.com).
Don’t be Afraid to Experiment
Davison and his daughter discovered that red shiso’s cinnamon notes made a welcome addition to a peanut butter and banana sandwich; and finely shredded Thai basil — with its salty, licorice flavor — took movie night popcorn to the next level.
Davison’s daughter also developed her own signature dish — an eponymous açaí breakfast bowl that incorporates sunflower, kale, broccoli and red shiso microgreens. The recipe is featured in Davison’s cookbook.
How to Grow Micro Basil
- 1 teaspoon of basil seeds for sprouting.
- Plastic grow tray (a clear, to-go food container with a locking lid works great).
- A growing medium such as Baby Blanket Growing Medium, coconut coir or soil.
- A spray bottle for watering.
- With a sharp knife, poke holes on the lid of the grow container to create airflow.
- Place the grow pad, coconut coir or a thin layer of soil on the bottom of the grow tray.
- Evenly sprinkle the basil seeds on the growing medium in a single layer.
- Water the basil seeds using a spray bottle so the seeds are not disturbed.
- Close the lid and place the tray in a warm, sunny spot. Keep the grow tray closed except when watering it.
- Water the seeds every one to three days after they have germinated so they remain moist but are not drowning in water*.
- Your micro basil should be ready to eat in 10-14 days. When the shoots are about 2 inches tall, snip them with scissors at the base of their stems to harvest the basil. Store the plants in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Note: This growing project was included in the December 2017 Veggie Buds Club box. Participants received seeds and a pad from SproutPeople, a U.S.-based, genetically modified, organism-free organic seed company.
*Find more in-depth information about growing micro basil from SproutPeople at sproutpeople.org.
Microgreens have a unique root structure. They may show microscopic roots starting a couple of days after they germinate. These are called root hairs and they are most visible just before watering — when the plants are at their driest. These root hairs look like mold to some people, but they are not. When you water your crop, the root hairs collapse back against the taproot.
Layla Khoury-Hanold is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on Food Network, Saveur and Refinery29; and in Raleigh Magazine, The News & Observer and INDY Week. Learn more about her at glassofrose.blogspot.com.