Teach Kids About Plants and Vegetables: Grow Sprouts in a Jar
Teaching kids how to grow sprouts in a jar combines several wonderful lessons: It is a hands-on exploration of the life cycle of plants. It is a practice in patience (though one well paced for young pre-schoolers since there are new results every day). It provides practice for following simple directions. It instills responsibility in caring for something and seeing the product of that caring. And it is an excellent way to get kids excited about vegetables and healthy eating - with a nice lesson about nutrition tied in. Not only that, it's fun!
It is also great for adults looking to save a little money on some delicious sprouts! Growing sprouts in a jar is unbelievably easy. Given how much these little beauties cost in the store, I can't believe I didn't start doing this sooner!
All you need is a mason jar (or similar) with a two piece lid, some type of screen material - I cut a square out of an old pair of clean nylons - gauze and screen also work, and sprout seeds (more about choosing seeds below - see Safety). In about 5 days, you have a whole jar packed full of delicious, nutritious sprouts ready to eat.
Getting Kids Involved If you're doing this activity with kids, you may also want to have some other fun plant life cycle related material handy. There a lot of websites out there with preschool lessons and activities for plant life cycles. Flintstone is particularly fond of gluing things to paper (we recently did the butterfly life cycle with different shapes of pasta). The Magic School Bus episode The Magic School Bus Goes to Seed is also a great tie in, and the Scholastic website has more information and activities to go with that episode.
Tie in healthy eating with activities like this one (and the dozens of other free activities on this site) and a lively discussion of how we can watch our sprouts grow, then eat them and they help us grow! More healthy eating related activities available here. With just a little bit of guidance, kids can do this activity nearly entirely on their own.
his project is best started in the evening hours since the seeds will need to soak overnight. It isn't a hard and fast rule, but it works out well that way.
2. Spread your strainer material (nylons, gauze, screen, etc.) over the top and secure with the outer ring of the lid.
3. Rinse the seeds by pouring water in through the mesh on top, swirling it around, then draining through the same mesh.
4. Add a minimum of 3X as much water as seeds (ie, 1tbsp seeds needs at least 3tbsp water) - no need to be precise; I just fill the jar up 1/4 of the way.
5. Allow the seeds to soak overnight (or a minimum of 8 hours). I would also avoid oversoaking them, which is why I recommend starting in the evening. Keep the jar out of direct sunlight, but not in the dark. We left ours on the kitchen counter. It will stay out of direct sunlight for the first 4-5 days.
6. In the morning (or 8 hours later), drain the water out by pouring it through the mesh, then rinse again by the same method mentioned in step 3, draining fully. The seeds start to sprout almost immediately after soaking. Soaking is Day 1. This is Day 2.
7. Rinse and drain again in the evening. Flintstone loved having this responsibility, and it was the first thing he wanted to do every morning. Since the jar is glass I watched over him, but he was able to do it all completely by himself.
8. Continue to rinse and drain every morning and evening (or roughly every 12 hours) for 4 - 6 days.
9. Once your jar of sprouts is full and has little green leaves on the ends, it can be placed in direct sunlight for a day to up the chlorophyll production. After that, it can be moved to the refrigerator.
10. Enjoy the enthusiasm with which your little ones pack down the nutritious fruits of their labors!
These days, warnings and worries about any and all raw foods, including vegetables, abound - and sprouts are no exception to that. There have been outbreaks of food-borne illness linked to mass produced sprouts purchased in grocery stores in the past. These are thought to have been linked to unsanitary growing conditions. There have not been any recorded instances of food-borne illness linked to home grown sprouts that I was able to find in my research.
Fresh sprouts are considered at the same level of risk as fresh berries (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc.). It is possible for pathogens like e. coli can be spread from manure or other sources and hide out on fresh foods or even seeds. The warm, damp growing conditions that these kinds of produce thrive in are conducive to growth of those pathogens.
There have been a lot of changes in the sprout industry over the last four years, and up to date information on pathogen risk, prevalence, and the effectiveness of risk reduction techniques implemented around 2011 is limited. Note: some sources warn against children, pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems, and the elderly consuming raw sprouts. Note: Those same sources warn against consumption of raw berries, lettuces, and cut greens by those same groups.
The risk is (arguably) small, but it is there, and it is up to the individual to make an informed choice. I feel our home grown sprouts are safe - the same way I feel about berries. I am not willing to give up the health benefits of most raw produce out of fear of the marginal risk of illness largely borne from major, corporate producers. I AM, however, careful to obtain my seeds from a reliable source. We used Handy Pantry 5 Seed Sprouting Mix. Handy Pantry has been in business for over 20 years, sources most of their seeds from the US and Canada, and is GMO-free and organic (no pesticides on my sprouts, please!). *I have not been asked to endorse this company, nor have I been compensated in any way for this article - that said, if Handy Pantry wanted to throw a little something my way, I would happily accept!
Giving Sprout Growing Kits as Gifts (with Free Printables) (coming soon)