Enabling Environments: Let's explore ... Vegetables

Seeds, greens and legumes can be used to create a whole host of interesting and enjoyable learning opportunities. Marianne Sargent offers some food for thought.

After a winter that seems to have lasted an eternity, spring has finally sprung and vegetable plants are in the ground. A topic about vegetables is ideal for the foundation stage, as it provides a wide range of opportunities for sensory exploration. But vegetables are not just for growing, harvesting, preparing and tasting. They are also very useful for craft and their everyday familiarity to children makes them the ideal object of memory games too.

Jasper's Beanstalk

Use the picture book Jasper's Beanstalk by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen (Hodder Children's Books) as a starting point for learning about growing vegetables.

Adult role

  • Help the children to plant a variety of vegetable seeds in propagators. Plant out the seedlings into large containers. Help the children to nurture the plants with regular watering.
  • Grow potatoes. Put some old potatoes in the dark and leave them to sprout. Then help the children to plant them into buckets and take care of them with regular watering.
  • Allow the children to harvest their vegetables and help to prepare these for cooking.
  • Extend with activities that allow children to see the germination process. For example, beans can be grown in jam jars lined with paper towels and stuffed with cotton wool.
  • Provide the children with gardening equipment and seeds so that they are able to play at planting and growing independently.

Learning opportunities

PD: Handles tools and objects safely and with increasing control.

UW: Makes observations about plants, explains why some things occur and talks about changes.

It's all in the Preparation

Introduce children to various methods of food preservation, including freezing, drying and storing in tins.

Adult role

  • Divide the children into small groups and allocate a vegetable to each group. Work with one group at a time to prepare and taste each vegetable, comparing fresh, frozen, tinned and dried versions.
  • Involve the children in preparing the vegetables. Talk about the processes involved, such as peeling, chopping, boiling, opening packaging, following instructions and using the hob or microwave. Consider how much time it takes to prepare each different method.
  • Talk about the pros and cons of preserving and preparing vegetables in the various ways.
  • Encourage the children to talk about the colours, shapes, textures and tastes. Help them to recognise that the preservation methods make the vegetables look, smell and taste different.
  • Bring the children together to explain to each other what they did, what the different versions of their allocated vegetables tasted like, which they preferred and why.

Learning opportunities

PSED: Expresses own preferences.

CL: Uses talk to organise, sequence and clarify thinking, ideas and feelings.

UW: Looks closely at similarities, differences and change.

Eat Your Peas

Read the picture book Eat Your Peas by Kes Gray and Nick Sharratt (Red Fox Picture Books) to get children talking about the vegetables they like and dislike.

Adult role

  • Use the story to talk to children about which vegetables they prefer. Ask them to explain why. Encourage them to talk about the tastes and textures of the vegetables.
  • Discuss fussy eating and help the children to consider why it is important to try a range of foods. Talk about the benefits of consuming vitamins and explain that they come in fruit and vegetables.
  • Extend by surveying the children and involving them in making a pictogram of favourite vegetables.

Learning opportunities

PSED: Expresses own preferences.

PD: Eats a variety of foodstuffs and understands need for a variety of food.

Vegetable characters

Use vegetables and imagination to create some vegetable characters.

Adult role

  • Help the children to create their own vegetable characters using craft materials as well as natural objects to give characters limbs, facial features and hair.
  • Allow the children to experiment with PVA glue, Pritt Stick and tooth picks (blunted at one end) to attach things to the vegetables.
  • Encourage the children to think about what they are choosing for each feature and why. Help them to decide which methods are best to attach the objects.

Learning opportunities

PD: Handles objects, construction and malleable materials safely and with increasing control.

EAD: Safely uses and explores a variety of materials, tools and techniques, experimenting with design and form.


The tray game

Set out a range of vegetables on a tray. Show them to the children, taking time to name each vegetable and briefly look at its features.

Cover the tray with a tea towel. Take away a vegetable without letting the children see which one. Remove the tea towel and ask them to tell you what is missing.

I went to the greengrocer...

Play this memory game with small groups of children. Sit in a circle. Start by modelling the phrase 'I went to the greengrocer and I bought...' and add a vegetable at the end.

The child next to you repeats the phrase with your chosen vegetable and then adds one of their own. The next child then repeats, and so on.

One potato, two potatoes elimination game

Sit a small group of children in a circle and ask them to put their hands in the middle. Sing the rhyme, 'One potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, four. Five potatoes, six potatoes, seven potatoes, more.'

Tap a child's hand for each potato. The child you land on as you say 'more' is out, but takes over to say the rhyme for the next round.

Vegetable memory game

Make a vegetable memory game by printing off two copies of ten different pictures of vegetables. Mount the pictures on 20 pieces of identical square card. Shuffle them up and arrange them in neat even rows face down on a table.

Each child takes a turn to flip over two cards at a time. If the cards are not a matching pair the child turns them back over. The aim of the game is to remember where the vegetables are and collect as many matching pairs as possible.

More ideas

  • Set up a role play greengrocer with real vegetables.
  • Use a digital microscope to examine vegetables closely. Look at the skins, cut them open and study their cross sections.
  • Cut the vegetables in half, dip them in paint and print with them.
  • Set up a gardening shed in the outdoor area with child-sized gardening tools.
  • Explore what it means to be vegetarian. If there are any vegetarians in the setting, invite them to explain.



Gather the following resources to support the suggested activity ideas:

  •  For Jasper's Beanstalk: vegetable seeds, potatoes, compost, watering cans, trowels, planters and buckets, jam jars, paper towels and cotton wool.
  • It's all in the preparation: fresh, frozen, tinned and dried versions of peas, carrots, potatoes and sweetcorn. Whitworths produces dried mixed vegetables and these can be found in supermarkets.
  • Eat Your Peas: more useful books that deal with fussy eating, such as Little Pea by Amy Rosenthal and Jen Corace (Chronicle Books) and I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child (Orchard).
  • Vegetable characters: vegetables of different shapes and sizes, including potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, aubergines, cucumbers, courgettes and fennel. Selection of craft materials including pipe cleaners, tooth picks, wool, googly craft eyes and felt pens. Natural objects like dried peas and pasta.
  • The tray game: tray, tea towel and a selection of vegetables.
  • Matching pairs game: printed pictures of vegetables, card, glue and scissors.


There are many books featuring vegetables. Here is a small selection:

  • Oliver's Vegetables by Vivian French and Alison Bartlett (Hodder Children's). Oliver will only eat chips until his grandfather challenges him to try vegetables from his garden.
  • Vegetable Glue by Susan Chandler and Elena Odriozola (Meadowside Children's Books). A humorous mini board book about what might happen if you do not eat your vegetables.
  • Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert (Harcourt Trade). Bold and colourful picture book with a recipe for vegetable soup on the back.
  • Mrs Noah's Vegetable Ark by Elena Pasquali and Steve Lavis (Lion UK). Concerned that it is not just animals that need saving, Noah's wife decides to create an ark full of vegetables.
  • Mr Wolf and the Enormous Turnip by Jan Fearnley (Egmont Books). Mr Wolf is hankering after a nice spicy turnip stew.
  • The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child and Polly Borland (Puffin). The traditional tale retold.
  • Vegetables of India by Jill Hartley (Tara Books). Features photographs of exotic vegetables with names.
  • Peas! by Andrew Cullen and Simon Rickerty (Puffin). Tells the story of the pea, from planting to plate.

Marianne Sargent is a writer specialising in early years education and a former foundation stage teacher and primary and early years lecturer.

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