Raising healthy eaters is on the top of many parents’ priority lists these days. In fact, fruits and veggies are playing a more important role on many family dinner tables than ever before. Nevertheless, kids are notoriously picky eaters and even the most well-intentioned parents can struggle to instill healthy eating habits.
One very popular method of getting children interested in produce is to give them hands-on experience with it from an early age. Community and backyard garden beds, as well as windowsill gardens, are popping up everywhere these days as parents have come to realize the value in teaching kids where their food comes from.
What’s more, getting kids involved in the process of growing and harvesting healthy foods builds a sense-of-self as well as healthy habits. It teaches them responsibility and gets them invested in what they’re putting into their bodies.
You may think that with the passing of the warm weather, so too comes the passing of your chance to get your kids excited about healthy eating. Yet, by teaching them how to can and pickle their produce, you can prolong your children’s interest in meal time. Additional benefits for the family include:
- Being able to customize the jar size you use to best fit your storage space as well as family preference as to how much you eat at a time (which cuts back on waste).
- More control on ingredients and sugar levels than you have with store-bought preserved fruit.
- Maximizing flavor by canning when produce is at it’s freshest.
Use our tips and resources below to put together your family’s own collection of preserved fruits and veggies. Then break them out as side dishes all fall and winter, reminding your kids of the role they played in preparing such yummy, and nutritious, accompaniments.
Speciality canning tools are readily available online and there are two main types of home canning systems: boiling water canners and pressure canners. Today we’ll be discussing how to use boiling water canners.
To get started you will need jars, lids, a canning kettle and rack, as well as a special set of tongs known as jar lifters. Download our printable checklist to ensure you have everything you need before beginning.
Each type of fruit and vegetable require different preparation and cooking methods. For a full list of ingredient-specific instructions, see the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s guide for canning fruits and fruit products
as well their guide for canning vegetables and vegetable products
and their pickling guide
This information may be a little overwhelming at first, but canning and pickling can be broken down into six simple steps:
CANNING VS. PICKLING
- Always begin by properly cleaning your fruit and vegetables. Many fruits can also be de-skinned by immersing them in boiling water for 30 - 60 seconds and then immediately submerging them in cold water. After cleaning your fruit, if desired, you can soak them in the sink with a cold water and asorbic acid mixture. This will help prevent the fruit from browning. Finally, cut or chop your produce to fit into your jars.
- Sanitize canning jars, lids and bands by submerging them into a pot of boiling water for at least 10 minutes. When the time is up, drain the water from the pot, remove the canning jars and dry them with a clean towel or turn them upside down and allow them to air dry. Having warm jars and lids will actually help with the sealing process as well.
- Fill your jars with chopped fruit or vegetables, being sure to leave around 1 inch between the top of the fruit/vegetables and the top of the jar. This will allow for expansion of the jar while it is in the water bath and prevent the jar from breaking. Using the above guides, along with this syrups for canning fruit guideline and this pickling guide, pour in either boiling water, sugar water, or your homemade brine to fill in any gaps left in the jar by the produce. Be sure to wipe off the top of the jars in order to achieve a good seal later.
- Place the lids on top of your jars and screw on the metal bands. Next place the jars into the jarring kettle and fill with water so that the jars are completely submerged with about an inch of water above them. Bring the water to a gentle boil (remember your goal is to seal the jar, not cook the fruit or vegetables). Different fruits and vegetables require different amounts of time for the water bath to seal the jars, with the average time being about 20 minutes.
- Lay a clean towel on the kitchen counter or table and remove the jars from the canning kettle with the specialty tongs. Place the jars onto the towel and allow them to cool.
- You will start hearing popping sounds as the lids seal, this can happen up to 24 hours after removing them from the water but usually happens fairly quickly. Test the seal by pressing down on the lid. If it moves when pushed down, then an airtight seal was not created and you’ll need to repeat the above process.
The main difference between canning and pickling lies in the liquid that is poured into the jar along with the produce. For canning fruit, we always use the lowest amount of sugar recommended since it acts as a preservative as well as a sweetener.
For pickling, you can create a homemade brine by mixing 6 cups distilled water, 3 cups white vinegar and 1/2 cup pickling salt in a large pot and then boiling gently. You may also want to add additional spices, such as red pepper, for an extra kick. (Read more on that here
TIPS FOR GETTING THE KIDS INVOLVED
- Let your little guys choose which fruits and veggies they’d like to preserve for the year and take a special trip to the grocery store, or better yet - a local you-pick-farm, to gather your supplies.
- Use kid-safe ceramic knives, under adult-supervision, and allow your children to help with the cutting and chopping. Younger kids can also help with snapping beans or crushing berries.
- Ask your kids to help you decorate and label the jars. Cut colorful fabric into circles with a diameter a few inches larger than the lids and tie with raffia. There are also lots of printable labels available at office supply stores. Pick up a set and let older kids play around with fonts on the computer or ask smaller children to color pictures of the fruits and veggies.
- Ask your kiddos if there are special friends they’d like to give a jar to as a gift and always let them pick which canned goodies to eat with dinner.
- If you’re worried about the levels of added sugar in preserved fruit, make applesauce. You can vary the sweetness just by the variety of apple. In fact, we don’t use any sugar or sweetener at all; we just put a tablespoon or two of water in the pan before we cook the apples to prevent sticking. You can chunk the apples or puree them depending on preference.
- Remember, the jars and rings are reusable for years but the lids can only be used once.