In our household, eating vegetables has never really been a major struggle. But the same can’t be said for the rest of households in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 5.7 percent of students don’t eat any vegetables in any given week. That rate is even higher among Hispanic youth (8.2%). So how can we get kids to eat vegetables, aside from forcing it down their throats? By getting them involved in food production.
My daughter and I have gardened for the past four years, since she was 7. And in that time I have seen her grow more aware of using plants as food, asking if certain wild herbs are edible, for instance. Because our garden is organic, she has also gone from eating vegetables only when she is told, to plucking them straight off the vine and popping them into her mouth. What can be credited with this? I believe, as other gardeners and researchers do, that getting children involved in their own food production increases their desire to eat healthy and consume the fruits of their labor.
A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that children partaking in a gardening program not only enjoyed the activities associated with gardening, but 97.8 percent of them enjoyed eating the fruits and vegetables they grew. The program also helped kids develop their own fruit and vegetable preferences and increased their intake overall.
Before you give me excuses (we don’t have room to garden, I can’t keep a plant alive, etc.), let me tell you this: a beginner garden only takes a few containers and seeds and is so easy even your child can do it!
That’s right; you don’t need a plot of land and all sorts of fancy tools. Use plastic pots from the dollar store, or even old Rubbermaid totes with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. You can find seeds for less than a dollar a package and a good organic potting soil can be purchased for about $5 a bag.
The most important thing here is to get your children involved. So,
- Let them help choose the vegetables. You scope out the information on the back of the seed package to ensure proper planting times and space, but give them some control in what will be grown. Loose leaf lettuces, cherry tomatoes, and small peppers are great plants for the beginner and do well in containers.
- Teach them as you work. This isn’t just a lesson in vegetable consumption, but a great chance to learn about farming, science, and health.
- Give them daily chores. Plants in containers dry out more quickly. Teach your child about proper watering, organic pest control (sometimes as simple as removing bugs with your hands), and when to harvest.
- Show them different ways to prepare their harvest. Getting children involved in the kitchen is another great way to increase their veggie consumption.
Gardening is a fun and healthy activity for the whole family. Your child will be much more apt to eat a salad when they are the ones who grew all of the ingredients. Not only are vegetables grown with your own two hands more rewarding, but they taste far better than the well-traveled and questionably fresh veggies and fruits in the store.