How does your garden grow? Much better with little hands

Tomatoes from my past gardens

It certainly was a long winter and judging by seeds sales, many of us are anxious to get outdoors and enjoy nature. As most of us are still sticking pretty close to home, gardens are becoming more popular than ever before. Growing assorted produce like vegetables and herbs is particularly rewarding these days (especially as shopping trips have been curtailed). Now when I say garden, I don’t necessarily mean a backyard or a plot of land. Even small balconies or window sills can offer a place to grow some of your own food.

Gardens also present another unique opportunity. Getting kids involved can have a major impact on their tastes and preferences as their palates develop. There’s nothing like nurturing a plant from seed or seedling to maturity to provide incentive for a youngster to expand their taste horizons.

A number of studies have looked at the effects of gardening on youngsters’ vegetable consumption. “Eat your vegetables” is something that’s heard in homes around the world and as a result, scientists have been investigating how to change vegetable eating behaviours. Some kids simply love vegetables but there are many who don’t. We all know kids who are simply afraid to try new foods and veggies are certainly at the top of many of these lists.

And gardens may be one of the answers to changing preferences.

In one study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers conducted a garden-based 12-week program at school involving 202 elementary school students (average age of 11 ½ years). Two grades were chosen to see if there were differences between the ages – grades 3 and 6.

The program included gardening, nutrition education, and cooking activities incorporating the harvests. The study included questionnaires before and after the program and looked at factors, such as aversions to new foods, daily food pattern for a few days along with an extensive list of vegetables preferences. These were measured using a six-point scale: “I don’t know,” “I really don’t like it,” “I don’t like it,” “So-so,” “I like it,” and “I really like it.”

The bottom line: After the program, the vegetable consumption frequency of all participating children significantly improved.

ALL the kids.

But here’s another important finding. There were differences between the ages. While the food aversion scores were all decreased, they were better in the younger kids. So starting early can make a difference.

So how young is young?

Let me tell you about my experience. Below is the story of my granddaughter, Julia. The excerpt is from a book called Feeding Baby Green, written by California pediatrician, Dr. Alan Greene.

A number of years ago at an Oldways Whole Grains Council conference, I listened to a presentation by Dr. Greene as he talked about kids and gardens but also talked about elementary school ages. I stood up during the question period and told the story of my granddaughter and my garden. My purpose was to say that you can’t start too early. He then asked me to send him Julia’s story.

Here it is. (Please pardon the highlights as I captured the photo by searching Julia and tomato online before I got the book).

Tomatoes did remain in her repertoire and my garden became a wonderful way to introduce her to different flavours. The next season, when she was two years old, she would look forward to her job in the garden. She would wash and eat oregano, basil, dill and chives right in the backyard as she would water the garden. (I helped carry the watering can). I told her how she would “help them grow” and how her “magic hands” made our tomatoes taste so delicious. I don’t know how many of you have eaten oregano out of the garden but it’s not a common flavour that’s enjoyed on its own.

Just a few years later, she was making us all tomato and basil salads.

She now, as a young teen, makes dinner almost every night for her family.

Yes, gardens can be an incredible boon for healthy eating.

Tags: , ,

Categories: Children's Health, Whole Foods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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2 Comments on “How does your garden grow? Much better with little hands”

  1. October 18, 2021 at 8:00 am #

    This idea of getting kids involved in gardening for the sake of improving their tastes is an interesting one, to be honest. I’m eager to try it out with my kids now. Here’s to hoping they eat more vegetables.

    • October 19, 2021 at 1:45 pm #

      It is truly amazing what kids will eat if they watch it grow. Even just harvesting a food can inspire a child to at least taste it.

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