Like most kids of the toddler-set years and above, it can be a struggle getting them to eat their vegetables. In fact, less than half of children get the recommended amount each day. Try as we might, the tricks we have up our sleeves don’t always work. So, what can we as parents do to encourage more vegetable and fruit consumption? I’ve found a secret weapon lurking around my house – my very own backyard.
Back in the day, before I had kids, I really wanted a house only so I could have my vegetable garden. Granted, I knew kids would come eventually. We moved in, and that first summer I got to work planting my veggies. Since then, I’ve watched my vegetable garden grow larger each year, and I’ve passed down the love of growing my own food onto my sprouting children.
Not only am I getting to enjoy my delicious harvest all summer and into the fall months, but my kids also get to reap the built-in nutritional and educational benefits of having a garden.1,2
- They provide an opportunity to learn nutrition through a hands-on connection to the food cycle and growing healthy choices.
- Research has shown that children who plant and harvest their own fruits and vegetables are more likely to eat them, increasing their overall food preferences and knowledge of nutrition.
- They are built in math and science experiments at home. (For more ways to incorporate food and science, read this post.)
With summer around the corner and the danger of frost just about gone, now is the perfect time to take this knowledge and apply it to your own backyard. If you are not sure where to start, check out your local garden center or ones at major hardware stores such as Home Depot or Lowes. Whether you are planting in pots or in the ground, the staff is there to help with any questions you may have. They can tell you when is the best time to plant, the soil you should buy, plants with similar water and sun requirements that should be planted together and other tricks of the trade. Your library or bookstore will also have a bounty of helpful books to choose from, including one of my favorites, The Edible Garden, by Emily Tepe.
Have your child be an active participant in planting, growing and harvesting the garden. We like to make getting our garden ready a family-fun day, with a trip to the garden store to buy soil, seeds and starter plants. Once back home, it’s spent outside filling and digging in the dirt, planting everything we picked out that day and watering in the end. What kid doesn’t love an excuse to play in the mud?
Let your kids pick out a few vegetable and fruit plants at the garden center, some they like and a new one to try. We all know kids love to have control as temper tantrums may otherwise ensue. So don’t be too surprised when you learn that your non-spinach eating child can’t wait to try it after they harvest it from their garden. Or, with a sense of pride and accomplishment, bite into that juicy tomato they just picked.
Continue the experience inside the kitchen in preparing the vegetables to eat and incorporating them into new and old recipes. Recipes that include vegetables from their garden may now become healthy staples at your house and hopefully create less mealtime fights. I like to think my own vegetable garden is what turned my kids into bell pepper, cucumber and tomato eaters. Hopefully, a garden can broaden your family’s palate as well.
- Morris JL , Zidenberg-Cherr S. Garden-enhanced nutrition curriculum improves fourth-grade school children’s knowledge of nutrition and preferences for some vegetables. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002;102(1):91–93.
- Koch S , Waliczek TM , Zajicek JM. The effect of a summer garden program on the nutritional knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of children. HortTechnology. 2006;16(4):620–625.