Children who are exposed to a variety of homegrown fruits and vegetables early on rarely become picky eaters.
According to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, children who garden at home or school consume more fruits and vegetables than children who do not. And “Youth gardening enhances all aspects of children’s educational, social and physical development,” suggests the National Gardening Association.
Gardening as part of the school curriculum offers opportunities to engage the mind far beyond the garden plot. It provides the backdrop to teach about the environment, meteorology, foods in different cultures, local history and folklore, literature, language and, of course, nutrition.
In Idaho, sixth-graders who took part in a 12-week school garden project voluntarily continued to eat twice the amount of fruit and vegetables they would normally eat well after the project had come to an end. They experienced the gardening process from beginning to end, using the produce they had grown to make salsa, for example.
By nature, children want to take part in grown-ups’ projects. Simply allowing a young child to use a small garden tool or plant their own row of beans, even if she does not do it quite right at first, can create a real and lasting relationship with fresh produce. Being included, the child feels the adult has granted trust and the experience becomes tangible proof of personal achievement. This does not mean they will readily embrace and devour every single green, orange or red thing on their plate, but this is not the goal.
Here is an idea: Bring the little ones along when you go seed shopping and let them pick at least two vegetables that will be in their care throughout the growing and harvesting process. Anything they want. If they avoid certain varieties, so be it. Tell them they are also responsible for coming up with a recipe when the produce is ready for the table. Be prepared to serve green beans and maple syrup for dinner. That’s a start. The green been has a foot in the door and you’ll share giggles along with the meal.
Here is another fun idea: Encourage playing with food. For example, try a theme garden. “The pizza topping plot,” perhaps: tomatoes, peppers and basil.
Gardening, whether it takes place on five acres of land or four square feet of a balcony, provides a sense of accomplishment and proof of one’s ability to see something through. There is but one way to savor this; that is to take a bite and literally taste the fruits of one’s labor. In this sense, gardening may very well be the most rewarding of all creative acts, for its product is not merely savored in the mind, but also as true nourishment.