Good Eating Habits Are Easy to Grow
May 3, 2007—The message is clear: eating more fruits and vegetables helps cut disease risk. So what can be done to ensure kids get the recommended daily amounts of these foods? One answer may lie in hands-on learning. A new study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association shows that growing a garden inspires children to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Garden tending—the new trend in nutrition education
A new movement in nutrition education is sweeping the nation: garden tending is making its way into schools as a way to encourage children to eat more healthfully. Because eating habits are established early in life and carry into adulthood, researchers from Idaho State University sought to measure the effects of a garden-based nutrition education program on fruit and vegetable consumption in sixth-grade students.
Three schools took part in the study, with 99 children participating. At one school (the control school), the children filled out food recall workbooks before and after the study, describing everything they had eaten in the last three days. Children at the second school also filled out the workbooks before and after the study, and they participated in a 12-week nutrition education program. In addition to completing the workbooks and participating in the nutrition education program, children in the third school helped grow fruits and vegetables in a school garden. These children assisted with planting, weeding, and harvesting and took part in activities such as making salsa and creating a class cookbook.
By the end of the study, the amounts of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and vitamins A and C in the diets of the children in the gardening-based program had significantly increased. Children at the other schools did not eat substantially more of these foods and nutrients.
“The results from this study illustrate the efficacy of using garden-based nutrition education when attempting to increase adolescents’ consumption of fruits and vegetables,” the authors concluded, adding, “It is heartening to speculate that garden-based nutrition education may be one small tool with tremendous impact.”
Tips for working with budding gardeners
Here are some ways that the National Gardening Association suggests you can help pique and keep your child’s interest in gardening:
- Let children have a say in what they plant, while offering guidance for some “sure success” plants.
- Surround them with great gardens—from a multicolored cottage garden to a decorative little garden getaway.
- Recognize that kids’ gardening priorities may be different from an adult’s; relax your standards and let them plant crooked rows—they’ll still grow just fine.
- Help give children positive gardening experiences; they will create memories for years to come.
The National Gardening Association has a website to help parents and educators make gardening accessible to everyone. It can be accessed at www.kidsgardening.com.
(J Am Diet Assoc 2007;107:662–5)
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Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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