When They Grow It, They Eat It

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Since moving into our house 18 months ago, I’ve been talking about starting a garden. I’ve come up with lots of excuses why I haven’t done it yet: no time, not sure if there’s a good spot in the yard to do it, too many animals around, not sure what to plant and when, etc. My daughter is very interested in helping, which is why I need to stop making excuses and just do it. She loves to help me cook and even seems more interested in eating the food when we prepare it together. So I know she’d be very excited to be involved in the whole process- from planting the seeds to putting the food on the plate.

Experts have long-believed that children who grow, prepare and eat their own food make healthier food choices. Now a new study is validating these beliefs. Researchers at the University of California tracked the eating behaviors of over 200 children for three years. They compared the eating habits of children who had gardening and cooking integrated into their classroom lessons (along with improvements to their school lunch program), to children who didn’t have gardening and cooking integrated into their curriculum. (The first group of children was considered to be in a highly developed School Lunch Initiative (SLI) program school. The second group was considered a lesser developed SLI.) Some of the highlights of their findings include:

• "Increased nutritional knowledge among 4th and 7th graders who were fed a steady stream of gardening and cooking curriculum.

• Higher fruit and vegetable consumption among elementary-age students in schools with more SLI components than in students at schools with less-developed SLI offerings, including a preference for leafy greens like kale, spinach, and chard.

• Vegetable intake was almost one serving per day greater in the schools with a beefed-up food curriculum, and combined fruit and vegetable consumption increased by 1.5 servings. About 80 percent of this increase came from in-season produce. In comparison, researchers found a nearly quarter-serving drop in produce intake among other students."

The administrators of the Berekely schools where the research was conducted realize that their situation is unique. They have a very developed program and strong support and funding, as well as a climate where produce is available year-round. But that doesn’t mean other school districts can’t learn from their programs and results, helping their students develop a love for gardening, food preparation and enjoyment of fresh foods.

Just one more reason for me to stop talking and start planting.

Do you grow a garden? If so, does your family get involved? How does that help you (and your family) make healthier food choices? Do you think this is a good idea for schools to implement?

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I think teaching our children to garden is the best thing we could do for them.The other day I went to the grocery store to buy some fresh garlic, I could not believe it came from China. What a long way off from where I live.I remember when my dad used to grow garlic in our backyard.How good home grown garlic is. Report
I don't have kids, but I think this would actually help myself. I am always looking for ways to add more veggies and fruits to my meals and I actually started my own garden last summer but just didn't grow and produce. That is mainly because I don't really know how to garden! Report
My kids have tried a lot of vegetables that they wouldn't have eaten before when they are involved in the care of it while it's growing, AND as your blog mentioned when they help cook it! Wouldn't this be great if this took on in other areas? Report
i think gardening is a great idea! i live in an appartment but i have a balcony so i started doing the pot gardening a couple of years ago. we had our own tomatoes, cucumbers, jalapenos, chiles, bell peppers and some herbs. this year i even started growing flowers, which i was never into! my husband doesnt get involved in the gardening, but he loves the homegrown stuff. he was surprised to see where cucumbers come from lol. lots of people have no clue about gardening. i didnt know much either, but i tried, i asked my mom for advice, i looked stuff up online, and some plants worked, some didn't. its all worth it anyways, because there is nothing better than to walk outside and pick up your own fresh veggies for the meal. Report
I wish this option were available when I was in school. The only gardening I did was when my aunt lived near - she has since she moved away and I have not gardened in the years. I hope to get back to it some day, even if its a window sill garden. Report
I love to garden and my grandchildren love to help. Report
I don't grow my own garden, but I do know that the produce tastes so much better, than what you buy, and I think it is a great idea, for schools to implement it.
I used to grow tomatoes on my deck, and they were very tasty. Report
We are members at a local CSA and i have an herb garden in my back yard. It is not big but i did manage to make some home made pesto and used the parsley, dill, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, cucumbers, jalapenos and bell peppers in my cooking :) Report
Unfortunately, I am well-known amongst friends and family to have a black thumb. ;) But we did something new this year, we joined a CSA farm with 2 of our good friends. Every week we convene with our kids to pick up our veggies, and the farmers often take our kids around the farm, showing them the crops, the bee hives, the chickens, equipment, etc. They have tried new veggies that even I had never tried before. It's been a great experience for us, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has a local CSA they can join. Report
I am very offended by Jibbie's comment. First, you imply that a garden curriculum would take the place of a reading curriculum and second that teachers aren't doing their jobs. I'm sorry but you are very naive and uninformed. Where does your information come from? Were the kids polled about reading at home, at school, or both? Perhaps kids aren't reading at home because they own a TV, Wii, DSi, XBox, and all manner of other games and distractions. And how can some parents put in a garden when they can't afford rent? Or they are working 2 or 3 jobs and don't have time to tend a garden. Why should those kids be left without a nutrition education? I am a teacher and I have seen garden growing put to good use in a school setting from 1st grade through 5th.

A GARDEN CURRICULUM INCORPORATES EVERY ASPECT OF A BALANCED EDUCATION from reading about the topic, to finding the perimeter and area of your garden, to counting seeds and measuring depth, to seeing the plant life cycle up close and personal, to measuring your garden goodies for cooking and reading the recipe, the list goes on!!!

We are not forgetting to teach our kids to read simply because we enrich the student's education with a natural, healthy, and at this point necessary topic.

Note: I will admit that, unfortunately, some current teachers and administrators are not doing their jobs effectively. Standards and accountability systems are already in place to remove those teachers and administrators. Report
Teachers need to be teaching kids to READ since the average kid spends SEVEN minutes per day, so let parents put in Gardens with the kids at home. Report
We used to have a huge garden until the neighbor's cats discoved that it was a great litter box :) We'll be back to gardening when we retire and have the time and effort to put in to it. My son is grown, but I may be able to recruit my 6 year old granddaughter for a little help in a few years :) Report
I have grown tomatoes for many years, and have recently grown grape tomatoes. I'm not much on canning vegetables, but did figure out that I could put fresh tomatoes in the blender and freeze them in freezer bags. It is fabulous to be able to fix chili and spaghetti sauce all winter using homegrown tomatoes! Report
My husband and I both grew-up in families that had big gardens. We also had big gardens with one section just for the kids to grow what they wanted and to tend. The kids are gone, but we still have a garden (not so big) of what we like. I freeze and I can and we enjoy all winter long. Report
when we were kids we always had a huge garden and we all chose 1 item to plant and care for - I did peas, my brother did green beans and my sister had carrots (although she first wanted to plant steak LOL)... those were the best veggies we ate! Report
My two year old wouldn't come within 100 feet of a vegetable until i had him help me water and weed and harvest from my garden. Now he comes up to me with fists full of tomatoes saying "a bite, a bite please". I just have to teach ime to stop picking (and eating) the green ones! Report
We had a very large vegetable garden when my 4 children were growing up. I never had an issue with any of them liking vegetables. They each had their favorites, of course. I learned from my husband to serve the vegetables without sauces and a lot of ingredients that hide the flavor. When we were first married he said he hated vegetables. Once we moved to the country and had our own garden, I cooked the vegetables with a little salt and he loved them. He said his mother always made them with creams and sauces and decided that is what he didn't like. He loves beets but hates harvard beets which is how she always made them. I have told this to many other mothers/dads over the years. They have been amazed at how their child will eat many of the vegetables served when fresh or frozen. Many kids/adults don't like canned vegetables either. Report
Ever since I left home I have had a garden or a pot or an abandoned tub planted with something...vegies, herbs...For the last 18 years we are blessed to live on acreage and have dabbled in hobby farming and the big garden already established. That garden has now been sectioned into thirds - raspberry patch, rock floral garden and the raised bed garden which we set up last year due to my bad knees. 13 of them!! I hate canning but my husband loves it, so he cans and I freeze. If there is too much then we share with the local food bank. My husband told our little grandson that the peas were green candy and boy does he love those! Not a good way to get him to eat fresh from the garden and it didn't work for the cherry tomatoes or the carrots but he'll learn to enjoy them just as much as his daddy Report
While these days, I'm an urbanite with little room for more than a windowsill herb garden, as a child, my mom grew a plot of green beans and zucchini in the backyard and I LOVED to help her weed and harvest. Some 20+ years later, I still look forward to the fall when zucchini's back at the local farmer's market!! Report
We moved into our house nearly two years ago and since we moved in we've had a garden. The first year it was a "test" to see what would grow in our soil and how well it would do, but this year was a HUGE undertaking. Both of our children came out to help weed, plant, and eventually harvest the bounty. They're both interested in the garden and we find that they now ask us, "Is this from OUR garden?" when we eat a meal. If it is (which is is most of the time) they gobble it down and comment on how yummy it is. If not, they tend to tell us how they wish it was from our garden. Next year they will each have their own 4x4 square in the garden to plant whatever they like. They're SO excited and have been discussing which vegetables to grow so they can help make dinner with them. They may not like every vegetable out there, but they do love to help grow them- and that (in our family) has helped our kids eat them, too! Report
Our suburban kids attended an elementary school that had room in back for a small "farm", and they all put in class time working on planting and harvesting (and eating). They like their vegetables. Coincidence? Perhaps not! Report
I remember, as a child, visiting with some family friends in NH who grew lots of different foods. We got a big kick out of picking our own corn and planting potatoes (two crops we don't have where I'm from). It certainly made me enjoy eating the corn even more.
But perhaps it becomes a chore if you have to do it all the time. Report
I care for children (respite) and find that getting the children to "pick their own" from my garden certainly encourages them to eat better.
Although few of them come regularly enough see the growing process from seed to harvest, they still feel they can claim the crops as "theirs" Report
I am a long time gardener, my kids do help. They are very proud of the foods that they grow and are good veggie eaters. The downside, once you get used to fresh garden veggies it is VERY hard to eat grocery store veggies when the garden isn't producing or there is a bad garden year (like this one has been).

Side benefit...gardening is great exercise! Report
I planted our first garden this summer. We kept it simple and grew lots of tomatoes. The kids enjoyed helping me plant and pick tomatoes. I did the watering. I can't wait to plant my fall/winter garden! Report
I don't have kids, or room to grow a veggie garden, but I did grow a tomato plant and a cucumber plant in large containers this summer. Next year I want to add green peppers and maybe some zuchinni.

I really loved my home grown tomatoes; you just can't find that same flavor in a store. Report
I don't have children but have a very picky eater for a husband. I have had a vegetable garden for two years now, and I have to say my DH loves my grown veggies. Report
My kids help a little in the garden with me and my middle dd planted okra because she likes it. I dehydrated it and she likes eating it that way as a snack! They will also go out and pick cherry tomatoes, green beans... and eat them right there. I LOVE my garden! Report
I didn't have one this year. My knee was messed up, and the weather was so bad in the NW there was no growing season. My friends who did plant gardens got slime, not veggies. :P
Hopefully next year will be better, I love home-grown produce! Report
My children help with the garden. They are proud of what they grow and harvest. Report
I agree! When my children were growing up, they each got a small section of the garden to grow whatever they wanted. Both love veggies! Report
Growing up we always had a garden because there was 6 kids to feed and my dad grew up on a farm in Kentucky. We had a couple acres and my mom canned or froze whatever we did not eat immediately. I live in the city so I only have a small garden that my husband enjoys planting each spring. This year we did not plant alot but did enjoy some fresh tomatoes. Our eggplants did not turn out good, so that was disappointing because I wanted to make India chicken w eggplant. The rest of the garden was destroyed by animals that live near our home. They got the yellow squash and the cucumbers we planted. We do grow our own black berries and my husband enjoyed making freezer jam with them. I did make one blackberry cobbler and it was delicious. I am more of a strawberry and raspberry person so look forward to planting some of them maybe next year. Report
I started a garden this year. I messed it up terribly. I probably spent $30 and all I've got to show for it is one zucchini, a couple peppers that won't turn color, and about a quart of cherry tomatoes. And it was completely worth it! I can't wait to start my garden next year so I can apply everything I learned this year through my mistakes. At least I'll have some good compost from all the non-producing plants. Report
Yes! the family did plant a garden and it seems that the family will eat what they plant? and when they do without them knowing it they are making themselves eat vegetables that they probably would not eat if I prepare them and put them in front of them to eat? something they grew means something to them so yes it does help to get you fingers dirty and plant! It also would help if the schools could like them have a garden project where everyone can find out how to do it? Report
The reason I started a garden years ago is beacuse of my memories as a child. My children have always helped and love to eat "straight from the garden". I hope they have the same fond memories when they are older. Report
Just yesterday my 19yr old daughter grabbed some of the green beans that I'd just picked and started munching them raw. She didn't even care that I hadn't washed them yet. Not even when I said a bug may have poohed on it :-) oh well, I grow organically so I didn't really worry about that either. A little bug pooh is better than chemicals and pesticides for sure. So yeah, even just watching mom grow veg's in boxes in the the back yard gets your kids (teens) eating better. Awesome article. Report
I love having an extensive, vegetable, herb and floral garden but I don't have a green thumb. Fortunately my husband does and so he does most of the gardening while I do the demanding of what goes into it. My kids will eat most of what we grow except for red, yellow and green peppers.
We are from South Africa and when I went to school there, I learned how to cook, bake, knit and sew during my first two years of high school. We were taught all about nutrition and the benefits of eating healthy meals. We were also taught to plan healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners for a normal family, sickly person, elderly and even baby nutrition. Basically we were taught how to run a home. I think that was a valuable class and it would be a wonderful idea if schools taught those subjects not as an elective but as a Standard class so that students can learn the basics of nutrition. I bet that would play a big part in reducing the obesity levels in America. I too was appalled at how many people, never mind the children who can't identify certain vegetables and fruit. Report
The past 2 years our kids and us have been growing our own veggies from seed... well sort of. You see, we plant all the seeds in Feb/March and the kids water and oooh and awww all over the emerging seedlings! They love to see the plants bend toward the sun- but the reality is - some seedlings are not so healthy to survive transplanting. But the kids plant it in the gardens- and like the tooth fairy- the plants really seem to improve and grow overnight- almost like magic ! The kids are so proud to eat what they have grown- and technically they did grow tomatos, spinach, peppers, onions, radishes, broccoli and much more from seed- they just needed an extra little help on getting them to fruit! :-D
UC has the advantage of being the home city of Ann Waters, who has revolutionized cooking from local produce and supported the school garden movement. Now that the White House garden has been featured, we can only hope the trend continues to spread nationally. I am appalled by how few vegetables kids can name, much less eat. Report
I loved the fresh vegies that grew in my mothers garden, I do not have a green thumb. I try to plant tomatoes every year and they die. It seems the only thing I can grow is old. Report
My love of gardening today comes directly from helping my mother tend her garden when I was quite young. I don't really have a home right now and travel extensively, but I cannot seem to resist planting and also composting whenever the opportunity presents itself, even though I will not be able to eat what I plant. I look forward to having my own home again and starting a garden again. Report
I don't have time to garden myself, but take my children both to the farm market and to the farm associated with my CSA. Introducing kids to where our food really comes from (in hopes of teaching them to make real food choices) is key. Report
I have definitely found that my children are more accepting of new foods and more aware of their food choices if they take part in meal preparation and planning. We have grown some vegetables this year and they liked helping with that, so much so in fact that they are now thinking and planning what to plant and where to plant it next year. This year,we started all of our veggies from seed indoors, so they really got to see the whole process and work on it from the very beginning. They also see us going outside to the yard to get herbs and seasonings for our meals on a regular basis and always have questions about what it is we are picking and why and what does it do... Gardens, no matter how small they are, are a good thing. Report
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