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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