A Kids’ Garden Grows Healthier Eating Habits

Teach a kid to grow a carrot, and she’ll probably eat more of them, according a new study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The study found that kids who are involved in the process of growing their own food are more likely to have healthier diets.

THE DETAILS: Children in 4th through 6th grades attended a YMCA summer camp program called “Delicious and Nutritious Garden,” during which they worked in the garden, taste-tested fruits and vegetables, and used them to make their own snacks. At the end of the 12-week program, 98 percent of kids said they liked the taste tests, 93 percent said they liked the cooking aspect, 96 percent liked working in the garden, and 91 percent said they actually enjoyed learning about fruits and vegetables.

WHAT IT MEANS: One of the conclusions of the study was that food and nutrition professionals should use this sort of “seed-to-table” education program to educate kids about healthy eating. But at a time when state budgets are chopping away at many extracurricular school activities and household budgets are pinching every penny, gardening classes for kids might seem like a luxury. Which is why parents need to step up.

Plant the seed: Kids who learn to garden grow to appreciate healthy food.
Here are a few affordable ways to get a kids’ garden going:

– Buy your own seeds and sow ‘em. In a perfect world, every school would have a program like the Edible Schoolyard, started by celebrity-chef Alice Waters, or Seeds of Solidarity, a farm-to-table program in Orange, Massachusetts, that educates low-income and at-risk kids about how to work on a farm, grow food, and cook the food themselves. But a kids’ garden in your own backyard can be just as educational. “People think that a garden has to be huge, that it has to be tended every day,” says Cindy Thomashow, MS, director of the nonprofit Center for Environmental Education. “They think it’s almost as big an investment as having a pet, and tend to shy away from taking the responsibility. It’s really not. Turn over some soil and invest in some basic garden tools, and you’ll benefit too, she says. “Watching kids bite into a vegetable that’s just been dug from the dirt is really amazing.” Besides, what kid doesn’t love playing in the dirt? Throw in a compost heap and a few earthworms to help decompose the food, and you may never get your kids back into the house.

– Start a conversation at the next PTO/PTA meeting. The most successful gardening and food education programs at schools have been started by single individuals “who understand the need for kids to know where things come from,” says Thomashow. Getting the support of other parents is a good way to start the push for gardening and nutrition programs. Thomashow recommends starting at the top, talking to cafeteria managers and principals first about what you’d like to see, then working on teachers. Money is often the biggest barrier for a school when it comes to maintaining a kids’ garden, she says. But, she adds, “money [barriers] can be overcome by volunteer work and donations.” And having other parents on board provides ready and willing volunteers.

– Instill a little environmental education at home. You can start now to teach your kids about gardening and proper nutrition. “Food is one of the easiest ways to jump into environmental education,” says Thomashow. Take your kids with you to the farmer’s market and get them to talk to the farmers, and ask questions yourself. When kids see you’re interested, they’re more likely to follow suit. Older kids might be interested in the short movie “The Story of Stuff,” which you can watch online. It doesn’t focus exclusively on food, but is a good way to teach them to care where things come from.

– Consult the experts. If you want to get your child’s school, or another community group, involved in a kids’ garden or related projects, the groups listed below provide curriculum and planning materials:

– National Gardening Association’s kidsgardening.org
– California School Garden Network
– Center for Environmental Education

More from Rodale.com

6 Strategies for Urban Vegetable Gardening

Rodale.com is a new original source for daily news, information, and advice on personal and environmental health. Rodale.com focuses on “Where Health Meets Green” topics, providing daily news stories and breaking news along with easy-to-follow, high-impact tips and advice. Rodale.com features a Daily Newsletter, and provides simple, powerful tools including Recipe Finder and Home Remedy Finder to help audiences improve their health and their environment. Rodale.com also includes “Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen,” a personal blog where Editor-in-Chief and Rodale, Inc. CEO and Chairman Maria Rodale is “Cooking Up Trouble, Dishing Out Advice.”

By Emily Main, Rodale News


William C
William C2 years ago

Thank you.

W. C
W. C2 years ago


Students Care
Students Care6 years ago

Sharing this information can really inspire others.
Thank you for the post!

Shirley Z.
Shirley Z6 years ago

Wonderful article! Children need to know where their food comes from and participate in growing it. Great comment from Megan M, where there is a will, there is a way.

sheri denato
Past Member 6 years ago

Healthy is easier, when taught young!

William P.
Past Member 9 years ago

I would love for my child to copy my healthy eating habits, but so far it hasn't worked (yet). But I am a big believer that they will come around some day and surprise us. The key is to keep putting the healthy stuff in front of them.
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David Cohn
David Cohn9 years ago

Gardening is a fantastic way to teach young and old the value of being good stewards of our planet! If we start by creating a healthy living environment for our foods, it will translate to other parts of our life. Bactifeed (http://bactifeed.com) puts microbes back into the soil, releasing the nutrition to the root, breaking down organic materials, and improving the ability of soil to utilize water. It works on farms, yards, gardens, and anywhere you are trying to grow something! Try it!

megan m.
megan m9 years ago

The great thing about growing a veggie garden is that it takes relatively zero money. There is not really an excuse for even the poorest of schools.
Here's how:
If there is a lack of funds for buying seeds, start a donation program. There are lots of people who grow their own food and have excess seeds every season. Or get more crafty and have parents save seeds from the fruits and veggies they buy from the store. Or have each child bring in one packet of seeds, they cost $1 at most home improvement or grocery stores.
Need fertilizer first? The schools can start a compost project first. They already have scraps of foods from school lunches and from kids bringing their own meals. Have bins to throw the foods in (not meat, though) and add it to the compost at the end of the day. Divert trash from landfills, get free fertilizer. Its a win win. And don't forget the school's landscaping. Even if there are only a few trees and shrubs, have the gardeners dump the fallen and trimmed bits into the compost. They will be happy to not have to carry and dump the stuff themselves.
Tools? Try second hand stores or again with the donation programs from parents or local gardeners.
And if for some reason the cost of water will be too high (unlikely), catch rainwater!

hey, see? its easy and WELL worth the education it'll provide to the children.