Teaching Healthy Food Habits with Edible Gardens
By Kelly Holland
Starting a backyard garden is a great way to learn more about the environment. Children love digging in the dirt. They'll have so much fun, they won't realize they're learning lessons on responsibility, weather, insects, and harvest. It's also a sneaky way to get them to eat more fruits and veggies. They'll take pride in watching their vegetable plants grow and enjoy sharing their harvest with the family. An edible garden is also the best way to teach them about nutrition.
Recent studies show that kids who garden are more likely to choose a fruit or vegetable as a snack rather than junk food. (Candy bars don't grow on trees.)
Involve Kids with ToolsIt's tougher to get kids out of the dirt than into it. So convincing them to work alongside you in the garden shouldn't be tough. You can make it even easier by shopping with them for child-sized tools. You'll find small trowels, rakes, and gardening gloves at many discount stores. Adding a small bucket or a wheelbarrow is a great way to get them excited. Having their own stash of garden tools will help them feel like they're an essential part of the garden project.
Start with Familiar PlantsKids are more likely to get excited about vegetables and fruits they eat on a daily basis. Starting off your backyard garden with familiar plants will help create a level of understanding for small children. It will also make your trips to the grocery store more educational while you wait for your own plants to mature.
Add in Some VarietyOnce you've decided what kind of plants to grow, choose a few more vegetables that you don’t usually buy at the store. These can be items such as squash, peppers, or even different varieties of lettuce. Consider familiar colors. If he or she likes carrots, try planting a few sweet potatoes. Allowing your child to pick out their own special new plant will encourage them to try new foods.
Weed It WellHaving a backyard garden is a great way to teach responsibility. Give them their own watering can so they can water their garden. Skip the harsh chemicals that deter weeds and instead help your child weed the garden daily. Turn weed control into a game with smaller children as you hunt for those pesky invaders. This also provides some outdoor exercise and allows your child to feel a sense of accomplishment. Avoiding chemicals will also keep your family safer since you won’t be ingesting anything other than what the environment provides.
Have Fun with BugsBugs and gardens go together like kids and dirt. Make the introduction of insects an essential part of your lessons. Point out pollinators like butterflies and bees that help produce fruit and vegetables. Order ladybugs and release them into your garden to help cut down on aphids and other bugs that could destroy the plants. Collect pesky bugs that may be eating your plants and put them in a jar.
Do A Blind Taste TestSome children may scoff at how produce from a backyard garden doesn’t look as perfect as those options available in the store. Consider doing a blind taste test between a tomato from your garden at a store-bought tomato. Ask your child to pick which one they like best. We bet he'll notice the vast difference in taste from a freshly picked vegetable compared to one that is days or even weeks old. Teach children that produce still tastes good even if it isn’t the prettiest one on the vine.
You don't need a green thumb to grow a successful garden with your children. (After all, raising kids is a lot harder than raising plants!) You just need to work slowly to build their enthusiasm. Pretty soon they'll be asking to plant all the vegetables you refused to eat while growing up.
Kelly Holland is a gardening and landscape design writer who loves experimenting in her kitchen. Her quirky nature loves a bright color palette so naturally, her coveted garden is covered in a rainbow of fruits, vegetable, and flowers.
One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is a positive self-esteem. Building this takes time and practice. Your help and encouragement can help your child be better prepared for life outside the home, whether that is at school, or in public.