Cul­ti­vat­ing good eat­ing habits

Chil­dren who grow their own veg­gies eat more of them, re­search shows

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODGARDENS -

HOW do you en­cour­age chil­dren to eat more veg­eta­bles? In­volve them in grow­ing veg­eta­bles, ei­ther in a school veg­etable gar­den or in a veg­etable gar­den at home.

Re­cent re­search in Bri­tain re­veals that chil­dren who spent 12 weeks cul­ti­vat­ing their own school gar­den ended up dou­bling the amount of fruit and veg­eta­bles they pre­vi­ously ate.

This is the find­ing of a three­month study in­volv­ing 99 chil­dren aged 10 to 13 who started their own school gar­den.

The pupils also ate twice as much of the pro­duce as youngsters on a nutri­tion-in-the-gar­den course taught in the class­room without hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence. The fruit and veg­etable in­take of the gar­den­ing chil­dren rose from 1.9 serv­ings to 4.5 serv­ings a day – al­most mak­ing the five-a-day goal that is now en­cour­aged in a healthy diet. Not sur­pris­ingly, the amount of cer­tain nu­tri­ents they con­sumed in­creased too, in­clud­ing sig­nif­i­cant gains in vi­ta­min C, beta carotene and fi­bre.

The range and va­ri­ety of veg­eta­bles and fruit grown by the chil­dren in­cluded straw­ber­ries, herbs, pota­toes, corn, pep­pers, peas, beans, squash, spanspek, cu­cum­bers, broc­coli, toma­toes, spinach, let­tuce and kohlrabi.

Over the three months, the chil­dren planted, weeded, wa­tered and har­vested. In the class­room they made dishes such as salsa, wrote a class cook­book and held an “add a veg­gie to lunch day” as part of their project.

“We are also sure that the project will have long-last­ing ef­fects on what the chil­dren eat,” says Kirsty Gavin who, over the past four years has over­hauled the school lunch menu at her South Lon­don pri­mary school.

“See­ing the chil­dren bring the pota­toes, car­rots and green beans they have grown in the school gar­den to our kitchen is won­der­ful. They un­der­stand the cy­cle of life, but it also makes it eas­ier to en­cour­age them to eat them.

“In my ex­pe­ri­ence, once you get chil­dren eat­ing more fruit and veg­eta­bles they are hooked. This kind of in­ter­ven­tion can make a real dif­fer­ence not just to their im­me­di­ate health, but their fu­ture food choices.” The pop­u­lar­ity of school veg­etable gar­dens is also grow­ing in the United States. Spurred on by Michelle Obama’s veg­etable gar­den at the White House and made more rel­e­vant by the re­ces­sion, web­sites such as Kinder­GAR­DEN of­fer step-by-step ad­vice for start­ing your own food gar­den at a school. The web­site also has a num­ber of food and nutri­tion-re­lated projects for the class­room.

Get­ting chil­dren gar­den­ing is po­ten­tially not just good for their nu­tri­tional habits, but also gives them a chance to be­come phys­i­cally ac­tive. Sci­en­tists from the depart­ment of hor­ti­cul­tural sciences at Texas A&M Uni­ver­sity also found it made chil­dren feel more pos­i­tive.

As they point out, we can all sense that we feel bet­ter when we are sur­rounded by green­ery – re­search in this area is grow­ing.

In South Africa, school gar­dens have long been pi­o­neered by Trees and Food for Africa, the Food Gar­dens Foun­da­tion and Plant a Door veg­etable gar­den. Rand Wa­ter’s en­vi­ron­men­tal ser­vices and ed­u­ca­tional unit have also pro­duced a num­ber of ed­u­ca­tional book­lets on how to cre­ate wa­ter-wise school gar­dens.

In­creas­ingly lo­cal sports stars and celebri­ties are of­fer­ing their sup­port to the grow­ing school gar­dens move­ment. For mer South African crick­eter and El­gin-based or­ganic gar­dener, Adrian Kuiper, vividly re­calls grow­ing veg­eta­bles as a child.

“I re­mem­ber the pride I felt when, at six, I har­vested my crop of beans, which had been ger­mi­nated in cot­ton wool at school. My mother no­ticed this in­ter­est and en­cour­aged me to plant th­ese in my first veg­etable patch. To ob­serve the trans­for­ma­tion from a dry bean seed into a plant and then onto my din­ner plate would in­spire my in­ter­est in farm­ing.”

With South African fam­i­lies feel­ing the eco­nomic pinch and teenage de­pres­sion on the rise, a food gar­den is the an­swer. Chil­dren’s gar­den­ing does not have to be re­stricted to schools. Whether you have a small gar­den, a pa­tio or a win­dow box, you can still start a food gar­den.

What can you plant this month? You can still sow beans, cau­li­flower, cu­cum­ber, cab­bage, carrot, egg­plant, let­tuce, pars­ley, pep­per, pump­kin, radish, squash, spanspek, sweet­cor n, tomato, turnip and wa­ter­melon. For more in­for­ma­tion:

For info on Kinder­GAR­DEN, go to www.ag­gie-hor­ti­cul­ture. tamu.edu/kinder­gar­den

BBC’s gar­den­ing with chil­dren web­site has lots of ad­vice. Visit www.bbc.co.uk/gar­den­ing

For wa­ter wise gar­den­ing tips, see www.lifeis­agar­den.co.za

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