Cultivating good eating habits
Children who grow their own veggies eat more of them, research shows
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