When most people think of toddlers or preschool children and vegetables together, chances are they are not envisioning a very joyful relationship. Instead many of us, either because of horror stories from our parents or experiences with our own children, imagine a very different scenario. One that involves peas splattered on the wall or sweet potatoes secretly fed to the dog, maybe even a few green beans hidden in a secret spot under the table that only your child can find. Well, there's good news for anyone out there who has struggled or is currently struggling with a picky eater when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Research shows that children who participate in gardening activities, whether at home, at school, or in a community garden, have an increased willingness to try fruits and vegetables compared to those without gardening experience. Even very young children can benefit from gardening experiences as it increases their exposure to fruits and vegetables and the more exposure a child has to a food, the more likely they are to eat it. Increasing exposure to these foods and a willingness to try them is extremely important for young children as they are forming the taste preferences that they will carry with them into adulthood.
Beyond the nutritional implications of gardening with young children, there are a vast amount of other benefits. Children learn where food comes from, that much of it starts as a seed and goes through a growing process before it is edible rather than the popular belief among kids that it just magically appears at the grocery store. They learn how to care for living things and their environment, which research has shown increases their chances of becoming environmentally conscious adults. Children also engage in physical activity while gardening and are able to have a variety of sensory learning experiences.
Overall, gardening can be an amazing experience for a young person and one that will have lasting positive implications long into adulthood. Here are a few ways to incorporate gardening activities with children:
Plant a garden, big or small, in your yard, on your patio, or on your balcony.
You don't need a lot of space to have a great gardening experience. While traditional garden plots are great, smaller raised beds or even pots and window boxes can be used to grow a variety of fruit, vegetable or herb plants.
Join a community garden.
Community gardens are a wonderful thing because they give people a chance to have a great gardening experience while sharing the responsibility of planting, weeding, and watering among many people. They're also a great chance to interact with other people in your community and learn more about gardening from neighbors who may have more experience.
Encourage your child's school or child care provider to start an instructional garden.Gardens can be incorporated into a variety of curriculum for all ages. Check with your child's teacher or daycare provider to see if they might be interested in starting a garden and talk with other parents about volunteering to help with the garden.
Any way you can, getting children involved in gardening will not only encourage healthier eating habits, but will provide them with a wealth of benefits now and in the future.