Gardening with kids: promoting healthy eating and responsibility

Teaching children to garden not only provides nutritional benefits, but also promotes familial bonding while teaching children responsibility and structure. A Baylor College of Medicine dietitian details the importance of gardening with kids.

A child in a white dress holds a tool in a large garden.“Gardening with kids is a complete activity because they get to spend quality time with their families while learning about the science behind how plants grow,” said Alicia Beltran, research dietitian at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital. “A family project like this allows parents and children to spend quality time together and creates strong bonds, while helping the psychosocial and emotional development of the kids.”

Gardening improves the intake of fruits and vegetables and also gives children responsibility and self-confidence. Depending on the age of the child, it can be a great way to perfect their fine motor skills and development. It promotes physical activity that is beneficial for the whole family and allows them to get natural vitamin D.

Beltran recommends starting small and having a plan. Herbs, leafy greens (like lettuce or kale) and tomatoes are a good for beginners since they are easy to plant and grow quickly. If you have limited yard space, grow herbs in pots. If you have the capability to do something larger, such as a gardening bed, teach kids about what they can plant based on the season. Involve them in each step of the plan and give them responsibility while working as a team:

  • Decide what to plant
  • Learn what type of soil is needed
  • Designate someone to take care of the vegetables, fruits or plants

This will teach them about accountability while giving them more independence.

While plants and leafy vegetables grow quicker, root vegetables also are an easy option for children to plant. Choose carrots, beats or potatoes for gardening to teach them patience as they take more time to grow.

Parents often struggle with getting their children to eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Kids are more likely to eat foods they plant on their own, which brings immense health benefits to their diet. Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and increase fiber intake depending on the fruit. The increased consumption of fruits and vegetables improves the immune system and overall health.

“Get kids involved in the family activity so they get more ownership of the project. Exposing them to gardening and harvesting gives them more chances to taste what they grow, giving them more opportunities to have a high-quality diet,” Beltran said.

By Homa Shalchi

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