Recent studies suggest that school gardens can help address the challenge of getting children to eat vegetables. In a follow-up assessment of a garden, nutrition, and culinary program in after-school care, it was found that children who underwent the program showed improvements in their body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC), and vegetable consumption over a period of 12 weeks as a result of the intensive training they received.
In order to expand the reach of the program, researchers investigated whether integrating it into the school curriculum and teaching it during class time throughout an entire school year would prove equally effective. The initiative was specifically aimed at schools with high numbers of low-income Hispanic students, as this demographic has been shown to consume the fewest fruits and vegetables among all groups of children in the United States.
Results of the Research
During the three-year study, eight schools participated in the gardening program for one academic year each. Out of the 16 schools, only two implemented the initiative.
Students in grades three through five received 18 individual sessions with a specialized teacher over the course of the academic year. The curriculum for this year’s courses focused on the following subjects:
The curriculum for this year’s courses included the following topics:
- Properly preparing fresh fruits and vegetables for optimal nutrition
- Making healthy food choices while traveling
- Consuming locally-produced, low-sugar fruit and vegetable juices and foods
- The correlation between fresher produce and a healthier diet
- Serving others and promoting food equality as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Under the initiative, the intervention schools created gardens on their campuses. The program utilized these gardens during specialized lessons to offer students hands-on experience in cultivating their own food.
The intervention schools organized parent information nights to educate and involve parents, but the attendance rate was low due to transportation issues. Our research revealed that many families only owned one vehicle, making it challenging for their children to get to school without taking the bus.
Over the course of the program, the children’s vegetable consumption significantly improved. However, there were no notable changes in their BMI, blood pressure, or waist circumference, and their fruit intake and consumption of high-sugar drinks remained unchanged.
Vegetables and the Way They Benefit Your Health
Although the intervention did not result in an immediate reduction in childhood obesity rates, registered dietitian Kerry Jones believes that the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables still holds significant benefits for children’s health. Since fresh produce is abundant in nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals, regular consumption can have a positive impact on overall health.
Promoting children’s consumption of a wider range of fruits and vegetables offers both clear health benefits and helps make mealtimes less stressful. Studies show that children who consume diverse vegetables are less likely to experience selective eating habits.
Encouraging children to try new types of produce can expose them to a variety of flavors and textures. This approach can help children develop a stronger palate, which, over time, can lead to them being more receptive to trying new foods. Additionally, consuming a broader range of fruits and vegetables means children are more likely to get critical nutrients essential for optimal growth and development.
Incorporating more diverse fruits and vegetables into meals also provides an opportunity for parents to bond with their children. Cooking together and getting creative with different ingredients creates memories that last a lifetime. So, promoting diverse vegetable consumption not only promotes healthy eating but also helps cultivate positive relationships around food.
The kitchen is where a child’s initial knowledge of nutrition is typically gained, primarily through interactions with their family. Thus, the degree to which parents influence their children’s eating habits cannot be overemphasized. When cultivating a friendly and encouraging environment, children are more likely to experiment with new foods.
The variety and quality of foods presented to children from an early age can have a significant impact on their dietary preferences. Individuals living in “food deserts,” defined as regions that are geographically isolated or where fresh produce is either prohibitively expensive or inaccessible, may face limitations in their ability to access a diverse range of foods due to their location.
Teaching children how to grow their own vegetables at home or in school can be a powerful way to encourage them to consume more produce. This approach serves as an effective means for cultivating healthy eating habits among kids.
Encourage Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies!
While school gardens aren’t always available, there are still strategies for increasing children’s exposure to vegetables and, hopefully, promoting greater consumption. Rather than resorting to forceful tactics aimed at making kids eat their veggies, parents can explore alternative approaches to get their children excited about trying new produce. It’s important to find creative ways to encourage kids to consume more fruits and vegetables without resorting to coercion.
Be There to Back Up Their Schoolwork.
An additional method to promote greater fruit and vegetable consumption is to reinforce what children learn in school. Supporting and nurturing children’s curiosity about produce inside the classroom can be very beneficial. It’s important to review any homework assignments that students bring home and stay up-to-date with the material being taught in class.
Make a Goals Poster or Visual Manifesto.
Encouraging children to consume more fruits and vegetables can be a fun and exciting experience. A great way to promote this is by trying out a new type of produce during every grocery shopping trip. This approach not only helps diversify children’s diets but also introduces them to new flavors and textures.
To make the experience even more enjoyable, parents can encourage their children to create illustrations of each new item they try and add them to a wall poster. Experimenting with a variety of colors adds an extra layer of excitement to the activity. For example, students can challenge themselves to find enough vegetables of different colors to fill a rainbow poster.
Another option is for children to try a new vegetable every day of the week and chart them alphabetically. This approach allows them to learn about veggies that may not be a staple in their family’s usual diet. It can also provide inspiration for incorporating these new ingredients into meals or snacks. Overall, trying out new types of produce provides a fantastic opportunity for children to develop healthier eating habits while having fun along the way.
Make your own garden and eat your own vegetables.
Promoting children’s interest in healthy meals doesn’t have to require a massive effort. It can be as simple as displaying a small planter box or pot on a sunny terrace or within the home. This approach helps children invest more in nutritionally diverse meals and increases their consumption of healthier food.
However, many parents find it challenging to provide their kids with a wide variety of nutritious meals. A good way to address this challenge is by including children in decision-making processes. When parents and children learn and adapt together, it can make the experience less intimidating for youngsters. This approach also makes children feel heard and valued.
Including children in decision-making processes can take many forms. For instance, parents can let kids choose which fruits or vegetables to include in their meals or involve them in meal planning and preparation. These activities serve as great opportunities to teach children about healthy eating habits while empowering them to make informed choices.