Some of the most valuable lessons in nutrition and health can happen not in the classroom but in the school garden. As more schools add these interactive learning sites, kids get the chance for hands-on lessons in fruit and vegetable nutrients as they develop an appreciation of healthful foods.
By planting and nurturing their crops, children are more enthusiastic about sampling what they’ve grown, according to organizations that promote school gardens. Of course, peer pressure from fellow student gardeners helps. Your child may try out a new vegetable after seeing their friends do it.
Healthy weight benefits
But gardening doesn’t simply stimulate an appetite for vegetables. It may also help children maintain a normal weight. Providing school gardens is one of the strategies to prevent childhood obesity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Starting a school garden
If you’d like to help set up a garden for your child’s or your neighborhood school, you’ll find plenty of resources online.
But you’ll get the real dirt from volunteers who’ve been working with school gardens:
- Before you dig in, get your school’s support. You’ll need permission to use the land and to set aside time for gardening.
- Encourage other parents and members of the community to volunteer. When you do this as a team approach, it’s a lot easier.
- Tap into the resources of local garden clubs or your county’s extension service. You’ll need input from someone educated on gardening, so reach out to local farmers in your community.
- Plan for nutrition education. At the Southern Pines school gardens, a registered dietitian volunteer talks about the nutritional content of vegetables being grown in one of the gardens.
- Find funding for this planting season and for future years. Try applying for grants and asking for support from the PTA.
* Plant appealing crops. But also keep in mind that children crave immediate gratification: It’s nice to grow pumpkins and potatoes, but include a few instant treats as well. It’s important with kids that you have things they can pick off the vine and eat. Try cherry tomatoes and peas for in-the-garden snacking.
* Tie the gardening activities into ideas for healthy eating. After the kids try out new foods in the classroom, have them write a grocery list to take home to their parents so they can continue to eat healthy.