Did you know that April is National Gardening Month? What a great excuse to bring learning outdoors, and explore topics like health and nutrition in ways that will engage kid’s hands and excite their mouths and minds. Teaching kids to grow their own food is a powerful tool when it comes to the dinner table. Children can be difficult at meal time because they are all picky to some degree. Evolutionary scientists have found reason to believe that children can be neophobic, or afraid of certain foods, as a survival tactic. When little cave babies were crawling around the earth, putting everything they touch into their mouths (as they still do), sweetness indicated that something was safe to eat, whereas bitter tastes were often associated with poisonous or harmful foods. While this is an important survival tool for babies to have, it’s equally as important for parents and caretakers to continue encouraging healthy eating even when they are faced with table tantrums or blatant refusals to eat. Eating habits are formed during a child’s development. If kids aren’t learning to eat the right foods, their health is going to suffer throughout their lifetime.
Child nutritionists and pediatricians suggest that the best way to combat these picky eating habits are to reintroduce foods over and over again in small doses until the child becomes used to them, and to use positive approaches when presenting kids with new foods. We think that one incredible way to do both of these things is to introduce your kiddos to growing their own food! Once children are old enough to dig into the dirt without sticking it straight into their mouths, gardening can be an eye (and mouth) opening experience for them. When a child plants a seed in the dirt, tends to it with water and nutrients day after day, and watches their hard work sprout into something beautiful, they learn to love the foods that they grow.
To get you started, we've listed some helpful tips for gardening with kids below:
1. Work with plants that are low-maintenance and fast-growing: Gardening doesn't have to be a major production. In fact, the simpler it is, the more kids will likely enjoy it. Try starting with something you already have. For instance, stick the leftover end of your romaine lettuce in a glass of water and place it in front of a window. Watch it sprout leaves in just days! Click here for a few more simple starter ideas!
2. Never use chemicals: It is important to steer clear of chemical fertilizers when gardening in general, but especially when gardening with kids, as they are more susceptible to illness. Not only do these chemicals enter your skin when you handle the fertilizer, they permeate the fruits and vegetables that you grow and later ingest. These chemicals can cause a range of different health issues, from skin irritation to certain cancers.
3. Engage kids throughout the entire process, from seed to plate: When children experience the full life of a seed, or the regeneration of a lettuce scrap into a full head of romaine, they grow more mindful of the food on their plates. Kids who engage in gardening additionally tend to have higher scores in science, more interest in the outdoors (meaning less screen time!), and higher levels of self-esteem.
The basic idea here is that if they grow it, they will eat it. So grab some gloves and seeds, or just some old table scraps, and get gardening!