Posted on Tue, 27 Jul 10
Experiential learning is a powerful way to improve eating behaviours in children, and they desperately need to improve as currently less than 10% of children age 4-13 meet healthy eating guidelines. Learning through growing food from seed to table can help.
A number of studies have found that children who are involved in garden projects increase their fruit and vegetable intake, are more likely to try new vegetables and develop a greater preference for these healthy foods. This in turn improves nutritional status, may increase overall health and prevent chronic disease development later in life. One such study took a group of almost 100 children and got them involved in a garden project and educational program for just 20-30 minutes twice a week.
A wide variety of fruits and vegetables were planted by the children who also learned to weed, observe and harvest their garden. Additional activities included learning about the origins of food, plant parts, environmental stewardship, nutrient needs of humans and plants, cooking and healthy eating guidelines. Each week the children tasted a new fruit or vegetable which they were also encouraged to observe, smell, and feel before tasting. They also learnt how to make healthy snacks from their garden and received a cookbook containing recipes for the fruits and vegetables they taste tested.
Planting the seed
To encourage change in home eating behaviours children were encouraged to share their experiences with their family and ask for the fruits and vegetables they grew, tasted or prepared. In addition parents were encouraged to improve fruit and vegetable availability and accessibility through weekly newsletters, recipes, and take-home activities.
Children reported high levels of enjoyment during the project including taste-testing and preparing fruits and vegetables. They also liked working in their garden, and learning about fruits and vegetables. The project resulted in an increase their preference and in the number of fruits and vegetables ever eaten. Children also asked more for fruit and vegetables at home.
Cultivating healthy habits
The study investigators concluded that “participation in the "seed to table" experience of eating may help promote healthful eating behaviours among youth. Food and nutrition professionals should consider garden-based nutrition education programs that connect children with healthful foods through fun, hands-on activities.”
When was the last time you ate something you grew?
1. Heim S, Stang J, Ireland M. A garden pilot project enhances fruit and vegetable consumption among children. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jul;109(7):1220-6.