This is a guest post from Vanessa Morley, a registered dietetic technician who works at Everydayhealth.com.
Gardening is a great way to educate your kids about where their food comes from and encourage them to try new vegetables they haven’t tasted before. Research has shown that gardening with your children also increases their vegetable consumption, especially when they are involved with the entire growing process (Morris & Zidenberg-Cherr, 2002).
With the first days of summer here, what better way to start a vegetable garden than this weekend! Even if you don’t have a green thumb there are plenty of ways to use your outdoor space to grow beautiful and delicious vegetables your whole family can enjoy.
First you should figure out the space you would like to use for your backyard garden. If you don’t have the room to plant things in the ground, consider starting a container garden. These gardens can be placed anywhere there’s plenty of sun and may be less daunting than a huge vegetable garden, especially if this is your first garden.
Many vegetables can be planted in containers as well, including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, eggplant, peppers, carrots, squash, zucchini, and herbs. Think about what types of vegetables your family eats on a daily basis, so you can get the most out of your garden and if you would like, plant some varieties that your family hasn’t tried before and experiment with them in the kitchen. Make sure to include your kids during the planning process too. Bring them to help you pick out the seeds or plants to get them excited about the process.
Alternatives to a garden
If you don’t have the space for a garden, a great alternative is to take a trip to your local farmer’s market with your kids. At most markets they have a variety of vegetables, some fruits, eggs, meat, dairy products and baked goods. There you can meet the farmers who grow the vegetables and ask them questions about how to prepare the foods they have to offer. Let your kids pick out some of their favorite vegetables to have for later and encourage them to pick out a few different vegetables they haven’t had before.
Another alternative to gardens and farmer’s markets is community supported agriculture, more commonly known as a CSA. A CSA is a partnership between a farmer and a community of people who buy shares of the farm’s harvest each year (to find one in your area go here).
The size of the share that you buy depends on the farm and the size of your family, but each week you get a variety of different vegetables from the farm. This is a wonderful way to support your local farmer’s and to educate your children on where their food comes from. Many CSA’s also have pick-your-own fields where you and your children can go out onto the fields to pick a variety of different fruits and vegetables.
Growing a vegetable garden, visiting a farmer’s market, or being a part of a CSA is not only educational for your children, but it can also be very rewarding and fun for them. Once you have gathered your vegetables from your chosen source, include your kids in the preparing and cooking process as well. They are more likely to try different vegetables if they have been part of the seed-to-table or farm-to-table process.
All in all, just make sure that you and your kids have a fun day learning about where your food comes from and enjoying a delicious meal wrapped around the fruits of your labor.
Morris, J. & Zidenberg-Cherr, S. 2002. Garden-enhanced nutrition curriculum improves fourth-grade school children’s knowledge of nutrition and preferences for some vegetables. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 102(1), 91-93.