KIRKSVILLE, Mo. – Picky eaters can turn every meal into a battle of wills. If it’s too green, too crunchy, too soft, too orange or just any vegetable, they will not eat it.
The key to getting your picky eater to try new things isn’t wrestling at the dining table, but rather to take them outside. Teaching young children to grow a garden can make them more adventurous eaters.
“There’s lots of studies that show if kids are gardening they are more willing to try fruits and vegetables,” said Margo Myers, nutrition specialist for University of Missouri Extension.
For example, a 2012 study from Oregon State University concluded that gardening increases access to vegetables and decreases a child’s reluctance to try new foods. The study recommended making gardening an integral component of wellness programs and policies.
For children, with their sense of wonder, planting a seed in the ground, caring for it and watching it grow can seem like magic. Growing and harvesting food is a powerful experience that leaves a strong impression.
“I’ve learned how to plant vegetables and care for them. I’ve also learned what they taste like — cucumbers, squash and all those kinds of plants I’ve never even liked, but now I do,” said 11-year-old Joseph Berg, who participated in Garden ’n Grow, an MU Extension gardening program for children 8-13.
In Kirksville every summer, local children attend classes, create a garden and grow fruits and vegetables.
Teaching young children to garden can set them on the path to healthy eating for a lifetime, said Michelle Warmund, MU professor of plant sciences and creator of the Garden ’n Grow program.
“Children need to know that food can be very, very healthy coming straight out of the garden,” she said. “It’s something they can do as a lifelong hobby.”
“We teach them everything from soil preparation all the way to harvest,” said Jennifer Schutter, horticulture specialist for MU Extension.
The children work with Schutter to plan the types of fruits and vegetables they will grow that year. Because of all the rain this year, they learned about raised bed gardening. They were also introduced to companion gardening — using plants that naturally repel insects.
The children do the planting, watering, fertilizing and weeding. As the fruits and vegetables ripen, the children harvest the bounty of all their hard work. But it doesn’t stop there. They also learn how to prepare fresh produce.
“They love the cooking portion of this program,” Schutter said. “They get really excited to pick their zucchini, and love to prepare and eat them.”
Getting children involved in growing and preparing food can help them overcome their resistance to trying new foods, Myers said.
“At the beginning of the year we did kale chips,” said 10-year-old Morgan Mullock. “I wasn’t sure if I should try it or not. I tried it and I actually liked it.”
The 2015 growing season is coming to an end, but this would be a perfect time to start planning a garden for next year. Get the picky eaters in your family involved. Let them choose what to grow. You never know. By this time next year your fussy eater could be begging for Brussels sprouts.
For more information on Garden ’n Grow, go to http://plantsci.missouri.edu/gng/. For information on Garden ’n Grow in Kirksville, go to http://extension.missouri.edu/adair/gng.aspx.
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