5 Ways to Get Your Kids Out of the House, Into Your Garden and Eating Healthy Food
Summer officially starts June 20 and school is pretty much wrapped up for the year. Why not try a new seasonal family project that is fun and educational? Promote healthy eating and physical activity – and get kids away from screens and devices – with an edible garden.
“Gardening is a great way to get kids out of the house and moving,” said University of Illinois Extension Educator Jessica Gadomski, a registered dietician for SNAP-Education. “It provides a way to get kids engaged with what they eat, and they will more likely make healthy choices at meal times when they helped grow that food.”
The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate recommends half of our plate be comprised of fruits and vegetables. Just 1 percent of adults and 2 percent of children meet both the fruit and vegetable recommendations daily, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation.
“By growing fruits and vegetables at home, kids may be inspired to try new ones or eat more of their favorites,” said Gadomski. “Try preparing vegetables fresh, steamed and grilled, and see what your family likes best. Gardens also provide a place to grow fresh herbs, which are healthier flavoring agents to salt, and can be used in making homemade dressings and sauces.”
Working and playing in the garden helps families get in the at least 60 minutes of activity recommended per day for kids.
But that’s not all. Gardening also teaches lessons beyond nutrition and healthy living.
“A family garden project also provides opportunities to teach responsibility, teamwork, and a respect for nature, others, and themselves,” said Gadomski. “Youth learn to care for another living thing, which is an important life experience for them.”
In addition to life skills, a garden can inspire skill growth in many school subject areas: science, math, reading, writing, art and even physical education, Gadomski said. Following are five ways to use your garden for learning:
- Observe and investigate basic physical characteristics and tastes of plants. Record how they grow, what part of the plant is edible, and the differences between species. Make it more hands-on by planting and learning about different varieties of the same food, such as lettuce, and conclude the “investigation” with a fun taste test to pick everyone’s favorite.
- Identify and compare plant shapes. Have youth count and classify them too, and older kids can work with numbers and calculations. For example, determine the number of plants or seeds needed for a given space, or try to predict overall yield by multiplying the number of plants with how many vegetables you expect to harvest from each.
- Writing and reading have a place in the garden, too. Keeping a garden journal for daily or weekly additions can help capture important facts like planting dates or seeding rates, as well as thoughts and ideas. Research different ways to grow your plants and try at least one new method.
- Imagine and create garden features, functional or aesthetic. Students will invariably discover new things about plants when drawing, painting or photographing them. Expand art and engineering knowledge with project ideas like garden sculpture, plant identification tags, toad houses, fairy gardens, root view boxes, solar dryers, and rain gauges. You may even be able to recycle materials that may normally be considered junk.
- Exercise and promote health with garden maintenance like planting, digging, weeding or using a watering can instead of a hose. Adding games or activities into the mix can make the chores more fun. Try taking a break for hide-and-go seek in the yard, or create movement stations in different places throughout the garden.
“The whole process, start to finish, is an interactive experience,” said Gadomski. “From planting seeds and watching them grow, to preparing what’s grown and eating it, kids gain a new perspective on foods and healthy eating habits and learning. When you start a family garden, you can grow great food and great kids.”
SOURCE: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension
About Illinois Nutrition Education Programs
The healthy choice, isn’t always the easy choice, especially on a limited budget. The Illinois Nutrition Education Programs and SNAP-Education provide practical tips to help low-income families prepare safe and healthy meals, while staying active each day.
For more information on University of Illinois Extension programs and services in your county, visit web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk/. University of Illinois Extension provides educational programs and research-based information to help Illinois residents improve their quality of life, develop skills and solve problems.