Homegrown Produce Encourages Kids To Eat Their Veggies

Gardening bears by jdurham courtesy of morguefile.com

“Mom, I want to plant a garden,” my daughter announced. She was about 4 at the time.

“Yes, we’ll plant some tomatoes, peppers and flowers this year,” I replied.

“OK, let’s plant it right now!” she said excitedly.

“Well, it’s dark outside, raining and past your bedtime, so maybe we’ll plant things tomorrow or the next day,” I said.

She was not thrilled with my answer.

While dropping her off at preschool the next morning, she grabbed my hand and led me to a planter in her preschool room.

“See, here’s our garden. We planted carrots!” she said as she stared proudly at the glass container.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her the thin green spear actually was a weed.

If she’s that excited about carrots, we may be digging up part of our lawn this year to grow a garden. Or my flower containers will become small vegetable gardens.

Research shows that children are more likely to eat their fruits and vegetables if the produce is homegrown. In interviews with 1,600 parents of preschool children in rural Missouri, researchers reported that children who were served homegrown vegetables were twice as likely to meet the daily recommendation.

Several things come into play with gardening. Children can help plant, tend and harvest the fresh produce while learning some science along the way. They also have the opportunity to help prepare the produce for meals and enjoy the “fruits” of their efforts.

Growing a garden creates an environment where the produce is readily available (if nature cooperates). When fresh produce is readily available, children are more likely to see their parents eating fruits and vegetables. Positive role modeling encourages healthful eating patterns among children.

If you choose to plant a garden this year, consider these health tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Be sure your tetanus vaccination is up to date. Tetanus lives in the soil and can enter the body through cuts or breaks in the skin.
  • Wear gloves to protect yourself from skin irritations and cuts.
  • Protect yourself from diseases caused by mosquitoes and ticks. Use an appropriate insect repellent according to the manufacturers’ guidelines or your health-care provider’s advice.
  • Protect your skin and eyes from the sun. Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
  • Be sure gardening activities are age-appropriate. Keep harmful chemicals, tools and equipment out of children’s reach.
  • Drink plenty of water during warm weather and take regular breaks in the shade. Infants and preschool-age children especially are vulnerable to heat-related illnesses.

For more information about gardening, visit the NDSU Extension Service horticulture website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/horticulture/. Here’s a tasty outdoor recipe that’s sure to tempt your neighbors with the pleasant aroma.

Foiled Chicken

1 small green pepper, chopped
1/2 small red pepper, chopped
10 mushrooms, chopped
4 chicken breasts (4 to 6 ounces each)
1 8-ounce can pineapple slices
Nonstick cooking spray or 1 tsp. butter
Garlic powder, salt and/or pepper to taste
4 squares heavy duty foil (16 by 16 inches)

Divide the bell peppers and mushrooms into four equal parts. Coat a small area in the center of the foil with cooking spray or a small amount of butter. Place a portion of the peppers and mushrooms on the greased area of the foil. Top with a chicken breast and a pineapple slice. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.

Fold the foil securely and check for leaks. Place the packets on the coals for 10 to 15 minutes per side. Turn packets carefully. Chicken is done when it reaches at least 165 degrees.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 220 calories, 3.5 grams (g) of fat, 14 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and a full day’s supply of vitamin C.