If you walked into a school lunch room and saw children lining up for the salad bar, you’d probably think, what are they putting in that salad bar to make those kids want to eat salad for lunch?
Salad bars are starting to show up into school cafeterias, with no special ingredients to entice kids to eat salad for lunch, other than the school garden planted outside.
School gardens are sprouting up across the United States, Europe and Australia, and are now making their way into the gulf region of the Middle East. From Bahrain to Iraq, gardening is showing up in the school’s curriculum, and teaching children not only how to grow food, but where their food comes from.
Research supports that teaching children about gardening will increase the likelihood they’ll try new fruits and vegetables. For instance, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2007 found that middle school children who were exposed to gardening alongside a nutrition education course more than doubled the amount of fruits and vegetables they would try in a taste test as compared to those children who weren’t exposed to the gardening program. The study further demonstrated how gardening increases a child’s curiosity about where food comes from, encouraging healthier eating habits.
You’re probably thinking, that’s great news! School gardens may help my picky eater eat fruits and vegetables for lunch, but my school doesn’t have a gardening program. What can I do?
There is plenty you can do at home with your children to encourage health eating habits, and here are 3 tips to get you started.
Tips to encourage healthy eating habits at home
Tip #1- Start small, plant an herb garden
You don’t need a big back yard to start a garden, you don’t even need a back yard. All you need is some soil, sun, water and a little patience. Herbs are a great way to get started gardening with your child, and can be grown in your kitchen. Herbs require very little work other than trimming once in a while to add fresh flavor to your next dish.
Parsley grows incredibly well in Qatar’s dry climate, and used in so many Middle Eastern dishes. Ask your child to cut some fresh parsley, grown from your very own kitchen garden next time you make Tabbouleh. Don’t be surprised if they try a leaf or two before bringing it to you.
Tip #2- Grow vegetables from kitchen scraps
There are lots of fruits and vegetables you use every day that can be regrown from the unused portion you usually throw away, and most can be grown in just a small amount of water.
Next time you’re peeling a potato or chopping onion, ask your child if they think you can grow the unused part of the food instead of throwing it out. They may look at you funny, but curiosity will win them over and before you know it, you’ll have your very own kitchen science lab.
Celery, onion, and lemongrass are just a few of the kitchen scraps you can easily grow with your child. Check out my list of 10 foods you can regrow from kitchen scraps.
Tip #3- Harvest your own seeds
Play with your child’s curiosity about how things grow. Cut into a tomato and remove a few seeds from the center. Place the seeds on a wet paper towel inside a clear plastic cup, place the cup near a sunny window, and watch them sprout. Within a few days your child will see the seed start to break open, and a new little seedling pop out. Once the sprout is a few inches tall, gently remove the sprout and plant in a sunny location. You’ll have fresh tomatoes within the month and your picky eater trying tomatoes.
Check out these 10 foods you can regrow from kitchen scraps.
For information on how to start school garden at your child’s school, check out The Edible Schoolyard Project
To get involved in creating positive change in the way children access, consume and understand food, check out Jamie's Food Revolution