Our connection with food changes over our lifetime. But creating a healthful connection is a journey that should begin in childhood.
Building a positive, healthy relationship with food is an innate process for kids; children are well attuned to their body’s hunger cues. But as they age, outside pressures and societal norms can affect this natural instinct.
RDs can help parents and caregivers foster their children’s love of food, which is something they can maintain over a lifetime.
Benefits of Gardening
Research shows that a great way to develop kids’ relationships with food is garden education. Gardening not only teaches children where their food comes from but also provides the opportunity to build a deeper connection to the foods they eat. Some of the ways in which gardening can do this includes the following:
- Incites beneficial conversations about food: Gardening opens a space for dialogue between kids and adults. This is an essential opportunity for adults to talk positively about food.
- Associates food with fun: Kids don’t view gardening as a chore. Being in the garden is a fun activity where they get to play, learn, and build a connection with nature.
- Incorporates food exploration: A garden teaches kids about the growing process and opens up a new world of food beyond the plate. Clients who experiment with seeds they plant in a garden can introduce children to foods they never before would have encountered.
- Increases familiarity with fruits and vegetables: Being involved from seed to sprout sparks kids’ curiosity and excitement about the food and makes them more willing to try the finished product.
Research shows that gardening not only impacts a child’s relationship with food but also promotes a more healthful diet. Children who are involved in gardening activities have been shown to consume an average of 26% more fruits and vegetables and demonstrate a greater willingness to taste new, unfamiliar varieties.
Get Kids Engaged
RDs can share with parents the following strategies to get children involved in gardening.
- Let them select what to plant. Advise parents to give their children a leading role in deciding what to plant. When they’re part of the planning process, they’re more likely to get engaged and stay engaged.
- Create a sensory garden. A sensory garden not only includes fruits and vegetables but can contain herbs for an array of aromas, tastes, and textures. It’s great for any age group but is especially recommended for toddlers and children younger than age 5.
- Grow indoors and outdoors. Parents can encourage children to create a garden wherever they spend their time. They can build an outdoor garden but also an indoor garden in the kitchen or even in their bedroom.
- Support school gardens in the community. Suggest parents advocate for school gardens in their communities and give their children the chance to learn how to plant and harvest food alongside their peers. School gardening education can be woven into school curricula—including culinary arts, literature, and even art classes.
Creating positive food relationships is important, but gardening can teach children so much more, from environmental health (connecting with nature, practicing composting, etc) to engaging in food-based social justice by donating extra produce to local food pantries.
Gardening also encourages cultural connections and understanding. Heritage fruits and vegetables from a variety of regions and cultural foodways help children connect with their own cultural roots and grow a deeper bond with food and gardening.
— Allison Lansman, RD, is a solopreneur and freelance writer. As the owner of The Freelance RD Health and Nutrition Writing Services, she specializes in creating fresh nutrition content for modern, global, and sustainable nutrition brands. She’s also a current student at Des Moines University pursuing a Master in Public Health with a focus in global health and sustainable, equitable food systems.