Fresh Food Galore: How to Grow a Family-Friendly Garden in Your Own Backyard

The overwhelming benefit of the consumption of fruits and vegetables is widely known, yet a majority of children – and adults – are not eating the recommended amounts. Two fruits and three veggie servings daily is the ultimate goal, yet I frequently meet with families in my office who report eating less than one vegetable each week. This is often due to food preferences, but it may also be due to access to fresh foods and financial constraints. Gardening is an excellent option to bring families together and help get fresh, affordable foods on the kitchen table in a fun way.

How many children like to play in the dirt and create new things? Cultivate that curiosity and excitement into healthy habits that will last a lifetime. By doing so, you’ll also help foster an appreciation for where food comes from, which may make kids more likely to eat those foods. A review article published in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics found that most studies suggest a small but positive influence of gardening interventions on children’s fruit and vegetable intake from ages 2 to 15 years. It’s also well-known that the more you expose your children to certain foods and set a positive example as parents, the more they will accept those foods long term. Starting a garden at a young age will give children something to literally grow up with and benefit from for years to come.

You don’t need a lot of space to start growing your own plants. Don’t be afraid to start small with an indoor or patio herb garden. Having a potted herb garden that can be harvested at any time teaches kids to use natural ingredients from the earth when cooking and preparing food. And it can be very rewarding for a child to simply go pick something directly off a plant to add to mom or dad’s dinner recipe. Try potting mint, basil, cilantro and parsley. Just make sure your pots have ample sunlight, as most herbs need at least six hours per day of direct sun. And each prefers different amounts of water and varied temperatures, so do your research upfront. 

When picking seeds for a garden, consider planting a rainbow of colored foods. This will provide a variety of nutrients and also create a fun, colorful environment to hold attention to the project. Try some of these crops to get started:

Carrots. Here’s a root vegetable that grows into the ground and can provide your family with an excellent source of beta-carotene and carotenoids. And guess what? All carrots are not orange. Try purple, yellow or white carrots instead. Consider keeping the colors a secret until they grow, and the kids will be eager for the surprise results. They take about two to four months to mature.

Cherry tomatoes. These are a fun garden food because kids can eat them right off the vine. They grow low to the ground so they’re easy for kids to harvest themselves. Try a variety of tomatoes in different colors; they’re full of the antioxidant lycopene.

Lettuce. It produces fast results (about one to two months) and will hopefully increase interest in salads. Grow multiple lettuce varieties, and let the kids come up with combos in the kitchen. Pair lettuce with other toppings to make a colorful bowl of fiber and vitamins.

Potatoes. There are many different ways to grow potatoes; raised beds or bag methods may be the most realistic in your home. There are various types of potatoes, and some can be grown as quickly as two months. Potatoes are high in fiber and potassium – just be sure to clean and eat the skin.

Pumpkins. These are an exciting addition to any garden. Pumpkins are easy to grow and teach delayed gratification (since they take four months or more to grow). They are eye-catching additions to a garden and can be used in dishes all year round. And don’t forget to roast the seeds for a nutrient-dense snack!

Snow peas or snap peas. They grow in about two months and are another awesome eat-off-the-vine food. Snow peas make for an excellent, crunchy snack and are full of vitamin C.

Zucchini. It’s another captivating plant to fill your garden. Zucchini are fairly easy and fast to grow and can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen. Try zucchini noodles or roasted zucchini for a low-calorie, high-fiber side dish or snack. Or, if kids are pickier, use zucchini bread as a stepping stone before trying the whole vegetable.

The purpose of gardening is more than just getting your children to eat more fruits and veggies. How many kids (and again, adults) spend excess time on electronics throughout the day? Gardening provides learning opportunities and is beneficial to mental health. It’s an excellent way to get kids outside and off the couch. Let the little ones pick which garden job they want. Perhaps they water the plants, pull the weeds, rake the garden or dig to plant new seedlings. This will help teach responsibility and build self-esteem without the kids even knowing they’re learning.


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