Kids can be reluctant to try vegetables, and it can be a challenge to get them to eat the recommended number of servings in a day. School gardening programs may be an effective way of not only increasing kids’ access to fresh produce, but of increasing their willingness to eat vegetables as well. For example, in a study conducted by Parmer et al., second graders who participated in school gardening as part of a nutrition education class increased their selection and consumption of vegetables at school, compared to second graders who did not participate in gardening. In addition, students who gardened demonstrated a higher preference for fruits and vegetables that they had sampled.
In another study conducted by Ratcliffe et al., middle schoolers with garden-based nutrition education demonstrated a higher preference for vegetables than the students who were not exposed to garden based nutrition education. Students who gardened were also more willing to taste vegetables and increased the variety of vegetables they ate at school. Middle schoolers have more autonomy in making food choices than elementary school students and may tend to eat fewer vegetables as they reach adolescence. A school garden for your school may serve as an effective way to increase vegetable consumption in young kids and maintain higher levels of vegetable consumption in adolescents.
Lastly, gardens can be used to teach many subjects and reinforce health messages students receive in other activities at school. Involving teachers from multiple subjects and local health and nutrition educators can help. For example, your local Cooperative Extension office may be a great resource. Additionally, check out this growing guide and the School, Community, & Home Gardening Resource Guide.Whether you are starting a school garden or revamping an existing gardening program, consider these recommendations from Ratcliffe and colleagues. Students in their study increased vegetable intake at school but not at home; so, the team recommends that garden initiatives include home and community components. School family nights or school-based community supported agriculture (CSA) programs could increase families’ access to fresh produce and provide adults with ideas for preparing produce in ways students have enjoyed at school.
Maya George and Tisa Hill, Cornell University, Division of Nutritional Sciences
Parmer, Sondra M., et al. (2009). School gardens: an experiential learning approach for a nutrition education program to increase fruit and vegetable knowledge, preference, and consumption among second-grade students. Journal of nutrition education and behavior 41.3 (2009): 212-217. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2008.06.002
Ratcliffe, Michelle M., et al. (2009) The effects of school garden experiences on middle school-aged students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors associated with vegetable consumption. Health promotion practice 12.1 (2011): 36-43. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1524839909349182
(2013). School, Community & Home Gardening Resource Guide. Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County. Retrieved from: https://s3.amazonaws.com/assets.cce.cornell.edu/attachments/1233/2013-g4…
Vegetable Growing Guides. Explore Cornell – Home Gardening – Introduction, Cornell University. Retrieved from: http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scene0391.html