School gardens are a great way to introduce children to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that children who are involved in the process of growing their own food are more likely to have healthier diets and are more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables (Heim, Stang, & Ireland, 2009). Also, getting kids involved in growing their own food can be fun! It can lead children to try foods they otherwise wouldn’t. Choose which foods you want to grow together.
Tips for plant selection:
- Allow children to help make a list of vegetables they would like to taste.
- Select some with a short growing season such as squash and cucumbers to allow the children to have a quick result.
- Check with your local Extension office for vegetables that do well in your area.
Let them help you plant, water, and harvest the plants. Even very young children can do something! If starting a school garden isn’t feasible, think about growing some herbs on a windowsill. Children might be more interested in eating pesto if they have grown the basil.
The question for many school gardens is, after we have grown vegetables, how will we use them? The next step after growing produce is to teach children how to safely harvest and use what has been produced to make healthy meals. Using vegetables grown in the school garden is an exceptional way to allow kids to explore new foods. Although many items grown in the garden are perfect eaten fresh, cooking and preparing meals using fresh produce is an important life-skill for healthy living and most children enjoy helping prepare a meal.
Food Safety Starts in the Garden
Before harvesting, preparing and ultimately serving food from the garden, take special food safety precautions. As long as proper precautions are taken, fruits and vegetables from school gardens can be served safely to students. Before starting a school garden, check with your local health department about their policies on serving food grown in gardens in school meals. Produce from the school garden may also be served in the classrooms. For additional tips see Handling Fresh Produce in Classrooms.
- Consult with a food specialist (a lunchroom manager or home economics teacher, for example) about the safe adult-to-student ratio for each age level. Ensure proper supervision, tool use, and kitchen safety whenever working with children.
- Look for recipes with few ingredients.
- Select recipes that can be prepared in the classroom or school setting with minimal cooking instruments.
- Make sure the recipe is easy to read and follow.
- Review the nutrition information.
- Pictorial recipes work well with children who are just learning to read and follow recipes.
- When selecting recipes use sites such as foodhero.org that include nutrition information along with the recipe or visit your local Extension office.
Now let’s try some new recipes using the produce you grew in your garden! The following are some of our favorites.
Prior to serving the food, remember to send the recipe/ingredient list home before preparing and serving the food to insure there aren’t food allergies that need to be accounted for. Always send a copy of each recipe home with the children to share with their families and duplicate at home.
For more school garden resources, click here!
Heim, S., Stang, Jl, and Ireland, M. (2009) A Garden Pilot Project Enhances Fruit and Vegetable Consumption among Children. Journal of American Dietetic Association. Volume 109, Issue 7, July 2009, Pages 1220–1226.
St. Louis University (2007). Children Eat More Fruits and Vegetables if They are Home grown. Science Daily.