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How to Get Kids to Eat Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

What Are Our Children Eating?

A few years ago, I started teaching a gardening class at the one-room schoolhouse my daughter attends.  You know why I started teaching?  I mean, I’ve got a heavy schedule and the last thing I need is another project.

But I saw the lunches the other kids were bringing to school and I was really horrified; candy, potato chips, lunchables, ramen noodles, processed meats, white bread, hot dogs…

How long are these kids likely to live and what kind of life will it be?

Read more: Grow Pumpkins in Time for Halloween

Poor Diet = Poor Health.  Period.

Did you know that that the second leading cause of death among kids aged 5-14, (after accidents), is cancer?  According to the CDC National Center for Health Statistics, it is: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/child-health.htm.

And while diabetes in children used to be virtually unheard-of, a report by the CDC shows that they expect that 33% of children born after 2000 will have type II diabetes in their lifetime: http://www.worldhealth.net/news/one_in_three_us_children_born_in_2000_wi/.

And even more worrying, a report by the NY Times indicated that in children type II diabetes progressed more quickly and responded less well to treatment in children, compared to adults: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/30/health/research/obesity-and-type-2-diabetes-cases-take-toll-on-children.html?_r=0.

Obviously, cancer and diabetes are big, heavy duty topics with lots of contributing causes.  But when are we going to face up to the fact that quality food and quality nutrition are a huge part of the issue?

Read more: 4 Uncommon-Sense Guidelines for Food Safety and Nutrition

bless this garden sign from school garden copy

Garbage In, Garbage Out

There is a universal principle that you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Looking around at the packed lunches that my daughter’s classmates brought to school, I started to wonder, how could I possibly help these kids? Approaching the parents seemed too daunting. And it was the kids I really wanted to work with – they are more fun than adults.

I had noticed with my own kids that they would eat fresh food from the garden, while rejecting vegetables from the grocery store. I knew that if I could get these kids some really good food, they would like it. And what better way to get them good food than to teach them to grow it themselves?

To Teach a Child to Grow…

Teaching the kids to grow their own food was one small step I could take.  It wasn’t a complete solution, but it was something.

I thought about my motto: “do the best you can with what you have,” and I started small. We nailed some boards together to make a raised bed, we built an area for composting, and we started some seeds.  The kids loved the activity (it got them out of the classroom) but at first they were really doubtful about actually eating anything that grew in the garden.

Almost none of them ate many vegetables at home.

And it shocked me that there were quite a few kids who had never touched dirt before.

“Yes, yes, it’s OK,” I told them, and then showed them how easily dirt comes off with a little water.

Growing Together

That first fall season we grew cucumbers, watermelon, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, mint, lettuce, chard, broccoli, mustard, and a mix of flowers.  We let it be known that anyone could eat out of the garden at recess or lunch.

At first only a few daring kids would nibble a bit at the mint leaves.  Then some started putting a few lettuce leaves on their sandwiches.  Then as they started to catch on that the garden had good stuff in it, the sugar snap peas started to disappear…

I was delighted.

I brought some knives, taught the kids basic knife safety, and chopping up vegetables became the coolest thing on earth.  Little pieces of cucumbers, bell peppers, and watermelon turned into a whole lot of fun. And, heck, why not eat some slices of tasty, fresh veggies while you’re at it?

In all honesty, the watermelon wasn’t really in season and it was not quite ripe.  But spitting the seeds was still very entertaining.

Ranch Dressing Makes Everything Better

Then we set it up so the kids could get a little cup of ranch dressing whenever they wanted.  And it became quite a thing during recess to swarm the broccoli and chard plants; breaking off pieces, dipping, and enjoying.

The mustard plant mostly got left alone, although it did get used for part of a ‘truth or dare’ game.  I must admit, I don’t really like raw mustard either, and I won’t tell you what I had to confess in that truth telling session!

The Garden Became a School Favorite

As the seasons passed, eating and growing and eating from the garden became a big part of the school experience for these kids.

One time we took an overgrown basil plant and turned it into pesto and ate it with organic corn chips.  Another time we made mint tea…

Getting to be the “Watering Captain” has become an honored position.  Ditto for the “Worm Captain,” who helps keep up the worm bin to create our own fertility (we are testing out a Worm Factory 360, which was kindly donated by Natures Footprint).

Get Kids to Eat Fresh

marjory and kids group ohoto in garden school copyAnd then came the real test; could we get the kids to eat squash?  Well it turns out if you disguise squash enough with lots of cheese and add some sweet corn, it goes down really well in the 8- to 15-year-old age range.

OK, so cheese is probably not the best food, but….   We also discovered that the kids really enjoyed the preparation part in our little makeshift kitchen.  So I’m adding more of a cooking component to the class.

Now we take a vote each season on what we want to grow.  And I’ve been amazed at how often things like chives, lettuce, okra, broccoli, and kale come up.

And before I forget, in addition to everything I’ve listed above, cherry tomatoes are always a big hit.

Theoretically, strawberries should be a favorite.  And this year we planted a big ol’ mess of them in a tower garden container kindly donated to the school by the Garden Tower Project.  But the reality was that no one could resist the young strawberries and somehow they all disappeared before they got ripe.  I am sure there was a lot of hidden disappointment at the sour fruit.  But, it was a good lesson in patience nonetheless.

Read more: How to Handle Hungry Children

Helping Kids to Learn About Real Food

Am I affecting the kids and their health?  I don’t know.  It is just one tiny step.  But now they all know the taste of real food, and they have seen that it is something that they can grow themselves.  I am happy to report that every child, without exception, eats something from the garden regularly.  And you know what?  I absolutely love my Tuesday mornings with the kids.

Do you have any suggestions for how to get kids to eat fresh food?  I would love to hear from you – please write your comments below.

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This post was written by Marjory

COMMENTS(0)

  • Carolyn Freeman says:

    Of course, a well-known strategy for getting a kid to eat celery is the “ants on a log,” where you fill in the celery groove with peanut butter, and then line up raisins on top of the pb. Sometimes, for children (and adults, too) it’s all about the presentation. Making your own pizza is always a good way to get veggies into the mix. What kid doesn’t like pizza? And yeah, my three-year-old granddaughter likes any veggie that’s dipped in ranch dressing.

  • nathalie davis says:

    Hi Marjory,
    Please don’t doubt or underestimate the wonderful impact you are having on these kids! 55+ years ago I had a home ec class in middle school. We made a salad that I remember to this day! It introduced me to romaine and escarole and curly endive – and the fact that you can make your own salad dressing even! I’d never heard of or tasted any of that – it was so tasty and delightful! I had only ever had iceberg lettuce, and mostly a leaf or two on a sandwich. There is a little part of me that still looks for and desires to repeat that incredible experience every time I make or eat salad. It was a true life changing event and I think it had a lot to do with opening my eyes and mind to good food, and set me on a course to eventually teach myself to garden and grow my own. What you are doing is incredibly important. I encourage and applaud you!

  • Thrivalista says:

    Marjorie, what an awesome story! We love to eat raw okra here – all slicing and seasoned salt if you’d like, and far less – er, “mucilaginousness”. And the burgundy variety is a beautiful plant in its own right.

    Now if the danged deer just didn’t love it so much. 🙁

  • Rustaholic says:

    Thank you for teaching these young folks what great food is.
    (when I was 15 if you called me a kid I might have popped you in the nose.)
    Growing up growing most of what we ate for me it was tomatoes, carrots, peas and rhubarb that I ate right out of the garden. I love raw peas but cook them and I will not touch them.

  • EUGENE STEELE says:

    Our Story

    Our school children are becoming ill, very ill due to the poor quality of food they are given in school. This is particularly so for the poor and very young. For the first time in modern history, this generation is projected to not live as long as their parents. Autism, diabetes, ADD and obesity among others can be directly attributed to lack of nutrition. It costs more to grow nutritious food and the lowest bidder wins.Of the four million children born each year in America, approximately 36,500 will have autism. In 1960, the rate of autism was one in a thousand. This represents a nearly ten-fold increase. Why? Americans consume 5.2 billion pounds of pesticides per year consisting of 40% herbicides and 17% insecticides. Adding insult to injury, they mostly wash it down with fluoridated water which is known to lower IQ. Children do not have a choice and they accept what they are given. We have a choice deciding what we feed them.
    With your help I will build a farm that will grow food with the highest nutrition obtainable and be the example to the world of what is possible. Our food will be organic and grown hydroponically. Our fish will also be raised organically as well as our honey. Our power will be derived via solar, wind and biomass generation. Our farm animals will be fed with the same high nutrition diet and tested the same way it was done fifty years ago. Those tests showed that the nutrition not only helped prevent cancer, but were able to reverse cancer in animals. We will show how a sustainable green house can be made from tires while at the same time being off the grid and provide the occupant the food, water, electricity and shelter they need for life . . . all self-sustaining.
    Creating The Farm demonstration project will prove it is possible to make highly nutritious foods available to all Americans. It will present the path as to how we can all become healthy and live in good health to ages approaching 120 years as shown in Dr. Joel Wallach’s book Hell’s Kitchen. Today, there is a whole new discipline of nutritional medicine recognized 2000 years after Hippocrates said: “Let Food be your medicine.”
    Are you ready for the challenge?
    Together, we can change the world. We can prove to the world that a healthy long life is a reality and can virtually end cancer. I will offer the food at the same price as people now pay for food that is fraught with pesticides and birth-defect causing GMO’s. This will cost the schools no more than they are paying now. We will place a tag on the food showing when and where the food was picked. We will deliver the food to the schools and stores so both we and they know it is farm fresh. There are several groups that endeavor to cure all forms of disease with food. In today’s environment, their quality has gone down and become less effective. Our methods and practices will correct that. Following the success of The Farm’s effort to properly feed our children, we will begin supplying hospitals and the elderly and grow this humanitarian initiative as quickly as possible. Let us begin now.

  • Alana says:

    Marjory that is one oft he most amazing things you could do for those children!! Plant the seeds. I used to feed that junk to my kids, until I learned how poisonous it truly is! I now grow some of my own food and buy mostly organic. Every child thay comes to my house gets a tour in the garden. And if there are seeds to plant they get planted! All schools should follow your example! I have a friend here in Arizona who recently wrote a book about the toxins in our food supplies. She is now working in different areas in schools to teach them about REAL FOOD. I love your content! Thank you for all your hard work! Blessings!

  • Good points! And it is so sad that children today don’t often get to play in the dirt, to know what it is. The Outside Is Dangerous…. Big sigh. Food even more is something that comes from a package in the supermarket.

  • Martha says:

    Oh Marjorie what a wonderful, wonderful thing you’re doing. I too am astonished at what most people feed their children. The sad part is that many don’t even know the consequences of there actions. Big business has decided that profit is more important than our lives and our planet. I am so encouraged that there seems to be an awakening happening. It is long over due. We all need to keep spreading the news, small steps add up.

  • Jennifer says:

    This is wonderful! You are not only teaching them how to grow good food, but they can be learning about botany and microbiology (and many other areas of study) just by using the garden to study. I see this was first written in 2014. I hope you will be able to continue even as your children advance out of the school. Thank you for sharing.

  • Melody says:

    Ah, Marjory! I regularly drove past that little garden, and was delighted to watch it grow and thrive :-). I’m so glad to know you were there, introducing real food to the kids!

  • Jennifer Johnson says:

    Kudos to you Marjory!
    I’ve been digging in the dirt for 40+ years. Made my boys dig in it too when they lived at home. My oldest use to offer to clean the entire house if I’d just not make him work in the garden! Today, at 36, he has borrowed earth boxes, solicited my advice on installing a lasagna garden, torn up the entire perimeter of his yard and spent lots of money amending the soil so he could grow things, and now has installed horse troughs in his current yard and designed a water system to plant a garden! My granddaughters (2 and 4) will wander into their garden and “noni’s” garden to forage for munchies, prefers Noni’s honey to store bought, and love to plant with Noni. I have traveled to plant their garden for the last 7 years due to their schedule overloads. It ensures they get healthy food and the knowledge they need to take responsibility for their own well-being. Now I’m working on my youngest son. Created a place in his yard and planted some of his favorite things. Hope to create the same passion and commitment as my oldest has acquired. When we “plant the seeds” (both literally and figuratively)…they will come! If all of us, who love the dirt, share that love, we will improve the world one person at a time. Plus, the creative possibilities for gardening these days is explosive and makes gardening a possibility for many others who couldn’t garden before. Next year I’ll work with a local restaurant to use their patio planters for herbs, beans and tomatoes for their restaurant. Guests will sit among the “garden”. It will be interesting to see what comes of that! Keep up the good work.You are enhancing lives!

  • Marjory, you are wonderful!! The gifts you offer are immeasurable – these kids are happy and empowered because of you. They will carry this through their life and benefit so much. From one “Earth lover” to another, I thank you.
    Oh, by the way – have you been able to add Chapter 13 to the Turahumara story? I love, love, love it and want to live more like that; we are working on it and may be able to move to a new property next summer (southern hemisphere). Not quite a cave, not quite an Earthship but something of the two…it’ll be fab. Bright thoughts to all.

  • Jayvanthy Hattangdi says:

    Great Job Marjory! Keep it up! This is Regarding ” How to get the Children to eat Fresh Fruit”
    I always keep lots of Fruits of at least 2 Colours, on the Dining Room Sideboard or on the Dining Table. So whenever the kids are Hungry, they find that the easiest way to satiate hunger is to eat a fruit or two. Slowly but surely, eating fruits in between meals whenever hungry becomes a habit.

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