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Grow a garden to fire kids’ veggie-ardor

April 18, 2007
Courtesy Saint Louis University
and World Science staff

If you’re seek­ing ways to stim­u­la­te your chil­dren to eat more fruits and veg­eta­bles—the key to a healthy di­et, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts—look no fur­ther than your back­yard, new re­search sug­gests.

Homes with fruit and veg­e­ta­ble gar­dens wit­ness a great­er flour­ish­ing of healthy di­ets among chil­dren than those with­out, a study has found. (Im­age cour­te­sy Fair­fax Coun­ty, Va.)


Rural, pre­school chil­dren eat more fruits and veg­eta­bles when the pro­duce is home­grown, ac­cord­ing to the stu­dy, from Saint Lou­is Uni­ver­si­ty in St. Lou­is, Mo.

“It was a sim­ple, clear find­ing,” said Deb­ra Haire-Joshu, di­rec­tor of the uni­ver­si­ty’s Obe­s­i­ty Pre­ven­tion Cen­ter and a study au­thor. “Whether a food is home­grown makes a dif­fer­ence. Gar­den pro­duce cre­a­tes what we call a pos­i­tive food en­vi­ron­ment.”

“When chil­dren are in­volved with grow­ing and cook­ing food, it im­proves their di­et,” she added.

Re­search­ers in­ter­viewed about 1,600 par­ents of pre­school-aged chil­dren in ru­ral south­east Mis­souri. They found that pre­school chil­dren who were al­most al­ways served home­grown fruits and veg­eta­bles were more than twice as like­ly to eat five serv­ings a day than those who rare­ly or nev­er ate home­grown pro­duce. 

The Amer­i­can Di­e­tet­ic As­so­ci­a­tion rec­om­mends be­tween five and 13 serv­ings of fruits and veg­eta­bles a day. 

Chil­dren who grow up eat­ing gar­den-fresh pro­duce al­so pre­fer the taste of fruits and veg­eta­bles to oth­er foods, the par­ents told re­search­ers. The stu­dy, in the April is­sue of the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Di­e­tet­ic As­so­ci­a­tion, found the gar­den-fed chil­dren were more like­ly to see their par­ents eat­ing fruits and veg­eta­bles. 

A grea­ter va­ri­e­ty of the­se—more toma­toes, can­ta­loupe, broc­co­li, beans and carrots—al­so were avail­a­ble in the homes of fam­i­lies who near­ly al­ways had home­grown pro­duce, the study found.

The find­ings point to sim­ple ways of boost­ing kids’ health, Haire-Joshu said: plant a gar­den or en­cour­age your school to do so. “Kids eat health­i­er and they know more about eat­ing healthy. It’s a win­ning and low-cost stra­tegy to im­prove the nu­tri­tion of our chil­dren at a time when the pe­di­at­ric obes­i­ty is an ep­i­dem­ic prob­lem.”


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If you’re seeking ways to stimulate your children eat more fruits and vegetables—the key to a healthy diet, according to experts—look no further than your backyard, a new study suggests. Preschool children in rural areas eat more fruits and vegetables when the produce is homegrown, according to the study, from Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Mo. “It was a simple, clear finding,” said Debra Haire-Joshu, director of the university’s Obesity Prevention Center and a study author. “Whether a food is homegrown makes a difference. Garden produce creates what we call a ‘positive food environment.’” “When children are involved with growing and cooking food, it improves their diet,” she added. Researchers interviewed about 1,600 parents of preschool-aged children in rural southeast Missouri. They found that preschool children who were almost always served homegrown fruits and vegetables were more than twice as likely to eat five servings a day than those who rarely or never ate homegrown produce. The American Dietetic Association recommends between five and 13 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Children who grow up eating fresh-from-the-garden produce also prefer the taste of fruits and vegetables to other foods, the parents told researchers. The study, in the April issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found the garden-fed children were more likely to see their parents eating fruits and vegetables. A greater variety of these—more tomatoes, cantaloupe, broccoli, beans and carrots—also were available in the homes of families who nearly always had homegrown produce, the study found. The findings point to simple ways of boosting kids’ health, Haire-Joshu said: plant a garden or encourage your school to do so. “Kids eat healthier and they know more about eating healthy. It’s a winning and low-cost strategy to improve the nutrition of our children at a time when the pediatric obesity is an epidemic problem.”