Parents, want your children to eat their vegetables? Get them involved in growing produce, from the ground up.
Planting and tending a vegetable garden is a healthy activity that also helps children focus on eating well, says Shanaz Khambatta, D.O., a family practitioner at the NorthBay Center for Primary Care in Vacaville. She knows from first-hand experience, because her three children—ages 6, 4 and 2—love to help tend the family’s vegetable and flower plots.
Dr. Khambatta and her husband, Alex, purposely enlist the help of their three children in all gardening chores for a variety of reasons. “Unlike running or biking, it’s an activity we can do with the kids. We can all be outside together. It gets them interested in eating their vegetables, especially when they know where they came from and how they grew. Plus, they love playing in the mud and looking for lady bugs and worms.”
Even gardening chores can be turned into a fun activity. “We made weeding a game. We tried to see who could fill their wagon with weeds first. It worked—for a while.”
The Khambattas built raised beds for their vegetable garden, and put the children in charge of picking out what would be planted in them, and watering the seeds and plants. “In the summer, when we come home from work and school, they head straight out to the garden and eat the veggies as snacks.”
Depending on the season, those raised beds may be planted with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, chard, zucchini, squashes, lettuce and eggplant. What’s the secret to getting the children to eat eggplant? “Well, they’ll eat it when I put it in their lasagna,” she confides.
The family garden also includes fruit trees, berry vines and flower beds, in which the children have planted bulbs. “It’s a little delayed gratification, but when the flowers come up, it’s beautiful.
“You really don’t need a lot of space to grow vegetables,” Dr. Khambatta adds. Even a planter box will do, if that is all the room you have. “It can be a very satisfying hobby.”
Kids and Gardens
Want to interest your children in gardening? Have them choose seeds and plants with a theme to tickle their imaginations, as well as their taste buds. A Pizza Garden could be filled with Roma tomatoes, garlic and basil. A Salsa Garden could be planted with tomatoes, green and yellow onions, peppers (both spicy and sweet) and cilantro. A Pickle Garden could include pickling cucumbers, garlic and dill. And for the grown-ups, a Tea Garden could include such herbs as lavender, chamomile or mint. If you grow mint, however, keep it contained in a pot, or it will quickly take over the garden.
Daily Fruit and Vegetable Requirements
Without a doubt, what you eat and how much you exercise not only affects your overall health, but how you feel today, tomorrow and into the future.
How many fruits and vegetables you should eat each day depends on your age, sex and average physical activity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To find out what portions are best for you, visit www.mypyramid.gov.
The Web site also provides tips to help you get started toward a healthy diet, by showing how you can:
- Make half your grains whole.
- Vary your veggies.
- Focus on fruit.
- Get your calcium-rich foods.
- Go lean with protein.
- Find your balance between food and physical activity.
- Keep food safe to eat.
Choosing a Harvest of Colorful Vegetables
- Buy fresh vegetables in season.
- Put a green vegetable on your dinner plate.
- Choose vegetables with more potassium, such as beet greens, winter squash, spinach, lima beans, cooked lentils and split peas, and sweet potatoes.
- Add color to salads by tossing in some shredded red cabbage, spinach leaves or baby carrots.
- Munch on raw veggies, such as red pepper strips or carrot sticks.
- Learn how to prepare and cook vegetables.
- Buy vegetables that are easy to prepare, such as pre-washed bags of salad greens, baby carrots or celery sticks.
- Make vegetables interesting by adding the crunch of slivered almonds, toasted peanuts or cashews.
- Stock up on frozen or canned vegetables. Get your vitamins and minerals from foods. Dark orange and green vegetables provide vitamins A and C, fiber and potassium, as well as many other nutrients. For more information, go to www.MyPyramid.gov.