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We have a lovely garden that we alternate between being really involved in, or totally ignoring. Right now we have lettuces and chard, some tired tomato plants and my daughters’ strawberry patch – which also doubles as a hamster graveyard. But in my second week of teaming up with the American Heart Association, I found out about a wonderful program that they are growing nationwide. It’s called the Teaching Gardens and it’s making me take out my wheelbarrow and spade and get to work.
First of all, I do love gardening. My husband says when life gets too tense, there is no better antidote than digging in the dirt. And it’s wonderful to be able to say to my daughters, “Would you go get some lettuce and a few tomatoes from the garden?” Or when our Sungold cherry tomatoes are ripe and we put a bowl on the kitchen counter and everyone snacks on them all day. I feel like Ma from Little House on the Prairie.
Our girls are pretty good about eating fruit and vegetables (don’t get me wrong, they are also pretty good at eating cookies and ice cream), but we live in Southern California, have land around our house, the luxury of time and resources. Not everyone has access to all that, which is why we are faced with some scary statistics:
1. French fries are the most common source of vegetables consumed by children and make up one-fourth of their vegetable intake.
2. One out of three kids and adolescents are overweight or obese.
It’s sobering and it’s why the American Heart Association has created the Teaching Garden program, which is designed to encourage healthy diets in young children and to help combat childhood obesity. Teaching Gardens are an elementary school based garden program. The program provides a real-life laboratory where students learn how to plant seeds, nurture growing plants, harvest crops and ultimately understand the value of good eating habits. It also provides classroom curriculum. Teaching Gardens encompass a core belief that when you educate children about nutritional choices and challenge them to make small changes to improve their health, they will teach their families and others.
It’s so wonderful to address this nationally through our education system, because studies show garden-based nutritional intervention programs may increase fruit and vegetable intake among youth, as well as the willingness among younger children to try fruits and vegetables.
If you have a little yard out front or back, and want to jump into gardening as a family, here is what I have had the most fun and luck with in the past:
Sunflowers – Make sure to get the confectionary sunflowers, the type grown for food (I have made that mistake before). After harvesting, the seeds are delicious and nutritious.
Snow peas or sugar snap peas – These plants need something to climb up, but are fun and kids can eat them right off the vine.
Sungold cherry tomatoes – My girls love these, as does everyone else; they never make it into a salad because they get devoured immediately.
Nasturtiums – These flowers are quick and easy to grow. They are pest resistant and edible and make a pretty garnish for any dish.
Potatoes – This is a “never fail” crop. You harvest the potatoes when the plant collapses and kids love digging around in the dirt to find the “treasure.” And who doesn’t like to eat potatoes with butter and parsley (which you can grow yourself).
1. Start an herb garden in a pot. It is foolproof and low maintenance. Keep in the kitchen and use every day to add flavor.
2. Start your seeds in a toilet paper roll, when the seed breaks the surface you can plant the whole roll in the dirt and it breaks down naturally in the soil.
3. Make a pizza planter; this involves a bigger container (one woman used an old kiddie pool!). Start a tomato plant, some oregano, basil, thyme, and maybe peppers, or any other pizza friendly topping. When they are ready to harvest you can make homemade pizza every night.
To continue good eating habits and to get heart healthy, be sure to take the Challenge.
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