The more children are involved in growing vegetables and preparing meals, the more likely they are to finish their broccoli plate. The logic goes that school vegetable gardens, which are starting to multiply around the world, could be the key to better nutrition education, according to a new scientific study.
Spending hours at the table waiting for our kids to finally deign to put a morsel of parsnip in their mouths is an ordeal that a parent -- or anyone who has ever eaten with a child -- knows all too well. How can this problem be remedied? A team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin has looked into the matter and sees school gardens as an ideal solution.
Scientists worked with 16 elementary schools in Texas. Vegetable gardens were set up in the schools, and classes on nutrition and cooking were offered to students and their parents. Note that the schools were targeted so that the study focused specifically on low-income groups, which are more affected by childhood obesity. Over the course of one academic year, researchers studied changes in students' eating behavior, and looked for changes in weight, body mass index, and blood pressure.
Published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity , their work shows that the children who tended the vegetable garden and participated in the nutrition and cooking classes ate more vegetables than before the program began. And even if it's just an extra half-serving, it can play a significant role in their understanding of what to eat in the long-term, point out the researchers.
Getting better acquainted with vegetables to integrate them into our diets
"A lot of the families in these schools live with food insecurity. They live in food deserts and face a higher risk of childhood obesity and related health issues. Teaching kids where their food comes from, how to grow it, how to prepare it - that's key to changing eating behaviors over the long term," outlined Jaimie Davis, associate professor of nutritional sciences at UT Austin and lead author of the paper.
On the other hand, there was no significant change in weight, body mass index, or blood pressure during the nine months of the study for the 3,000 students involved. But this does not mean that increased vegetable consumption has no influence on the health of these children, as the main author of the study reveals. "Behavior changes can be difficult to achieve, especially long term. Changes to health parameters like blood pressure may take longer to manifest. Getting children to eat more vegetables can potentially set them up for long-term success."
As for the parents, they seemed to become aware of their children's behavioral changes and introduced vegetables to meals that they would never have thought of before. They ask "'How did you get my kid to eat kale?' But when they grow the kale from seed and learn how to prepare it in olive oil and bake it into kale chips, they love it," Davis concludes.