"Mommy, look what I picked!" Improving Children's Nutrition & Health through Gardening
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Are your children picky eaters? As gardeners you hold the key to opening their doors to new and exciting foods grown right in your home, school or community gardens! Come with me on a 100-mile journey from my home to a gardener’s dream called HealthBarn USA. Located in North Jersey in a charming town called Wyckoff, where children (and adults) learn about health and nutrition by participating in a healthy-lifestyle educational program offered by Stacey Antine. Stacey is a registered dietitian who recently appeared on the Rachel Ray show and has been on CNN, CBS and FOX-TV.
Hands-on gardening experiences have been shown to improve dietary habits of children.  Little Michalah, pictured here holding her basket of beets, loves visiting her grandparents' garden. She plants, picks and plays in their garden, all the while learning how to care for a garden, what insects and bugs visit the garden and what nutritious foods come from a garden. Since she is involved in the harvesting, she seems more eager to try and taste what comes from the garden, adding variety to her diet and developing her food preferences.
A recent study of adolescents at 3 different elementary schools found that those who participated in gardening along with being taught about nutrition, increased their intake of vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber.  Studies also show gardens can be therapeutic for all people  and that there is a relationship between gardening and nutritional attitudes and behaviors in older adults too. 
Did you know that, YES, gardening counts as exercise! This is great news in today's climate of soaring childhood obesity and poor eating habits, especially among our youth. Fruits and vegetables contain many nutrients, including vitamins A, C and dietary fiber that may reduce the risk of some chronic diseases.  The chart below shows how commonly grown fruits and vegetables provide daily recommended dietary requirements.
Note: 20% or more Daily Value (DV) is considered an excellent source. % DV is based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Tip: Most dark greens are good sources of Vitamin C and other nutrients. Usually, the darker the greens, the more nutritious the leaf 
ABMA's Farm & Market
HealthBarn® USA is located at ABMA's Farm & Market, about 30 miles from New York City. The welcoming entrance is full of annual and perennial blooms dotted with large purple globemaster alliums. The farm has a retail market featuring bountiful produce and beautifully made planters and hanging basket arrangements bursting with interesting colors, textures and plant varieties. The market building is a 200-year old barn with extensive greenhouses attached. Their driveway curves up a short hill; on the left is the HealthBarn®.
The HealthBarn® USA Garden
HealthBarn® USA is a healthy-lifestyle education program teaching children, ages 3-15, and their families how to plant, grow and prepare foods freshly harvested from the garden. We visited on an overcast day in early June. Off in the distance we could see the children in the garden. Walking to the gardens, we passed several farm animals that included chickens, pigs and some friendly goats.
Stacey's garden itself has a modest entrance and a central walk with garden beds to the right and left sides, lined with a few scattered boulders. Mammoth sunflowers were just beginning to sprout. The tomatoes, basil, zucchini and chamomile were still fairly small, but the spinach was well established, along with a 6-8' wide patch of apple mint and spearmint. Behind the garden, a large man-made pond provides a source of water for the gardens.
Stacey was busy weeding out and prepping new garden beds, while one of the HealthBarn® educators was taking a group of children through the garden. The children were learning about the garden through their senses, exploring smells, tastes and sights of red, ripe strawberries and fresh salad greens. We spoke with Justin Allen, who has been the garden manager and a summer camp counselor there since the summer of 2007. He plans and maintains their garden for the growing season and creates lesson plans on composting, good and bad bugs, raised beds, seed sowing, planting and on general garden information and tips. What Justin likes best about working at HealthBarn® USA is educating the children, appreciating the garden and experiencing the progress. "The children especially like, picking and eating the fresh fruits and vegetables," he told us.
HealthBarn® USA classroom educators prepare different recipes fot the children to taste. During our visit they tasted Holy Green Guacamole and Chicken Fiesta Fajitas. The recipes are printed up with the nutrition facts label at the bottom and given out to the children to take home to their parents. Several moms and caretakers were waiting in the back of the room for their children, who often ran back and forth, eager to share with them samples of the food, as well as their newly learned knowledge of food and nutrition. "Mommy, this is Romaine!" exclaimed one of the children, as she handed a bag of produce from the day to her mother to take home.
This was the last day for this particular group of 'sprouts'. The children all sat in a circle on colorful, round rugs, beaming with delight as they were each personally awarded a certificate of completion. Lots of smiles, lots of fun filled the room.
All ages and all socioeconomic levels can reap the benefits of gardening. Gardens can be small or large, inside or outside, at home, in the community, at school, camps, restaurants, on a deck, or on a windowsill. Gardening is fun and adventurous and, when combined with a curriculum like that offered at HealthBarn® USA, is a wonderful way to improve your children's diet and lifestyle, while educating them about plants, nature, the outdoors and science.
 Morris J, Koumjian K, Briggs M, Zidenberg-Cherr S, Nutrition to Grow On: A Garden-Enhanced Nutrition Education Curriculum for Upper-Elementary Schoolchildren. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002; 102:91-93.
 McAleese J, Rankin L, Garden-Based Nutrition Affects Fruit and Vegetable Consumption in Sixth-Grade Adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007; 107:662-5.
 Texas A & M University, KinderGARDEN, An Introduction to the many ways children can interact with plants and the outdoors. Available at: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/kindergarden/research/rsintro.htm. Accessed June 4, 2008.
 Resendez S., The Relationship Between Gardening and Nutritional Attitudes and Behaviors in Older Adults. Human Issues in Horticulture. Available at: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/humanissues/SarahR.html. Accessed June 4, 2008.
 Centers for Disease, Control and Prevention (CDC), Available at: http://fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov/index.html. Accessed June 6, 2008.
Parents and teachers looking for ideas associated with Health and Nutrition from gardening may be interested in these links and books available online:
Health and Nutrition from the Garden ~ a Junior Master Gardener (4-H Youth Development Program) book, published and distributed by Texas Cooperative Extension. The book highlights learning concept on food safety, healthful eating, snacks, and activities. 1-888-900-2577
HealthBarn USA Recipe Book ~ a healthy eating recipe book with over 60 seasonal recipes such as Zany Zucchiini Soup, Sweet Potato Pancakes and Yum! Yum! Dumplings.
School Gardens ~ Lots of great links for ideas to starting a school garden
About Diana Wind, RD
Diana is a registered dietitian with a passion for gardening and sustainable foods. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Garden Writers Association. Food from the garden fuels her enthusiasm for Culinary Arts and Nutritional Science.
“I especially love gardening as part of a healthy lifestyle. Gardening engages us with nature, gives us health benefits from exercise, and rewards us with fresh, nutritious foods. To assess your food and garden activity level, visit https://www.choosemyplate.gov/SuperTracker/default.aspx or my blog: http://GardenCuizine.com. Happy and Healthy Gardening!"