Amid the litany of education reforms that emphasize innovation and new methods, school gardens stand out as a low-tech change. In an era where kids’ lives are more sedentary, and where childhood obesity has risen dramatically, gardens support and encourage healthful eating as a key component of children’s physical wellbeing, which can aid their academic and social success, too. And as the consequences of food deserts and poor nutrition on life outcomes become starker, advocates say that school gardens can act as a counterweight — an outdoor respite for children growing up in environments that can be otherwise unsafe or barren.
Where cries of “Eat your broccoli!” and “Haven’t you had enough sugar?” fall flat, how exactly can school gardens prompt healthier eating habits — and what are the best practices for establishing one?
Good Nutrition: What Works, and What Gets In the Way
We know that increased access to healthful food can improve diet and health. Studies have found that multiple supermarkets within a one mile radius of a person’s home is correlated with a significantly higher consumption of fruits and vegetables, and that greater access to produce, lower produce prices, and higher fast-food prices are related to lower BMI, especially among low-income teenagers.
Changing eating habits goes beyond questions of access. If children aren’t used to trying new foods, they just won’t do it. Cooking nutritious food is also a learned skill, and one that many kids and teens haven’t acquired. And many people are drawn to family dishes, regardless of their nutritional value, because of the emotional connection they have with those foods.