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Picky Eaters: How Growing Your Own Fruit and Vegetables Can Help Children

As parents, one of the most challenging aspects of raising children can be food challenges and picky eating. The struggle to get kids to eat a balanced diet often leads to mealtime stress and frustration which in turn can exacerbate the problem. However, there’s a simple yet highly effective solution that can turn mealtime battles into fun, culinary adventures: growing your own fruit and vegetables!


Engaging children in the process of cultivating their own produce can significantly influence their eating habits and encourage them to embrace a wider variety of foods. As a parent of 2 young children, one of whom has sensory challenges this is a challenge we have experienced first hand. Gardening has been transformative for our two children in terms of food exposure and willingness to try new foods! Let’s explore how this hands-on approach can help transform picky eaters into enthusiastic, healthy eaters.

 

1. Creating a Sense of Ownership and Achievement

When children are involved in planting and nurturing their own fruit and vegetables, they develop a sense of ownership over the produce. This sense of pride and responsibility often leads to a greater willingness to try the foods they have grown themselves. It helps build self esteem and confidence. Children will take pride in what they have grown and want to share it with their family and friends. The sense of achievement that comes from successfully growing a plant can boost a child’s confidence and make them more open to trying new things. When they see the direct results of their efforts, it reinforces positive behaviours and creates a favourable association with the food they’ve grown. The journey from seed to table gives them a personal connection to the food, making them more curious and open to tasting it.

 

2. Stimulating Curiosity and Exploration

Gardening is a natural way to stimulate a child’s curiosity. Watching a seed sprout, grow, and eventually bear fruit is a fascinating process that can captivate a child’s attention. This curiosity extends to tasting the produce. Children are more likely to try something new if they’ve seen it grow and have been part of its journey. The excitement of harvesting a ripe tomato or a juicy strawberry can make even the most reluctant eater eager to taste the fruits they have grown. Gardening encourages children to explore using all of their senses. We are removing the pressure to sit down and eat and instead providing a multisensory experience to explore food in a safe and playful way and nurture that natural curiosity.

 

3. Educational Value

Gardening provides a practical, hands-on learning experience that can teach children about nutrition, biology, and the environment. Understanding where their food comes from and the effort it takes to grow it can foster a greater appreciation for fruits and vegetables. This educational aspect helps demystify the food and can make children more interested in eating it.

 

4. Family Bonding and Modelling

 

Gardening is a wonderful family activity that allows parents and children to spend quality time together. This shared experience not only strengthens family bonds but also provides an opportunity for parents to model healthy eating behaviours. When children see their parents enjoying the fruits and vegetables from the garden, they are more likely to follow suit and try them themselves.

 

 5. Sensory Experience

Gardening engages all the senses – the smell of fresh herbs, the feel of soil, the sight of colourful fruits and vegetables, the sound of rustling leaves, and, most importantly, the taste of freshly harvested produce. This multi-sensory experience can make food more appealing to children, helping them develop a positive relationship with fruits and vegetables in a non-pressurised way.



 

 Practical Tips for Gardening with Kids

 

To maximize the benefits of gardening for picky eaters, consider these practical tips:

 

1.      Start Small:  Begin with a small garden or a few potted plants or window boxes. Easy-to-grow plants like cherry tomatoes, strawberries, and carrots are great for beginners and provide quick rewards.

2.      Support your child’s sensory needs: For those with tactile sensitivities buy gardening gloves and use utensils such as kids spade, kids rake etc. This allows your child to be involved in the whole process without getting their hands dirty. Create a social story about growing fruit and vegetables to help your child visualise and understand the process.

3.      Involve Them in the Process: Let your children help with all aspects of gardening, from choosing what to plant to shopping for the seeds to  watering and weeding. The more involved they are, the more invested they will be in the outcome. Get them on board with picking their fruit and vegetables, washing it and even preparing and chopping it with kid safe knives.

4.      Make It Fun: Turn gardening into a fun activity by incorporating games and creative projects. For example, you can paint plant pots or make garden markers together.

5.      Cook Together: Once the produce is ready to harvest, involve your children in prepping their vegetables and cooking meals. This further reinforces their connection to the food and makes them more likely to try new foods and enjoy eating it.

 

Growing your own fruit and vegetables is a powerful tool for encouraging picky eaters to embrace a healthier diet. By fostering a sense of ownership, stimulating curiosity, providing positive reinforcement, and offering a rich educational experience, gardening can transform children’s attitudes towards fruits and vegetables. Beyond its impact on eating habits, gardening also promotes family bonding, provides physical activity, and instills a lifelong appreciation for nature and healthy living. It is a fun and multisensory activity which is engaging and exciting and provides lots of opportunities for food exposure, food acceptance and trying and tasting new foods! So, roll up your sleeves, grab some seeds, and embark on a gardening adventure with your children – you might be surprised at how quickly those picky eaters turn into enthusiastic veggie lovers!


I hope you found this blogpost useful! Keep an eye on our social media pages over the next few months as myself Grace from The Sensory Submarine and Dr Kirsty from Nutrition 4 Kids Ni (www.nutrition4kidsdni.com) share lots of practical tips and advice to support your picky eater in the run up to the launch of our new support programme in the Autumn!







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