When it comes to helping children establish healthy eating habits, parents play a critical role. According to a study conducted by Duke, "Kids whose moms encourage them to exercise and eat well, and model those healthy behaviors themselves, are more likely to be active and healthy eaters. The home environment and parenting can influence a child's health by shaping dietary behaviors, such as providing access to fruits and vegetables."
In addition to the many physical benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, studies have consistently shown a link between healthy eating habits and improved academic performance. Despite being armed with this information, two-thirds of adolescent Americans fail to get the daily-recommended amount of fruits and vegetables in their diets.
School-aged students should be eating about two cups of vegetables per day, depending on age and activity level (visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for more information). A great way to get your child excited about healthy eating, while integrating fresh foods into their diet, is by gardening together. There are many ways kids can help in the garden, and engaging with food from seed to plate gets children enthusiastic about trying new things and eating the fruits (and veggies) of their labor.
With harvest season and back-to-school just around the corner, August is the perfect time for parents to think about ways to make this the healthiest school year yet.
Need a little help? Here are some simple tips for taking healthy eating from the garden to the lunchbox:
- Autumn is harvest time for tomatoes and peppers. Preserve the fresh flavors of summer by making, freezing or canning tomato soup and sauces.
- Late summer is the right time to plant fall harvest crops. Plants in the brassica family, such as cauliflower and broccoli, and greens like kale, spinach and Swiss chard love the cool autumn weather. Their flavor actually improves with a bit of frost, so keep on growing... right up to the end of the season!
- Check out fun and fanciful veggie varieties like Dragon's egg cucumbers and Chocolate peppers. Growing some unusual adventure and experimentation to your gardening projects. Your kids can play mad scientist.
- Spice up sandwiches with thinly sliced veggies like cucumbers, bell peppers or spinach.
- A thermos of vegetable or tomato soup makes a filling, warm lunch. Don't forget to include whole-grain crackers or veggie chips for dipping.
- Fresh homemade salsa mixed with Greek yogurt and a splash of lemon juice makes a great dip for carrot sticks, peppers, celery or corn chips.
- Add greens like kale or spinach to fruit-and-yogurt smoothies.
Set a goal to foster good eating habits as a family this year -- at home and at school. Invite your kids to get hands on in the garden and kitchen by preparing and serving fruits and vegetables with every meal. By empowering your child with an understanding of good eating habits early in life, they'll develop the skills and knowledge to maintain a healthy lifestyle into adulthood.