person holding a bunch of red radishes with dirt school gardens

Why School Gardens are the Key in Nutrition Education

As school gardens grow in popularity around the country, many people involved in school nutrition are wanting to build one in their district. So what’s with all the hype?

From increased fruit and vegetable intake to a greater knowledge of nutrition, school gardens provide an excellent hands-on opportunity to teach students about health, nutrition, and the origins of their food.

School gardens foster a love of fruits and veggies.

Brussel Sprouts school gardens

Studies have shown that having access to a school garden increases a student’s fruit and vegetable intake, both in and out of school.

A study of 127 elementary school students found that those who had the opportunity to work in a school garden rated the taste of fruits and veggies higher than students without access to a school garden. 

Students who worked in school gardens also ate more fruit and vegetables than students without access to one.

Many students don’t have access to a wide variety of fruits and veggies at home, and they often don’t have the opportunity to visit farms and learn how their food ends up on their plates. 

Connecting a child to what’s on their plate and teaching them what goes into making their food before it arrives at the grocery store is a great educational opportunity and can get students excited about what they eat.

Students coming through the lunch line may often gravitate to certain items such as juice instead of fresh fruit, and French fries over broccoli or zucchini. It isn’t always because they don’t like the latter options — they may have never tried them! 

School gardens provide an opportunity for students to help grow their food and to taste the food that they produce.

Planning (and planting) a school garden.

Orange school gardens

Congrats! You’ve decided to take the first steps toward building a school garden. Now, what do you grow? 

Before you determine what to plant, you have to consider where you live and the time of year. The Farmer’s Almanac can also help you determine what to grow based on your location and the season.

The most popular garden options include: 

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Squash
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Strawberries 

Selecting items that you already have on your menu, or plan to place on your menu, will create a greater sense of connection with students to the food on their plates.

Have you added a salad while menu planning? How about growing romaine lettuce and tomatoes in the school garden. 

Are your students reluctant to eat a baked sweet potato? Grow them in your garden, and then cook and taste test the potatoes topped with a little cinnamon. 

When growing a garden, you can easily incorporate the growing items into your school meals planning. And the options are endless when it comes to all the fruits and veggies and herbs you can grow.

Where do I start?

avocado school gardens

Now that you’ve determined what you can and cannot grow in your school garden, it’s time to get more folks involved. Here are the stakeholders you should bring on board.

Rally a committee.

Your school garden committee helps you determine where to set up the garden, the items to grow, and how to get supplies. Consider inviting your school’s principals, teachers, parents, students, PTA, and volunteers from the community.

Teachers and principals can link their educational curriculum around a school garden. Gym teachers can even tie in some of their physical activity lesson plans with the school garden.

Reach out to local farmers. 

Local farmers are often happy to provide seeds, and are willing to visit your school gardens to teach students about growing their fruits and vegetables. Connecting with a farmer is also a great way to set up farm tours for students.

Get the students involved.

Inviting students from the beginning stages of set up gives them a chance to provide input on what they want to grow. Not only is this an excellent opportunity for nutrition education, but building a garden is also a fabulous way to keep kids active and connect them to nature.

It’s time to grow.

romaine lettuce school gardens

When you plan meals using the food you’ve grown in a school garden, it teaches students about nutrition and health while also connecting them with the food on their plates.

It also gives you a chance to work with the community around you; you get the opportunity to connect with a bevvy of community members like local farmers, parents, students, teachers, and the principal. 

Beyond discussing the in-and-outs of the school garden, this project gives you the chance to discuss all of the exciting things you do in your school nutrition program.

Need more tips for getting your garden started? The USDA provides tips and resources for starting up your garden.

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