Do you have trouble getting your kids to eat their veggies? The solution may stem from what they learn in the classroom. Nutrition experts at The University of Texas at Austin discovered kids will be more receptive to the broccoli on their plates if their school has a garden and incorporates lessons on what is grown in them. 

Researchers worked with 16 elementary schools across Central Texas to install vegetable gardens and teach classes to students and parents about nutrition and cooking. In a study recently published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, the team describes specifically targeting schools with a high percentage of students on the free and reduced-price lunch program to understand how nutrition programs affect low-income groups. Each school was studied for one academic year.

The study found that students who participated in the gardening, nutrition and cooking classes ate, on average, a half serving more vegetables per day than they did before the program.

Kids Veggies

“A lot of the families in these schools live with food insecurity. They live in food deserts and face a higher risk of childhood obesity and related health issues,” said Jaimie Davis, associate professor of nutritional sciences at UT Austin and the lead author of the paper. “Teaching kids where their food comes from, how to grow it, how to prepare it — that’s key to changing eating behaviors over the long term.”

While a half serving increase in vegetable consumption per day may seem like a small change, it’s extremely encouraging to Davis and her colleagues.

“Behavior changes can be difficult to achieve, especially long term,” Davis said. “Changes to health parameters like blood pressure may take longer to manifest. Getting children to eat more vegetables can potentially set them up for long-term success. We have been able to introduce children to a wide variety of vegetables that they’ve never had access to. Parents I talk with ask, ‘How did you get my kid to eat kale?’ But when they grow the kale from seed and learn how to prepare it in olive oil and bake it into kale chips, they love it.”