School gardening can help in promoting fruit and vegetable consumption among children

School gardening: Promoting vegetable consumption

Children often disregard vegetables or salads from food selections available at school canteens. Nonetheless, several studies have revealed that school gardening and related nutrition intervention programs can promote fruit and vegetable consumption. In other words, children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they grow them themselves or if they have an established experienced growing them.

In a randomised controlled trial conducted, researchers Meaghan S. Christian et al reminded that school gardening alone cannot improve the daily fruit and vegetable intake of children. However, implementing gardening or nutrition education intervention at high level in schools might improve such daily intake by a portion.

Nonetheless, researchers Brian Wansink, Andrew S. Hank, and David R. Just conducted a pilot study focusing on determining whether high school gardens in cold climates can influence vegetable consumption intake in the absence of nutrition education. In doing so, they followed a before and after research design that involved collecting student tray-waste data using the quarter-waste method to measure the change in vegetable selection and plate waste when school grown salad greens were incorporated in the cafeteria school lunch.

The study took place in a secondary educational institution in upstate New York and included 370 high school students that purchased lunch from the school canteen. The researchers collected data generated over three separate days.

Results revealed that the percentage of those who selected salads with their meals increased from 2 percent to 10 percent when the salad bar contained vegetables grown by students. On an average, students ate two-thirds of their salads. However, the increased in salad selection not only resulted in an increase in vegetable consumption but also in the amount of plate waste.

Additional results revealed that there was an overall increase in salad selection and thereby, vegetable consumption within the entire student body. To be specific, during the study period, the consumption increased from five to 12 servings per day.

The key takeaway from the aforementioned study of Wansink, Hank, and Just centred on the idea that school gardening can promote fruit and vegetable consumption if school administrators are able to tell children that their produces have been included in the food selection.

There is also a similar study conducted by Stephanie Heim, Jamie Stang, and Marjorie Ireland that involved a garden-based nutrition education program tested during a 12-week pilot intervention designed to promote fruit and vegetable consumption among 4th to 6th grade students attending a YMCA summer camp. The program involved weekly educational activities such as fruit and vegetable taste tests, preparation of fruit and vegetable snacks, and family newsletters sent home to parents.

Researchers Heim, Stand, and Ireland evaluated the program using pre and post survey designed to determine participant satisfaction and short-term impacts. The results revealed high levels of enjoyment in the intervention activities. In fact, 97.8% of the children enjoyed taste-testing fruits and vegetables and another 93.4% enjoyed preparing fruit and vegetable snacks. 93.4% enjoyed working in the garden while 91.3% enjoyed learning about fruits and vegetables. Impact data also suggested that the program resulted in an increased fruit and vegetable consumptions, vegetable preference, and fruit and vegetable asking preference at home.

“Garden-based nutrition education programs can increase fruit and vegetable exposure and improve predictors of fruit and vegetable intake through experiential learning activities,” concluded Heim, Stand, and Ireland. “Food and nutrition professionals should consider garden-based nutrition education programs that connect children with healthful foods through fun, hands-on activities.”

The separate studies of Wansink, Hank, and Just, and Heim, Stand, and Ireland corresponded to some of the results from the literature review conducted by Dorothy Blair. Accordingly, previous researchers have already studied the positive impacts of school gardening in health and nutrition of students. Children who plant and grow their own vegetables in school gardens develop a strong sense of pride and familiarity in their produce. In addition, they develop a favourable food behaviour, particularly an appreciation and positive attitude toward vegetable consumption.

Further details of the study of Wansink, Hank, and Just are in the article “A plant to plate pilot: a cold-climate high school garden increased vegetable selection but also waste” published in 2015 in the journal Acta Paediatrica. Details of the study of Heim, Stand, and Ireland are in the article “A garden pilot project enhances fruit and vegetable consumption among children” published in 2009 in the Journal of American Dietetic Association.

Further details of the study of Blair are in the article “The child in the garden: An evaluative review of the benefits of school gardening” published in 2009 in The Journal of Evaluative Education. Details of the study of Christian et al are in the article “Evaluation of the impact of a school gardening intervention on children’s fruit and vegetable intake: a randomized controlled trial” published in 2014 in the journal International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.