Teaching Gardens

Mastermind Weekend 1/16

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I'm Tina

I’m the owner of Carrots ‘N’ Cake as well as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN-P). I use macros and functional nutrition to help women find balance within their diets while achieving their body composition goals.

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At the Dole Healthy Lifestyles Blogger Summit last week, we heard a presentation from child-nutrition activist Kelly Meyer. She recently teamed up with the American Heart Association and a number of America’s schools to teach kids about healthy living through fun, hands-on Teaching Gardens.

During her presentation, she shared this video, which really struck a chord with me:

Toward the end of the video, a little girl, probably about 9 years old, told Kelly that she never tasted an orange before. The scene totally broke my heart, and I knew that I needed to spread the word about this program.

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Today, nearly one in three American children are overweight or obese, and fewer than one in 10 high school students receive the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables daily. French fries are the most common source of vegetables consumed by children and make up one-fourth of their vegetable intake. 

Teaching Garden Founder Kelly Meyer: 

When I heard the staggering statistics about how much obesity-related illnesses are impacting our children, I was driven to do something to inspire kids to get healthy.  The simple process of putting a seed into the earth, nurturing it and harvesting the food teaches our kids to make positive choices for health and fitness. I’m proud to join forces with the American Heart Association to dramatically advance what can be accomplished to improve the well-being of our children.

Studies consistently show that healthy behavior (eating, exercise, sleep, etc.) positively impacts learning. The Teaching Garden model targets elementary and middle school-aged students, teaching them what it means to eat healthy and be physically active. The goal of the program is to improve children’s health, which often correlates to improvements in children’s academic and physical performance.

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A core belief of Teaching Gardens is that when you educate a child about nutritional choices, that child will teach his or her family and ultimately pass that knowledge on to others. The hope is that by teaching kids where vegetables come from and the benefits of healthy eating, they can inspire change and reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country.

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Teaching Gardens set out a simple task: grow an organic garden, support it with a nutrition curriculum, enhance it with education about the importance of physical fitness, and challenge each student to make small changes to improve their health. It’s a real life laboratory where students learn how to plant seeds, nurture the growing plants, harvest the food, and ultimately understand the value of good eating habits and the importance of physical activity. 

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As part of the initial rollout, several new Teaching Gardens were completed this year with hundreds more to be announced later in the year and beyond.

For more information about the Teaching Garden program and how your school can participate, visit www.takepart.com/teachinggarden. If your school ends up participating, please let me know. I’d love to help!

Additionally, teaching children the value of healthy eating has been a mission of Dole’s for over twenty years, so, to support the Teaching Gardens, they have created the DOLE Garden Kit. Included in it is everything needed to start your own vegetable garden.

Dinner

Dinner was a random mix of about-to-go-bad foods thrown into a pasta dish: wilted broccoli, wrinkly tomatoes, and eat-now-or-never Italian sausage. I brought the veggies back to life by roasting them in the oven. Meanwhile, I sautéed the sausage and boiled some water for whole wheat ziti. Once everything was cooked, I tossed it all together with Garlic Gold oil and topped the dish with freshly grated Parmesan. Delicious, nutritious, and no food went to waste. 

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After dinner, I enjoyed a bowl of Apple Crisp with vanilla yogurt on top.

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I ‘healthified’ my mom’s recipe by using more apples, less flour and sugar (1/2 cup of each) and only 1/3 of a stick of butter (instead of a whole one) and substituted a big scoop of vanilla yogurt for the missing butter. The end result was pretty tasty”” the topping was really chewy””but, of course, I like the original recipe the best.

Breakfast

This morning’s breakfast was leftover Apple Crisp mixed with rolled oats, soy milk, and ground flaxseed meal. I also added a big scoop of Chia Charger nut butter.

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Be Thankful Challenge

I am thankful for access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Feel Great Weight

It’s that time of year when I take my running workouts inside to the treadmill. Or should I say dreadmill? The treadmill can be a real drag, but I find that using a plan to guide my workout keeps me on track, interested, and motivated, so the time flies by. Here are three of my favorite (read: not boring) treadmill workouts: Take It Inside: 3 (Not Boring) Treadmill Workouts.

Question of the Day

What do you think of the Teaching Gardens? Do you know anyone who might want to get involved?

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60 Comments

  1. Wow, that is a really great cause! Like you, I’m so grateful for the ability to get fresh fruits and vegetables, and it’s so easy to take it for granted. As someone whose diet is comprised of a TON of fruit and veg, it amazes me that some children don’t have access to them. I really hope that this program is successful in making fresh produce more available to these children.

  2. Although I do think the Teasching Gardens sounds neat, I also believe that this emphasis on behavioral approaches sidesteps the real issue: our food system creates a virtually irreconcilable relationship between low incomes and healthy eating. I would be willing to wager that most children who don’t get much in the way of fresh produce come from low income families. For many families, it is about making a choice between food and shelter. Remember that scene in Food Inc where the family goes grocery shopping, but in the end, the fast food is cheaper than the produce? These types of initiatives are wonderful, but I just question how much they really do to pressure policy makers to make a sustainable, lasting change.

    1. @K: I’m totally with you on this one. I took a nutrition class in undergrad, and one of the texts we had to read involved the nutritional disparity between the classes, primarily due to the seemingly higher cost of fresh produce. While most of us who purchase produce often know how to make it stretch across meals, it’s not reasonable for some. Overall, I think it’s a good first step to put these programs in schools, but I don’t know how well that will translate into healthier habits once at home.

    2. @K: I’m with you and Lena 100%. It’s sometimes easy for a person who has a reliable, decent income to forget that many of the obese children are not obese because of food choice alone (the same can be said for obese adults, as well). It has only been within the last two years that programs like Women, Infants and Children (WIC) included fresh fruits and vegetables as part of their food subsidies. And have you ever visited a food pantry? The things people donate are not produce! If we truly want to make a difference, we need to work on the ever-widening rich/poor gap.

  3. Hi Tina! What an awesome cause. I teach at risk youth at the high school and middle school level and I find that my students are particularly at risk. I know that the schools in my area have taken an initiative to improve the quality of cafeteria food and put restrictions on what type of foods and snacks can be brought from home. They’ve removed soda machines and vending machines that sell junk and replaced that with healthier options. But, once the kids reach middle or high school they are allowed to leave the building at lunch which means they can eat whatever they want.

    I would love to have this program working in my school. It’s so very important to teach about nutrition but I believe that this would also be very therapeutic for many of the children. Investing positive energy into a good cause is always a good thing!

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    Also, is this program limited to US only???

  4. I love your ‘Be Thankful’ challenge. I didn’t really think about how lucky we are to have access to fresh produce all year round. Very sad to think that this is not the reality for a lot of people in the world.

  5. Teaching Gardens sounds neat. I’d like to get involved too–especially since I don’t have a garden of my own. I’m not sure about the strength of the connection between kids growing food and then wanting to eat more vegetables, but if it a) gets them outside doing something physical and b) influences the curriculum for the good, well, it beats the heck of what they’re doing now. Thanks for the tip.

  6. Mmmmm apple crisp! I often make a single serving for myself by combining 1 tbsp oats, 1 tsp flour, 2 tsp sugar, 2 tsp Becel spread and 1 tbsp walnuts for the topping, then cooking that on top of a thinly sliced apple mixed with a little sugar and flour, then microwaving it in a bowl for one minute, about 3 times. Pressing it down after each minute.

    It totally helps me not eat a whole pan of apple crisp!

  7. Oh my gosh I loved your segment about the garden. I am sure Mal can attest to this but at least half of my students (I only have 16) are overweight. They “ran” the mile a few weeks ago and it took some of them 18 minutes to complete it and they complained the entire time. At home they do not eat with their families, they subside on hot pockets and McDonalds, and when I had a white peach for lunch last week three of them asked me what it was. This is such a problem in today’s society and unfortunately this is the first generation who will die before their parents.
    Thank you for spreading awareness about this! Between Dole and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, hopefully schools can work toward helping our youth better their health and ultimately themselves!

  8. Just this morning I was thinking about possibly doing a nutrition-related math project for my middle school students. This seals the deal! I am off to their website… and might also finally make a veggie garden at home with my own children. Thanks!

  9. I love that concept! I am going to ask around in my city to see if anyone does anything similar for sure! I have a few friends that are teachers I can ask.
    I have been craving apple crisp for days now (no idea why never really loved it!) and you post has now made me crave it more! haha

  10. The school across the street from my house has 10 plots in our nearby community garden and each one has a theme: taco salad (lettuce, onion, cilantro, tomatoes), veggie pizza (different tomatoes, peppers, onion, artichokes), veggie lasagna, etc. The idea is that the kids plant, water, and weed for a season and then at the end of the term, they harvest and prepare their own lunches with the results. I LOVE watching the kids and their parents out there learning about where food comes from – so worthwhile!

  11. I think that program sounds amazing. I remember as a kid being fascinated by growing vegetables. I forced my parents to let me have a vegetable garden so I could grow things.

  12. I love the idea behind the Teaching Gardens. We so often take for granted the fact that we have easy access to healthy fruits and vegetables. I think your post is a great reminder that this often isn’t the case for a lot of people. Giving these kids the opportunity to experience growing their own food first-hand will undoubtedly change their entire perspective on food. Very powerful!

  13. I volunteer at a local CSA farm. The kids who come to the farm seem to understand food and nutrition more than kids I know who don’t have that kind of experience. A little knowledge really can go a long way, so I totally support programs like the Teaching Gardens.

  14. We try and do a lot of education with children through our local Slow Food St. Louis group. I also work with kids with autism who often have a lot of GI issues, so I try and educate their families while I work with them! It’s a great cause and I think it’s desperately needed.

  15. What an awesome program. Those statistics of today’s children and their nutrition is so sad to me. I love to hear when programs like this are started, and I hope there are more to come. Hopefully the sky rocketing child obesity rates will decrease as time goes on rather than increase.

  16. what a great cause! i believe that teaching children to grow their own food is one of the best lessons as is teaches them to be self-sustainable. kids gain so much from seeing something through… start to finish. i know michelle obama has initiatives similar to this. thanks for sharing, tina!

  17. That Teaching Gardens program sounds fantastic!! There is a program similar to that that our school systems have implemented in the particularly low income schools to bring fresh produce to kids and help them learn about healthy eating through hands on activities with the help of local farmers. (its this if you’re curious –> http://www.reapfoodgroup.org/programs-events/farm-to-school ) I wish they would have had that when I was a kid!

  18. I love Teaching Gardens! I have heard of it before and I would love to support it in some way.

    Today I am thankful for rain, without rain we could not have fresh fruits and veggies, and other products from our garden!

  19. Awesome post! This is a cause that I am super passionate about and was actually just doing some research last week to see if there was anything like this in my community. Even though I don’t have kids in the school system, I’m hoping to get involved – educating kids about health and nutrition is priceless. I’m sure you’ve seen Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution…very similar, and he’s pretty adorable, so that doesn’t hurt at all 🙂

  20. Teaching Gardens is such a wonderful idea. It’s true that you learn how to eat from your family. It’s what you’re exposed to and if you aren’t exposed to healthy foods, you won’t eat healthy.

  21. I love seeing young children getting involved with the food process. I think most people are very separated from the source of their food, so it’s important for children to see that “farm to table” process. I would agree with some of the other comments that certain areas of the county have little to no access to healthy food products. But I think increasing awareness with programs like this can help combating issues of food deserts.

  22. That is really a neat program, I love the initiative of teaching OTHERS how to do it and feed themselves, so they can continue doing it. SO important! I also think parents need to take more responsibility and do something about the food being offered in their homes! And that the govt should subsidize the fruits and veggies even more so anyone can have access to ’em!

    I love a good apple crisp…..mmmmm tasty 🙂

  23. What a cool way to help kids learn about making better choices – I really like they are involved with the process from growing to eating, I’m sure it will help that really solidify in their heads. I know that when I started veggies, eating them became so much more fun! I’d love to get involved in something like this, I’ll have to see if this is in my area.

  24. Hi Tina! I just moved to the Boston area, and I am wondering how realistic it is to plan on running outside through the winter? I lived in the Midwest previously and it was manageable most of the time, but I am not sure how to adjust my habits?

    1. I run year-round in Boston. You just need to be prepared for the weather. I swear, it’s not that bad! Check out my Running page for my winter running post! Hope it helps! 🙂

  25. What a great cause! Teaching Gardens looks like a great organization. Childhood obesity is a nationwide problem, and although I haven’t looked at the studies lately, I think it’s both a socioeconomic one and a cultural one. Our culture is changing – it’s technology driven, our (culture’s) motivations and values are changing…and not always for the better.
    Could you have ever imagined that we would have commercials reminding kids to go outside and play? It boggles my mind.

  26. That video was awesome, Tina!! So cute and heart warming. It’s great to see that children at school ARE being looked after, after all. 🙂 And planting things in soil is such a good idea to teach them the importance of natural foods, as well as teaching them appreciation of the little things! I’m totally going to do this with my kids someday. 😛

  27. Sounds like an interesting cause, definitely worthwhile! I
    dont have my own kids yet, but when I do I want to do everything in my power to make sure they eat right and learn why certain foods are better than others.

  28. Awesome that you highlighted such a great cause! There’s an organization here in New Orleans that you might be interested in called–The Edible Schoolyard. http://www.esynola.org/
    Emeril Lagasse and Alice Waters are involved and it’s really so important for kids who live within the city and have no exposure to where food comes from. Yay food education!

  29. That is such a good idea! I teach middle school students, and find the same to be true that other teachers have brought up here also. My students play so many video games, that it seems like they almost don’t KNOW how to work as a team or interact with others– or exercise! (And I don’t even want to get into what they choose for their snacks, especially when fresh fruit is available for them daily!) They think it’s great when the teachers do fun things (that they don’t even always realize is learning!) with them, (sometimes I play a couple innings of wiffleball with them in P.E.!), and I think it’s great for developing positive relationships with adult/authority figures that they wouldn’t necessarily form with others.

  30. I am currently a student studying for my teaching certification in Health & Physical Education so the Teaching Garden sounds right up my alley!!! I will definitely keep this in mind for when I graduate (this coming May) and hopefully get a job. Thanks for sharing this – I love the idea!

  31. I for one would love to get involved with/support Teaching Gardens! Childhood nutrition is a topic I am very passionate about and have researched throughout my graduate nutrition coursework.

  32. i love seeing about those teaching gardens! my phd research project is a summer gardening program for overweight kids! it’s such a great idea to teach them about nutrition, give them exposure to new fruits & veggies, and to get them active! i love it.

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