A lifetime of healthy eating can begin in the garden.

Having been in the nutrition field for years, I have learned that eating vegetables provides essential nutrients and fiber which are sometimes lacking in our diets. Working with adults on weight loss is difficult if they HATE vegetables. Many started this aversion to vegetables as children. Canned vegetable cooked to a pulp are not especially tasty. To change this, we need to begin with our children to ensure future success!

Most children shy away from vegetables unless they are fried or sweet. A challenge for parents! Fresh veggies are at the farmers markets and a great way to bond with your child. Let them pick out a few that they will try. I found that you shouldn’t force food on anyone, and with children you can start a fight you won’t win.

Here’s a tip: Grow your own! Volunteering at the school, I have observed that young students love the planting, growing, and eating of vegetables. They’ll try many more dishes if only to get a taste of their labors. The school cafeteria has featured salads of lettuce and spinach the youth garden club grew, and they were proud to get the attention ... plus they were delicious!

The seed libraries at Hickory Flat, Rose Creek and Ball Ground have free seeds to share. Just sign up and plant away. Get your child to work the soil, plant, water, weed and then harvest. If you don’t have a place for a garden, consider growing in containers which have extra advantage of no weeds and can be moved to sunny locations and can be protected from deer and rabbits.

You don’t know much about gardening? Well, learn together! Seed packets have instructions: date to start, planting depth, germination time and harvesting. Or check online: extension.uga.edu/publications.html, “growing vegetables.” You can also buy seedlings at the nursery that accelerate the process by several weeks. Just try a couple…easiest is lettuce starts or get a cherry tomato!

Consider an herb garden. These little guys add a lot to a vegetable dish. Herbs are known for their great fresh taste, saving money, family fun, and contribution to healthy eating. They are easy to grow and are resistant to pests and disease. Many are perennials, you’ll have them for several years (rosemary, oregano, thyme). Kids like to make a pizza or spaghetti herb garden. You may have a budding chef on your hands who likes to experiment with different herbs and spices!

The big pay-off: fresh produce and herbs that taste great and are organic! Gather recipes from grandma or Google, use the air fryer or grill, and get eating! Let your child participate in all aspects and they will learn that vegetables are delicious, easy and something they can love. As a treat you can make up a plate of carrots, celery, radishes, and cherry tomatoes with a little ranch dressing for dipping or make lettuce wraps. You will find that the family budget goes further without snack cakes and chips.

Other than the obvious, there are many benefits of gardening. Probably the most important is the time you spend with your youngster without distractions. You can talk, tell “dad” jokes, get fresh air and exercise to boot! If you are lucky enough to have grandparents around, you might elicit their help. Many of the students tell stories about gardening with their grandparents … it’s a win-win!

Let your child introduce a dish to the family — something they grew and helped prepare. This reinforces the lessons of good eating. I hope you think about trying some of these suggestions. Eating healthy can last a lifetime.

(If you have more that you can use, bring some to Must Ministries or Papa’s Pantry so others can benefit from your efforts. We used to put them on neighbor’s porch, ring the doorbell and run!)

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Katie Van Hiel has been a UGA Master Gardener Extension Volunteer of Cherokee County for 14 years. For more information or questions, contact the Cherokee County Extension Office at 770-721-7803 or for upcoming seminars follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cherokeemastergardeners or on our website at cherokeemastergardenersinc.wildapricot.org.

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