Grow a Rainbow with Your Kids!

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"I LOVE vegetables!"
"This is the most fun I ever had!"
"I can't wait to eat the kale!"

These are just a few of the quotes garden coordinator Maggie Connolly has gathered from her young gardeners in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. "Children devoured the fresh spinach and chard we harvested this spring, and even wanted more fresh garlic to add to the salad dressing they prepared. It was astonishing to see 9- and 10-year-olds asking for seconds and thirds of salad!"

Gardens motivate children to try new fruits and vegetables. They are eager to taste the 'fruits' of their labor and quickly learn that those healthy foods are tasty, too. Fruits and vegetables are important for proper physical and mental development, but few children (or adults, for that matter) consume the amount recommended by current health guidelines. Gardening with your kids will get them excited about the plants on their plate and it will also provide you with a bountiful supply of fresh produce.

So how do you begin? The best way to launch a successful garden is to start small and choose varieties that do well in your area. You might start with vegetables your children already enjoy, or try selecting plants around a theme such as a rainbow garden to pique their interest.

Many of the pigments responsible for the color of fruits and vegetables are also linked to different health benefits. Plants have pigments to protect them from environmental factors (such as sunlight) and from harmful byproducts of plant processes like photosynthesis. When we consume fruits and vegetables, we receive benefits from these pigments that are similar to what they do for the plant – we get protection from environmental factors and cell-damaging chemical byproducts.

Because of this, nutrition educators came up with a simple message: “Eat a Rainbow.” Eat a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables and you will maximize your health benefits. Nutritionists suggest that you try to eat at least one red, one orange/yellow, one green, one blue/purple, and one white fruit or vegetable every day.

Your garden can provide all the produce you need to create a colorful plate. Here are a few planting ideas:

  • Red: strawberries, watermelon, tomatoes, red peppers, radishes, beets, red onions, raspberries
  • Yellow/orange: cantaloupe, butternut squash, carrots, yellow peppers, pumpkin, rutabagas, summer squash, sweet corn, sweet potatoes
  • Green: honeydew melon, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, green beans, green cabbage, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, leeks, scallions, okra, peas, green peppers, snow peas, sugar snap peas, zucchini
  • Blue/Purple: blackberries, blueberries, purple grapes, purple cabbage, eggplant, purple peppers
  • White: cauliflower, garlic, jicama, kohlrabi, onions, parsnips, potatoes, white corn, turnips

For more ideas about gardening with your kids, visit Kids Gardening and sign up for National Gardening Association’s Kids Garden News, which offers monthly thematic activity ideas for engaging and inspiring young gardeners.

Research Statistic:

NGA Youth Garden Grant Winner FirstHealth of the Carolinas in Pinehurst, North Carolina found that more than 90 percent of parents reported that their children eat more fruits and vegetables as a result of participation in their garden program.

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