by By Stephani McGirr |

A common question I get asked is: “How do I get my child interested in healthier food choices?” While that is a completely separate topic of its own, for today I’m simply going to give you my number one answer – gardening! Planting a garden with your children is truly one of the best ways to engage them in an otherwise unappealing topic.

You don’t have to dig up half your backyard to benefit from gardening. Anyone, with or without experience, can garden. If you do have space to create a garden outdoors, it will provide you with the greatest yield, obviously, but if you don’t, there are other options. Some pots and window boxes will give you plenty of space to plant a variety of seeds and reap all the benefits. You can start with your basic herbs, but don’t limit yourself. Just because you might be restricted to window sills or a balcony doesn’t mean you can’t plant whatever you want. Read some books or information online, experiment and have fun!

There are many benefits to planting your own garden. The main one is that it piques your child’s natural curiosity, as well as being a wonderful hands-on learning experience, and provides them with an internal desire to try healthy foods without you having to nag them! While some might view gardening as too much work, I find it to be a great form of exercise and very therapeutic. Pulling weeds and digging are great ways to blow off steam when you need it! It also provides a family activity that you can do with a child of any age.

The financial benefits of gardening are huge, especially when you do have the space to plant your own in a backyard. Organic produce is more expensive than regular, but so very worth it when it comes to your family’s health. By growing your own produce, not only is it the freshest possible, but also the cheapest! The initial investment in some basic tools, seeds, and dirt/fertilizer more than pays for itself once you start harvesting.

I’d like to share some tips and suggestions to make gardening fun and easy for your whole family:

1. Involve your children in all stages of the process. No matter what the size of your garden, they can be involved with the layout planning, fruit/veggie seed choices, pre-planting soil prep, seed sowing, weeding, watering, harvesting, and finally the eating (which is what you wanted in the first place!). This gives them a sense of ‘ownership’ in the whole process and gets them excited about tasting the produce they grew.

2. Start some plants indoors early so that you can have a longer growing season. It makes a great activity for a cold, rainy early spring day. Get some peat pots to start your plants and let them fill it with dirt, put the seed in, cover and water it and watch it grow. *There will be a big mess all over the floor if you do it indoors, so I like to do it on a day that already needs vacuuming! We sweep all the dropped dirt back into a pile and use it to cover the seeds after they get planted.*

It is exciting and educational, as well as being a great sensory activity getting their hands into the dirt and discovering the look and feel of the various seeds. They will learn which seeds sprout the fastest, what the plants look like, discover how the plants grow in the direction of the sunlight, and much, much more! Once the weather is warm enough, plant your small plants along with new seeds of the same thing. That way, you have a continual supply of produce throughout the season.

3. Give your child a small section of your garden (or a single window box or pot if you don’t have outdoor space) all to themselves. The perfectionist in me came up with this plan. That way, it can stay fun for everyone without me stressing out about whether or not they are doing it “just right.” They have their space to plant their seed choices and learn responsibility by taking care of it. They can be proud of their efforts when they see it growing and producing food. If something doesn’t produce like you hoped, be sure they know it wasn’t their fault and make it another learning opportunity by trying to discover why and experimenting with a new plan the next time around.

4. Make sure there is plenty of space to walk between sections of plants so that they don’t get accidentally trampled by little feet! Use bricks or stones between sections or use a raised bed garden to give clearly defined areas where they know they can walk safely.

5. The ‘harvesting’ part is always the best and usually amounts to the kids eating straight from the garden – you can’t get any food more alive and fresh for your body than that! This is truly the healthiest of food and best way to eat it. I love going out and picking my own food… it makes me feel like I actually know what I am doing when it comes to gardening! I am a total novice and just wing it, even though this is the fourth year we have had our own garden! We use our own compost dirt and some organic natural fertilizer, but you never know what we will decide to plant each year!

Some of our favorites are carrots, spring onions, radishes, cucumbers, peas, green beans, beets, zucchini, yellow squash, pumpkin and tomatoes. Spinach, kale, swiss chard, romaine, and other lettuce varieties fill up our garden with lots of healthy greens. We also have herbs like dill, chives, basil, oregano, cilantro, peppermint and lots and lots of parsley. We love berries like mini-strawberries (mmmm… they taste just like sweet tart candies!), raspberries, blackberries and blueberries that were already growing from previous years.

Our garden is usually heavy on the greens! They are mineral rich and undervalued in their importance in our modern diets. (You will be hearing more about that topic from me in another article!) The kids will even go and pick some greens and eat them as is. Between the garden glory and our fruit and nut trees (cherry, apple, pear and walnut) we love, love, love summertime! For our bellies and our wallets!:)

If you have never tried gardening, give it a try! Start small and experiment with some of your favorite foods. That’s how I got started. Each year, we have added a little more and now know what works best for us. The main objective is to have fun with your children and plant the little seed of curiosity about fresh foods from the garden in their minds!

If you’re a parent of a child with ADHD, ASD and other special needs and are looking for natural methods to help your family, visit Stephani McGirr’s [] to receive a free twice monthly ezine full of tips, tools and recipes to help you move from struggle to success while creating a peaceful home life your family loves.

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