School-based kitchen and gardening programs are a great way to help children understand where their food comes from and gain life skills in gardening and cooking at an early age, said Karrie Kalich, Ph.D., an associate professor of health sciences at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire, who was not involved in the study.
Such programs are also "good for hands-on learners who may not be getting much out of a traditional learning environment," said Kalich, a dietitian who has designed and implemented "Early Sprouts," a gardening and nutrition program in a preschool setting.
Kalich said she wasn't surprised that the study only found evidence of an increased willingness on the part of children to taste new foods. "It's a step in the right direction and a necessary first step," she said, since children ages 8 through 12 still have a pronounced fear of new foods.
Although the ideal research outcome would show that a school-based kitchen and gardening program actually boosted the amount of healthy foods children ate, such a result usually occurs over time as kids transition from rejecting new foods to accepting and enjoying their taste, Kalich pointed out. Still, this result might not satisfy principals or teachers worried about whether or not a gardening curriculum might undermine students' performances on standardized test scores. What’s more, not every school has the financial resources or growing climate to implement a gardening program.
The Australian program used part-time specialists to instruct children rather than full-time teachers. But Kalich said in the U.S., school gardening programs might be championed and tended to by a teacher as a labor of love in addition to his or her usual classroom duties.
Pass it on: Children who grow food and prepare it are more likely to try it.
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