RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—It’s true! What Michelle Obama has been saying at the White House garden—and everywhere else—for the last year and a half: Connecting kids and gardens increases their appreciation for fruits and vegetables. But planting the school garden is just the first step.
A three-year study done at the University of California–Berkeley shows that when schools teach some classes in the school’s garden and kitchen, and offer healthy fare in their cafeterias, it has a very clear and positive impact on kids’ diets. And on their attitudes towards food: Kids not only eat more fruits and vegetables, they know more about nutrition.
Alice Waters, famed food and cookbook author, and executive chef/founder of the Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, whose Chez Panisse Foundation commissioned the study, thinks the results have come at the right moment. “People are looking for validation of all these things we always felt to be true,” she says. “Had it come out three years ago I don’t know if it could have the effect it is having right now. This is the right timing.”
THE DETAILS: Five years ago the Berkeley (CA) Unified School District started its school lunch initiative. Parts of it were funded by the Chez Panisse Foundation and the Center for Ecoliteracy. The foundations, of course, paid for many of the improvements that produced what the researchers call "highly developed food programs": cooking and gardening classes, improved lunches, and nicer cafeterias. Some Berkeley schools have the highly developed programs; some just have gardens.
Between 2006 and 2009, researchers at the Atkins Center at UC-Berkeley followed 238 Berkeley third and fourth graders, comparing those in the schools with the highly developed cooking and gardening classes with the children in schools without such programs. And it turned out that the kids who partook of the new programs ate 1.5 more servings a day of fruits and vegetables, while the kids in the other schools reduced their consumption by nearly a quarter of a serving.
The first group also got higher scores on nutrition tests, and actually asked for more green leafy vegetables like spinach, chard, and kale. (Let's face it, most kids don’t even know what those last two are.) More of their family dinners were prepared from scratch using recipes from school. The children helped prepare dinner. Children in the schools without the cooking and gardening programs showed no increase in any of these activities, though they did eat a family dinner nearly every day.