Updated: May 20
Food empathy for a better diet
Last summer I learned a very important lesson. Children benefit from growing their food. It was a hot summer day, and I was outside weeding in our building’s garden. My three-year-old downstairs neighbor, Max, was exploring some sticks when he ran near me, grabbed a radish out of the ground, and took a massive bite. I stared in shock as this small child devoured this spicy root veggie. Max grazed the cherry tomatoes, munched on some bib lettuce, and ended with strawberries. Moments later, his mom came down with a tray of food for Max’s lunch. Even though this child just treated the garden like a full-on buffet, his options for lunch were bland and generic “kids food” crackers, cheese, processed fruit snacks. When I asked his mother about Max’s eating habits, she told me, “Max is picky and only likes these things.” Max is picky? He just ate more produce than I’ve ever seen a kid eat. Then it hit me. Max wasn’t picky; he just preferred food he had a connection with.
Max isn’t alone. Children are far more likely to eat food they have a relationship with. But the benefits of homegrown food don’t stop there! Growing your food fosters strong social-emotional development and creates lifelong healthy eating habits.
Plants aren’t the only thing that grows when our children engage in the garden. Their confidence, self-worth, nurturing, and patience are also reaping the benefits. Few experiences are more satisfying than watching a seed that you planted sprout, grow, flower, and produce a fruit or vegetable. Children, regardless of age, strengthen their sense of confidence and self-worth as they watch a plant they cared for flourish. But the social-emotional benefits don’t stop there. Growing your own food works on executive function skills. Executive function skills teach you to play in the sandbox of life. When it comes to planting, your child is working on patience and responsibility. Plants take a while to grow and need a lot of care. When your child is tending to plants, they take on daily watering, weeding, and waiting.
Your child learns that things take time; they develop a relationship with the plant and value the end product much more than something picked up from a store.
When you grow your produce, you develop a relationship with your food. Knowing how long it took to grow that tomato, you savor every bite. This is no different for children. Being part of the growing process teaches your child to value the work that goes into growing a single veggie.
You don’t need a plot of land to start your child on their healthy food relationships. You simply need a pot, dirt, and seeds. A simple window garden is a great way to begin your child’s life long love of fruits and veggies.