Newshub headline with Children's Wisconsin logo
Holding a tomato

Is your child a picky eater? Try gardening

The picky eating started with my daughter’s first bite of baby food. I remember it like it was yesterday. My husband and I sat our 6-month-old down in her high chair, and offered Avery her first bite of baby food.

She looked at the spoon (buzzing through the air like an airplane), turned her head and refused to open her mouth. “Um, what? How could this be?” I thought. We tried again. Nope. It was not happening. I was in shock. I am a registered dietitian. My child should be inhaling her food. We tried everything we could to get my daughter to eat solids. Herbs, spices, warmed, cold. We bought certain feeding utensils that promised to be our answer. Nothing.

The years passed. We made very little progress despite trying many, many attempts to get Avery to expand her food horizons. Then a light bulb went off. What if instead of telling Avery how important it is to eat the rainbow, I show her? The next day, our life became consumed by creating our family garden.

As of today, I can now proudly say that my 6-year-old eats, or has at least tried, a dozen different vegetables (fruits we are still working on). Not only does she eat them straight from the garden, but she helps us prepare them and create delicious entrees and side dishes for the whole family. She loves to put on her gardening gloves, grab her shovel and water bucket and tend to her veggies!

Involve your child in the planning.

  • Discuss if you will have low, flat bed gardens or if you will use pots.
  • What will you grow? It helps to choose things that are not fussy about the soil or climate, are low-maintenance and don’t require starting indoors. Examples include but are not limited to: lettuce, green beans, spinach and zucchini.
  • Make a diagram of the garden using crayons and markers. Decide what you will grow and where each seed will be planted. I like to research with my kids each item we are planting and why that particular food is important for our bodies.
  • Head to the garden store together. Make a list of all the things you will need for your garden. Kids can check each item off as you go.
  • Set aside a day for putting the actual garden together.
  • Set the expectations up front. Discuss how often things need to be watered and how long the seeds will take to grow. My kids tend to expect the seeds to become zucchinis overnight. I am constantly reminding them that it takes time!

Avoid making it a chore. Make it fun!

  • I try to get out to the garden first thing in the morning when my kiddos have the most energy.
  • Each planting season, I hit up the dollar store and buy some colorful gloves. I also bought kids gardening tools the first year we started. This teaches them to be accountable for their tools and take good care of them.
  • Additionally, I love to play music while we garden. I tell the kids we are waking up the seeds.
  • We like to plant our lettuce seeds in the pattern of their initials.

After you pick your veggies…

  • Eat them right from the garden.
  • Get creative with meals and snacks. We plan certain meals around our harvest. If we have zucchini, we may make some zucchini bread for breakfast. If we have lots of carrots, we may make a dip to dunk them in.
  • Share them. We take our basket of goodies and head out to the neighbors. This is probably my kids’ favorite part. They love giving out beans and tomatoes. The pride on their faces makes all the work worth it!