If they grow it, they’ll eat it

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Ruby Mendoza, a student in the Munroe Elementary School gardening club, enjoys a meal she helped prepare by growing and chopping vegetables at the school.

If you think it's hard getting kids to eat their vegetables, wait until you try recruiting them for garden work.

But the challenge is worth it: Children just might add more healthy foods to their diet if they've grown them themselves.

“If a child grows herbs or vegetables, they will try them at least once,” said Mike Ferraro, whose Preferred Commerce Co. produces Growums, an animated garden program that uses online gaming technology to teach children how to raise fresh edibles and have fun doing it.

“When they're done, they're so proud of it they want to eat it,” he said.

You're never too young to garden, although results for the youngest gardeners might be mixed, said Susan Robbins of the National Gardening Association's Gardening With Kids program.

Some plants are bound to fail, so don't react by secretly replacing your preschooler's veggies, Robbins said.

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Maria Sandoval, a student in the Munroe Elementary School gardening club enjoys a meal she helped prepare by growing and chopping vegetables at the school.

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“Failures are a good way for children to understand that the process doesn't always work and that you shouldn't give up,” she said. “Reactive gardening makes them better adults.”

Some steps you can take to feed a child's hunger for learning in the garden:

- Involve them in the planning. Set aside a site and let the kids decide what to grow.

- Add fun to their gardening menu. Pay a bounty for the weeds they pull, plant “surprises” in their growing beds or introduce them to “tickle-me plants” - a houseplant (Mimosa pudica) that closes its leaves and lowers its branches when touched. “As a schoolteacher, I have found that growing a 'tickle-me plant' excites youngsters about science and nature as well as making them more sensitive about to how to care for plants and other living things,” said Mark Chipkin, educational project director for TickleMe Plants Co. Inc.

- Build their attention spans. Introduce theme garden mixtures like pizzas (tomato, oregano, basil and bell pepper plants), tacos (cilantro, jalapeño, lettuce and tomato) and salads (lettuce, carrot, cucumber and tomato). Plants that germinate quickly, such as sunflowers, daisies and cucumbers, also keep kids engaged.

- Let them do some of the dirty work. Even a toddler can aim a water hose. Buy child-size tools and build raised beds to make it easier for children to maneuver.

- Use pots or containers to make their job less daunting. - Sapa-AP

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