Dr. Laura Jana has heard the excuses.
The PreventObesity.net Leader — a pediatrician by trade who also owns the Primrose School of Legacy in Omaha, Neb. — has dedicated much of her practice to helping kids eat healthy from a young age. She helped create a 60-foot-long garden at Primrose, allowing children as young as 2 to harvest a range of healthy produce (and later eat the fruits of their labor).
But while Jana is a big believer that kids will eat healthy if they are shown how to do so, she knows some parents are still doubtful, thinking their children prefer candy over cauliflower.
That’s when she tells the story of the 2-year-old boy and the cherry tomatoes.
When the fruits and vegetables are harvested at Primrose, there’s often so much crop yield that the school holds a small on-site farmer’s market to sell the produce, usually to parents picking up their children. One day, a mother came to pick up her 2-year-old son, who was eying some “of the sweetest cherry tomatoes I’ve ever had in my life,” Jana recalls.
The mom ignored the son, who was pointing at the tomatoes. “She says, ‘Oh no, sweetheart, I don’t think you’ll like those,” Jana recalls.
In response, the little boy started doing sign language for the word “please” (something he also learned at Primrose). So the mom took a small bite of one of the tomatoes and gave the boy the rest. He quickly devoured it, and she gave him more — until the little boy had so many tomatoes, they were running down his face.
“It was such a classic case of, ‘He won’t eat that,’” Jana says. “Then the kid is shoveling them [into his mouth]. It was like candy! And he was signing! It was like, what did he have to do to get his mom to understand?”
Jana long has worked to help parents teach their kids to eat healthy from a young age, including as the co-author of the book Food Fights. But the garden at Primrose is where some of her recommendations truly come to life. Incorporated into the curriculum, the garden allows children to learn gardening basics while also picking up other important lessons.
“I’ve always said gardening is about math skills, and about organization and responsibility, and playing outdoors and getting their hands dirty,” she says.
The garden is certainly a success when it comes to yielding healthy crops. Vegetables produced in the garden are often given to the children as a healthy snack, and the school sells some of the yield in the farmer’s market. But even then, there’s usually extra produce on hand — so the school donates that to the Omaha Food Bank. Last year, Primrose donated 300 pounds of vegetables to the food bank.
It’s a win-win for everyone, especially since the kids love working in the garden, Jana says. Even the youngest students get involved, often helping out with weeding. “Sometimes that’s challenging when you’re 2, because you indiscriminately weed,” Jana jokes.
Jana notes that creating the garden was really a grassroots effort. A family who runs a local landscaping company donated the dirt and helped install it in the garden. School staffers often head to the hardware store to pick up crops later in the season when they are cheaper (and sometimes even free).
“It’s not like I’m a green thumb. I’ve become much more of one, but in the way anyone could,” Jana says. “I Google stuff.”
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