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Evergreen’s Carton 2 Garden contest places an emphasis on school gardens because we know that gardening is a great way to encourage healthy eating.

Young people who have the chance to participate in school garden programs can improve their knowledge of good nutrition, broaden their tastes in terms of healthful food choices, and increase their consumption of vegetables and fruits. Equally important, participating in garden programs allows children the opportunity for regular moderate exercise in an enjoyable way. These healthful diet and exercise practices, planted like seeds in the garden, can continue to grow into enduring habits that build a strong foundation for life-long good health.


Fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet for both kids and adults. While most fruits and veggies are naturally low in calories and fats, they deliver a wide array of vital nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and K, folate, potassium, iron, and dietary fiber, as well important phytonutrients such as lycopene and lutein. Eating a diet that is high in vegetables and fruits of all kinds can help you maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure, and may reduce the risk of developing problems such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes. And perhaps best of all, fruits and vegetables add delicious taste and texture to your plate. Children who are introduced to lots of a different kinds of produce at a young age are likely to make these healthful foods part of their diet into adulthood, reaping lifelong benefits.


All kinds of vegetables and fruits offer nutritional benefits. Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach are rich in vitamins C and K, folate, and fiber. Bright red and orange carrots, peppers, watermelon, and sweet potatoes provide carotenoids and other antioxidants. Broccoli and cabbage contribute sulforaphane that may help ward off disease, along with potassium and vitamins C and K. Less colorful onions may not deliver as big a dose of vitamins, but offer other compounds that may lower the risk of cancer. Bananas are full of potassium, fiber, and vitamin C. The best advice? Eat a rainbow! Include lots of different kinds of fruits and vegetables in a wide variety of colors in your diet.


Lots! With vegetables, try for at least 4-5 servings a day for both adults and children. Be sure to include a wide variety so you get the most nutritional benefits. Most veggies are relatively low in calories so you can include a lot in your diet without worrying about calorie overload. But watch your servings of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and avocados. While they’re healthy choices, they are also higher in calories than most other vegetables. Aim for 2-3 servings of fruit a day. As with veggies, most fruits are relatively low in calories. Keep in mind that dried fruits like raisins and apricots have a higher calorie density. And remember that whole fruits offer much higher nutrition than fruit juices. Encourage your kids to choose an apple over apple juice!


It’s not a question of either/or. Both cooked and raw vegetables offer a nutritional boost. Cooked veggies are generally lower in vitamin C. But some antioxidants such as carotenoids in carrots and peppers and lycopene in tomatoes become more available when the vegetables are cooked. On the other hand, broccoli’s healthful suforaphane is preserved better when raw. And in some veggies – carrots and broccoli, for example – while cooking increases the levels of some nutrients, it decreases the levels of others. Again, the best advice is to go for variety! Enjoy crunchy raw carrots with a dip and steamed and tossed with honey glaze. Toss raw broccoli florets into your salad and roast some with garlic and olive oil. Your health and your taste buds will both benefit!


Some healthful phtyonutrients like carotenoids become more available to our bodies when they are combined with healthy fats. For example, if tomatoes are cooked with some fat, their healthful lycopene becomes more available for uptake by our bodies. Similarly, you won’t get the full nutritional benefit from your fruit or veggie-filled salad if you top it with fatfree dressing. Choose a dressing made with a healthful oil low in saturated fat such as olive oil, canola oil, or soybean oil to get the biggest nutritional payoff from your salad.


We’re not talking your aunts, uncles, and cousins here. We referring to the trillions (yes, trillions!) of beneficial microorganisms that are in residence in your intestinal tract. These aren’t germs; they’re helpful bacteria that help our bodies function properly. Scientists are just beginning to learn about the many ways these tiny critters, called our microbiome, work to keep us healthy. How to keep them flourishing? Many researchers think that dietary fiber, especially from fruits and vegetables, plays an important role. Vegetables such as garlic and leeks, which contain high levels of a type of fiber called inulin, are thought to be especially helpful. While there is a still lot to learn about our microscopic “family,” it’s safe to say that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is one way to promote “family” harmony.


One thing is for sure. Threats and bribery won’t produce vegetable lovers. Positive methods are much more likely to produce kids who are willing to try – and enjoy – vegetables on their plates. Here are some suggestions for ways to encourage veggie (and fruit) love.

  1. Offer lots of different kinds of fruits and veggies to try, and offer them multiple times. It often takes several rounds of sampling for kids to become accustomed to new tastes, so don’t give up if the first time isn’t a hit.
  2. Make veggies and fruits fun. Serve cut up raw or lightly steamed veggies with a tasty dip. Make fun kebabs with chunks of fruits and veggies on skewers. Keep some washed and cut-up produce in the frig and let kids serve themselves when they’re hungry for a snack.
  3. Serve veggies at the start of the meal when kids are hungriest. Start the meal with a salad or a cup of veggie-rich soup to get the good stuff in first.
  4. Let kids grow their own. Nothing is more rewarding than sampling a fruit or veggie they’ve grown and harvested themselves. A home or school garden is a great way to grow veggie lovers.
  5. Add veggies and fruits to all kinds of dishes. Whirl greens into smoothies or mix grated carrots into pancake batter; roast chunks of apples along with winter squash; add some chopped broccoli or spinach to mac and cheese; tuck some sliced fresh strawberries into a PB & J sandwich. Be creative!
  6. Model good eating habits. If kids see parents and teachers enjoying vegetables, they’ll be more apt to want to taste them as well. Make lots of veggies and fruits part of your good diet.

Of course, there is more to a healthy diet than fruits and veggies. Be sure to include whole grains or foods made from whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur); healthy proteins (poultry, fish, tofu, lean meat, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds); low or non-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese); and healthy fats from plant oils. Try to be sparing with added sugar, salt, saturated fats, and refined grains and white flour. Last, but not least, make sure to include daily physical activity. Kids and teens should get at least 60 minutes of moderate activity each day; adults should aim for at least 30 minutes. For both, more activity is even better. One way to up your activity level – grow a garden! It’s a great way to get in outdoor activity and grow some healthful food in the bargain!

For more information on healthy diets, check out:

USDA’s Choose My Plate. gov:

Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Plate: