Published on May 27, 2021

A father gardening with his children.

Garden projects provide family fun and healthy harvests

Meaningful activities with loved ones, nourishing food and regular exercise are core components of a long, healthy and happy life. Creating and tending a family garden can be a low-cost, fun and enduring way to achieve all three.

"A garden gives everyone a shared activity to look forward to and engage in together as we spend time at home," said Lindsay Brechbill, a clinical dietitian who works with patients at the UW Health Cancer Center at ProHealth Care.

Gardens can be designed for spaces large and small. A porch or balcony can be ideal for potted tomatoes and growing herbs and other plants in smaller containers. Raised beds and larger containers work well for small yards and patios. Community gardens are a practical and community-oriented option for people who want larger gardens and a place where they can interact with fellow gardeners. Those with lots of garden space at home have many options for growing a wide variety of edible plants.

People of all ages can take part in gardening. Family members can help plan the garden; grow seedlings or select plants; plant, water and weed; or harvest fruits and vegetables and prepare food. Everyone who gardens has an opportunity to learn, feel useful and productive, and share in the garden’s results. There is a way to involve every member of the family.

When children are included in gardening, they discover how to grow and prepare nutritious food and practice healthy habits for a lifetime.

"A garden is a hands-on way to teach science," Brechbill said. "Children can learn about plant species, the life cycle of plants and what it takes to produce food."

Gardening also helps children:

  • Channel energy
  • Practice patience
  • Develop practical skills
  • Engage in teamwork
  • Learn self-reliance
  • Feel empowered
  • Achieve results
  • Connect with nature
  • Appreciate healthy food

"Gardening can be very exciting for children because they experience a sense of accomplishment and pride in their contributions and the results," Brechbill said. "Kids are also more likely to eat healthy food when they’re included in the growing process and put in the work that a garden requires."

Children can be included at all stages of gardening, from selecting plants to food preparation. Brechbill recommended giving younger children a specific responsibility in the garden that carries through to the dinner table. For example, lettuce is easy to plant, grow, harvest, and wash and tear into pieces for the family’s summer salads.

A garden can also teach children the gift of giving and help develop social skills. A bunch of herbs tied with a colorful ribbon, a basket of berries or a box of vegetables and a healthy soup recipe become gifts for children to give to grandparents and others. The experience and lessons learned also give them great stories to share about their garden and the ways they helped it grow.