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Published June 04, 2010, 12:00 AM

Gardening has benefits beyond just food

“If you want to be a doctor, you need to eat lots of cauliflower,” our neighbor, a physician, told my 6-year-old daughter with a grin. She looked at him and me skeptically.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“If you want to be a doctor, you need to eat lots of cauliflower,” our neighbor, a physician, told my 6-year-old daughter with a grin.

She looked at him and me skeptically.

My younger daughter had been on a field trip with her first-grade class to a hospital. She had been a surgeon in a little skit they did, and she thought being a doctor would be fun. She now was visiting with our neighbor over the fence.

My 12-year-old daughter and I were getting ready to plant our garden nearby. We had cauliflower and cabbage plants waiting to be planted.

“Do I really have to eat cauliflower if I want to be a doctor?” she asked me later.

“Well, it wouldn’t hurt,” I said to my vegetable-shy child.

“Well, I think I will be a teacher,” she said.

“Teachers need to eat vegetables, too,” I said.

Planting a garden is a worthy endeavor on many levels. When children are involved with gardening, much learning can take place in this outdoor classroom.

Giving children a small plot to care for provides an opportunity for them to take responsibility and follow through on taking care of it.

Researchers have shown that children who help grow vegetables are more likely to eat them. For example, planting a “theme garden,” such as a salsa garden with tomatoes, peppers, onions and cilantro, may entice children to eat more salsa and fewer chips.

Gardening can boost our physical activity level. As we stretch, bend and lift to plant, weed and water our plants, we are accumulating moderate physical activity. Adults should accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, and children should accumulate at least 60 minutes on five or more days each week.

“Mom, look at this tiny worm. What kind of bug is this?” my older daughter asked as she looked up from planting a cabbage plant, with a worm in one gloved hand and a bug in the other.

“That’s a nice worm but a bad bug,” I replied, not remembering what kind of bug it was.

With all the questions my children were asking during our gardening adventure, I was thinking I’d need to consult some of our Extension literature in areas outside of my own. Through gardening, kids and adults can learn about horticulture, nutrition and entomology.

As we planted flowers and vegetables, my older daughter was snapping photos for her

4-H projects. She was learning about photography as well as plants. Later this summer, I will teach her about drying and freezing foods.

Fruits and vegetables add color to our plates and to our landscapes. They also provide disease-fighting phytochemicals (natural plant chemicals) and antioxidants in our diet.

Check out our “garden to table” resources I co-wrote with my Extension horticulture colleague Ron Smith at www.ag.ndsu.edu/ndsuag/food. You can learn how to grow, prepare and preserve various vegetables and fruits.

This recipe is from the Ohio State University Extension program.


Broccoli (or Cauliflower) and Rice Casserole

1½ cups rice*

3½ cups water (divided)

1 medium chopped onion

3 Tbsp. margarine or butter

1 (10.75-ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup (or cream of chicken or celery)

1½ cups low-fat milk

2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped broccoli (or cauliflower or mixed vegetables)

½ pound grated cheese

*You can substitute brown rice, but adjust the water content and cooking time according to the package directions.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 12-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan. In a saucepan, mix rice and 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and set aside for an additional 15 minutes. Saute onion in margarine or butter until tender. Mix soup, milk, ½ cup of water, onion and rice. Spoon mixture into a baking pan. Thaw and drain the vegetables and spread over the rice mixture. (You can thaw the vegetables in a microwave oven or by running them under water.) Spread the cheese evenly over the top and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and the casserole is bubbling hot.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 240 calories, 11 grams (g) of fat, 26 g of carbohydrate and 340 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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