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Gardening has many benefits for kids, adults

People who garden show improvements in mental health, with less depression, anxiety and stress reported.

A skillet of ratatouille
Ratatouille contains many vegetables you might grow in your garden.
Contributed / NDSU Extension
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When late May arrives and I plant flowers, herbs and vegetables, I think about all the gardening I did as a child.

We lived up to our last name of “Garden” with a large vegetable garden in town near our house and an even larger vegetable garden in the country.

I had specific assignments depending on my age and manual dexterity. When I was young, I helped plant the onions, potatoes, pumpkin and squash seeds, and snap beans. I am not sure that I ever graduated to planting the tiny carrot seeds.

My clothes, hands and knees were covered in soil by the time we finished. I did that on purpose.

When harvesting time arrived, I told my parents that I would be buying my food when I grew up. I think shelling large tubs of peas led to that comment. They just grinned at me.

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Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service
Julie Garden-Robinson
Courtesy / NDSU Extension Service

Yes, I am eating my own words.

Many years later, I completed the NDSU Extension Master Gardener course. I have volunteered in various ways as part of that program. I encourage you to explore the gardening courses offered by Extension organizations found throughout the U.S.

Gardening is beneficial on several levels. You will learn about the science of horticulture, get physical activity and have access to fresh produce at its freshest and most nutritious.

A recently published study that analyzed 22 previous studies from around the world, showed that gardening can improve health. People who gardened showed improvements in mental health, with less depression, anxiety and stress reported.

Gardening reduced body mass index among some gardeners, likely due to increased physical activity and improved nutrition. Gardening also helped people maintain their brain function.

Every summer we do gardening activities with children in the childcare center on campus. I look forward to their delight when their patience and tending is rewarded. They enjoy seeing lettuce, beans and squash plants peeking from the soil.

Researchers have shown that children gain a variety of skills as they grow plants. They learn to tend plants, explore science and develop relationships and cooperation skills in the process.

Helping grow vegetables often promotes more vegetable consumption among children.

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Children will need some assistance with planting, so invest in some child-sized equipment, such as small watering cans, trowels and gloves. Many children’s books about gardening are available. Visit a library or read along with children’s gardening videos found online.

We have many resources to help with “garden to table” efforts. See www.ag.ndsu.edu/fieldtofork for links to previously recorded webinars and materials to view online or print. Check out the food preservation information; if all goes well with gardening, you will have bounty to can, freeze, ferment or dry.

Last year, my program assistants and I worked on a community cookbook with Growing Together Community Gardens in the Fargo-Moorhead area. This recipe, pronounced “ra-tuh-too-ee”) was contributed by Lane Lipetzky and was well-liked by the taste testers.

Kids will recognize the name of this recipe from a popular animated movie of the same name. They might eat more vegetables if they help you grow the ingredients and prepare the recipe.

Ratatouille

1 medium eggplant
8 Roma tomatoes
1 medium yellow squash
1 medium zucchini
7 mushrooms
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion
5 garlic cloves
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
8-10 leaves fresh basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Fresh parsley
Fresh thyme
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cube or thinly slice eggplant, squash and zucchini; toss in 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt. Roast on a baking sheet at 425 F for 10 minutes. Put the eggplant pan on the middle rack, and the other vegetables on the top rack. Dice onions, peppers and tomatoes. Mince garlic and slice mushrooms. Sauté onion, garlic, mushrooms and peppers in 2 tablespoons olive oil on the stove using a cast iron skillet (or any pan that is oven safe) for five minutes on medium heat. Add tomatoes, oregano and basil to skillet and cook on low to medium heat until tomatoes form a sauce. Add the roasted eggplant, squash and zucchini to iron skillet and mix in. Bake at 375 F covered for 40 minutes; remove cover and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and top with parsley, thyme, extra basil and grated Parmesan cheese.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 190 calories, 12 grams fat, 5 grams protein, 19 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber and 90 milligrams sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.

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