Of 13,000 teenagers surveyed in 2017, only 2% ate the recommended amount of vegetables, and 7% ate enough fruit. Surprised? In 2021, the picture has worsened. Teenagers have sat steady at 2%, but in the past 15 years, children from the ages of 1-10 have dropped their fresh vegetable consumption by 50%.
Vegetable intake is low across all socio-economic levels and across all groups- including boys and girls, of all shades of skin.
Why don’t kids eat more vegetables?
The two most important reasons are that parents are not eating enough veggies, and veggies aren’t branded. There is a reason that food companies spend a lot of money on advertising their brand- it works. What was the last food you saw advertised? Most likely not microgreens or carrots. Advertising is powerful. It affects what we eat- and by extension, what we do not eat. When was the last time you saw fresh vegetables advertised? What do we need to do to counteract that lack of advertising and encourage the young people under our care to become one of the 2%?
To become one of the 2%, children must be exposed to plenty of fruits and vegetables early in life. "Exposure, and repeated exposure even after they reject a food, is important," says Angela Lemond, a registered dietitian, and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Just because they don't like a food once doesn't mean they won't tomorrow." As parents, not only do we need to model eating vegetables, we must not be quitters.
Including children in choosing not only the vegetables at the supermarket but choosing recipes to use them in helps them feel ownership in their meals.
But, the best way to encourage vegetable-loving children is to let them grow their own.
Now, I know what you are thinking- “I don’t have time or space to grow a garden and my kid won’t spend his summer working in the dirt”. A garden plot and weekends are not necessary to grow vegetables. You can do this!
Microgreens are tiny, tasty, nutritious veggies that are grown indoors in a space as small as a windowsill and are ready to harvest in 10 days. Because they are up to 40% more nutritious than full-grown veggies, children do not need to eat as much to get the micronutrients that they need for their growing bodies and minds. Plus, children as young as three can grow microgreens with 5 minutes a day of help. Microgreens can change a 98-percenter into one of the healthy 2%.
This is why I do what I do. Why I am building a resource for parents and families to grow, learn, and explore with microgreens. Because the health of a generation of children is at stake.
What Is a Serving Size of Microgreens
What is considered a serving of microgreens?
One hand- one serving of microgreens. As you see from the charts below, the amount that is considered a serving depends on the person’s age. Knowing that microgreens have on average 10 times (and up to 40 times) the nutrients in full-grown vegetables, we need to know what a serving size is.
The good news is, it’s easy to convert serving sizes- the size of the hand determines the size of the serving. A 3-year-old will have six servings of microgreens that are easily held in their hand. A teenager or an adult, the same thing. With their bigger hands, it is still 6 handfuls per day- if microgreens are the only vegetable eaten.
Note that one of the most important points about eating vegetables (right after ‘just eat them’!) is to eat a variety. A variety of microgreens, and a variety of types of vegetables.
More information on serving sizes and the importance of eating vegetables
To have the best health, we need to eat vegetables. There are over 10,000 phytochemical that have been identified in the vegetables that we eat, and many more that are as yet unknown. A handful of broccoli microgreens has thousands of phytochemicals (1), many of which are vital to the health of our bodies. Phytochemicals (nutrients) do not come from any other source- we cannot get them from pills, potato chips, or wishful thinking. If we don’t eat vegetables, our bodies lack important nutrients.
98% of kids and 90% of adults do not eat enough vegetables.
Why don’t kids eat vegetables?
Parents don’t like vegetables so they don’t serve them to their kids.
Taste buds have become accustomed to the high salt, sugar and fat content of processed foods, so plain vegetables don’t taste good or just don’t satisfy.
The texture of vegetables, particularly cooked vegetables, is not appealing.
A lack of knowledge about the quantity and type of vegetables needed.
It’s easier to grab and prepare processed food.
There are other reasons, but no matter what the reason, they don’t outweigh the need our bodies have for the nutrients in vegetables.
How much full-grown vegetables do we need on a daily basis?
The average adult needs between 2-3 cups of vegetables a day, and kids need between ¾ -3 cups, depending on age and gender. How do we go from eating no vegetables to eating sufficient quantities a day? We start.
Let’s define a cup of vegetables
1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables,
1 cup of 100% vegetable juice, or
2 cups of loose, raw leafy greens.
Define a serving of vegetables
For a one-year-old child that needs ¾ cup of vegetables per day, a serving size may be as small as a tablespoon, with 6 servings throughout the day.
For an older child that requires 1 ½ cups of vegetables per day, a serving size is ¼ cup with again, 6 servings per day.
An adult serving size is generally six servings of ½ cup. For many people, that is an overwhelming amount of vegetables to eat each day. There is a solution.
Microgreens to the rescue!
Instead of cups of broccoli or big salads, add handfuls of microgreens to everyday foods. Add to soups, sandwiches, burritos, spaghetti sauce- even ramen noodles if that is what you normally eat. One-tenth of a cup is about 1.5 tablespoons. So, for every cup of needed vegetables, substitute 1-2 tablespoons of chopped microgreens.
Sample Plan for Slowly Adding Vegetables To the Menu
Make a plan, and Just Start.
A little knowledge is necessary to eat properly. However, knowing that broccoli is good for you and doughnuts are not so healthy doesn't take a degree in nutrition- just the desire to increase our opportunity to have healthier bodies and minds.
What tricks have you discovered to add microgreens or other vegetables to your diet? Share your advice in the comments, below!
How To Involve Kids in Gardening
From a kid’s viewpoint, microgreens are the perfect garden.
No weeding, no digging, no endless wait before the harvest. Micro-gardening gives all the benefits of outdoor gardening- except for exercise and sunshine- but without the hassles, wait, and expense. Each child can grow their very own crops which develops a sense of individual accomplishment and self-confidence.
Gardening provides plenty of life lessons
Kids growing microgreens from seeds that they have carefully nurtured develop a sense of purpose, responsibility, patience, critical thinking skills, an awareness of healthy eating habits, and the connection between choice and consequence. For parents struggling to find ways to encourage their kids to eat a healthy and balanced diet, microgreens can be both a teaching tool and a solution to the problem of not liking ‘green things’.
Research involving children and gardening
“Results indicate that school gardening may affect children’s vegetable consumption, including improved recognition of, attitudes toward, preferences for, and willingness to taste vegetables. Gardening also increases the variety of vegetables eaten.” (1) According to multiple studies, gardening in a school, club, or home environment is not only fun for children and youth, but can encourage a life-long, positive change in eating habits.
How to involve your children and youth in growing microgreens
Give each child their own set of trays to provide a sense of ownership in the outcome. Planting and growing microgreens is easy enough that even young children can do most of the ‘work’ involved, even without supervision. Measuring the water and seeds is the most complicated part- and is a good exercise in being precise. Show each step, and then allow them to do it themselves. Microgreens are very forgiving as they grow and develop.
Make it a non-stressful activity for yourself and your child. Set up the learning area so that you are not concerned about a little water, soil, or seeds being spilled. A kitchen counter is an excellent choice- easy to clean with water easily available.
After you have grown the first crop of microgreens together, allow each person to choose which seeds to grow next. (2) Encourage children to grow many varieties as this also promotes confidence in tasting new vegetables. However, for those green-averse young people, make it ‘ok’ to grow a favorite type multiple times. The purpose is to encourage the eating of vegetables and each child has a different internal timeline for when they want to experiment with a new taste.
Keep the growing microgreens near where they play and work. Keep them in sight to encourage curiosity. Show curiosity as you watch the growing process with the child. Curiosity is contagious!
Make remembering to water an easy routine by attaching the task to something that is regularly done. Just before or after a meal or snack time, or anything else that is done on a regular, predictable basis. Make watering a time to also taste their crop each day, and to notice growth and changes. In short, make it fun – but quick.
Extend the learning
During the summer, if you have an outside garden area, encourage them to carefully pluck out one of each type of microgreen and grow it into a full-sized plant. All of the microgreens can be grown in pots, buckets, and other containers with potting mix. They can also be grown in most outdoor gardens with the appropriate climate. If you are not sure how to grow a plant to maturity, take the opportunity to encourage research and let the student teach YOU. Compare the taste, texture, smell, and time involved between the microgreen and the full-grown version.
When it is time to harvest, encourage the new gardener to make their own decision on what to do with their harvest. Put their tiny greens on a salad or taco? In a Sandwich or smoothie? How about using them in peanut butter balls, cookies, or other fun recipes? Encourage creativity!
Embrace failure as a learning experience. Failure happens to all of us, and when kids are growing microgreens, there will be opportunities to both succeed and fail! Learning from forgetting to water or over-watering, from dropping a tray on the ground or having a pet get into a project are all opportunities to discover that a setback is not 'the end of the world'. Discover the positive instead of focusing on the failure and it will become something they will be willing to try again.
Encourage sharing. Share not only the veggies with a family member or friend but share pictures of their work on a parent’s social media or by text to a friend or grandparent. Make a meal out of their crop and share the recipe or directions. For an additional space to share pictures, join The Microgreen Hub on Facebook.
Ratcliffe MM, Merrigan KA, Rogers BL, Goldberg JP. The Effects of School Garden Experiences on Middle School-Aged Students’ Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors Associated With Vegetable Consumption. Health Promotion Practice. 2011;12(1):36-43. doi:10.1177/1524839909349182
Who has not experienced stress this year? I don’t see any hands being raised…
Bringing nature into our homes
Did you know that simply viewing a green space can promote relaxation and reduce stress levels? There have been numerous studies showing the benefits of gardening and growing one’s own food. Microgreens are an important part of horticulture therapy- easy and enjoyable to grow, with a variety of positive outcomes.
Enjoying a green space can help to overcome stress and fatigue and help reduce feelings of anger, frustration, and aggression. Research has shown that just looking at a green space can lower blood pressure and help a person focus and be more productive. While we are not all lucky enough to have an outdoor space and the right weather to grow a garden, we can create our own mini green space inside our home. Microgreens are especially useful in developing an indoor green space.
Houseplants vs Microgreens
Unlike houseplants, your microgreen space will change frequently as you grow different varieties, giving fresh interest both to your green space and to your meals. An added benefit is that when you need a break from gardening, simply harvest what is there and refrain from planting for a few days or as long as necessary. As soon as you are ready to renew your green space, begin another planting cycle.
The speed of growth from seed to harvest is an important aspect of stress-reduction. When planting a traditional garden outside, the time to harvest is from 21 to 120 days or more. Very little changes day to day other than the new crop of weeds. With microgreens, the time from planting to harvest is 10-14 days for most varieties. Each day, you will see an interesting change in your micro garden- and just the act of looking forward to seeing the next day’s growth helps to reduce stress.
Microgreens are full of stress-reducing nutrients
The crops fresh from your micro-garden are the tastiest and most nutritious food you can get. Good nutrition is one powerful stress-reducing tool. Along with exercise, eating a diet rich in micronutrients is the best way to not only boost our immunity but to heal the damage caused by unrelenting stress. Microgreens contain vitamins and minerals like potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese, and many vitamins including A, E, and C. In addition, microgreens are a great source of antioxidants. Each of these works to neutralize harmful molecules produced when your body is under stress.
Stress hits all ages, from children to the elderly
Stress in small amounts can be healthy and productive, but when it becomes overwhelming and constant it affects us both physically and emotionally. If you, your children, or others around you are experiencing overwhelming stress that affects sleep, eating, relationships, mental state, or physical state, I urge you to seek help from your doctor. Do what you can, like building green spaces around you and exercising to reduce the stress, but never be afraid or hesitant to ask for help.
For further reading:
Impact of the activity of gardening and food growing: Eriksson et al., 2011and Sahlin et al., 2014
Ulrich, R. S. (1984) View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science 224, 420-421.
Ulrich, R. S. (1999) Effects of gardens on health outcomes: theory and research. In: Cooper Marcus C. and Barnes M. (1999). Healing gardens: therapeutic benefits and design recommendations. John Wiley & Sons, New York, USA. pp 27-86.
Kaplan, R. (2001) The Nature of the View from Home Psychological Benefits. Environment and Behaviour, 33(4), 507-542
Teaching Empathy in Children
How do you teach a child kindness and empathy?
I had a conversation with a young father some time back. He was concerned with his 10yo sons' lack of empathy. The young boy had difficulty showing remorse or understanding how others felt. his question was "How do you teach a child kindness and empathy?"
Learning the lessons of friendship, compassion, and empathy takes time, dedication, and patience. This is, however, one of the most important lessons you can instill in a child as they grow up. Both the family and the child's community will benefit for the rest of the child's life. The child will benefit even more as he learns to give and recognize how his actions affect those around him.
The way to feel happiness is to give service to others.
“Give,” said the little stream, “Give, oh! give, give, oh! give.” “Give,” said the little stream, As it hurried down the hill; “I’m small, I know, but wherever I go The fields grow greener still.”
Experiencing the joy of service
To develop empathy and kindness without thought of reward, a child must have opportunities to experience the joy that comes with service. This must be in both the form of example from those adults he loves and trusts as well as personal experience. Initially, the child must be led to think of others, given a chance to think about how another person feels and helped to develop the desire to give service.
Service can be as small as picking up something that someone else dropped and returning it with a smile. One parent can pull the child aside and ask "What do you think mother (or father) might like for us to do to help her/him?" and then help the child to accomplish the task. The aftermath of that small service is important as well.
When a child is praised and a 'big deal' is made about the act of service, it becomes less an act of kindness and service and turns into an attention-seeking moment. This results in a child doing the right thing for the wrong reason- in order to get attention for himself instead of doing something to make another feel good.
Say "Thank you".
Better for the receiver of the service to say a heartfelt "Thank you", and a brief sentence about how it made them feel: "Thank you for doing that for me! It made me feel loved!". A quick hug and then back to business. In this way, the child sees the response to his small act of service and learns how his actions affect another person. Do this on a daily basis and the child will begin to look for opportunities himself.
What is the best way to teach?
Children learn best by example followed by instruction. A child watching his mother and father do quiet, small acts of service for others on a regular basis, and seeing the understated satisfaction it brings will be more apt to transition to a young person and then an adult who looks out for others.
Here are a few ideas to start a family's journey to compassion, kindness, and empathy:
One parent takes a child to the store and the parent asks what small thing the child thinks the other parent (or some other person in the child's life) might like. Then, talk about that choice- why does he think it might be a good gift? How does he think the receiver will use it? If the item is inappropriate (such as a toy that the child himself wants) talk about other options and continue the process. The idea is to prompt the child to use empathy to make a choice rather than consider his own wants and needs.
Talk about the feelings of others and give the feelings names. If a child sees a child is angry because her toy was taken away, give him words to describe it: Instead of "She feels bad", help him to say "She feels angry about losing her toy". Teach the feeling and the reason.
When reading books together, ask the child what the person in the story might be feeling and why. This is very effective with picture books.
Draw pictures together with uplifting captions, pick or buy small flowers, and take them to a rest home or hospital to distribute. Speak with the child frequently about how the receiver felt and why. Don't 'celebrate' afterward as that turns it from an act of service to being rewarded for doing something 'nice'. Allow the feelings of another person's happiness to be the reward.