Nutrition Project: Introducing Your Child To Organic Produce

photo by, Steve Spencer, 6 weeks into his tomato garden.

Nutrition Project: Introducing Your Child To Organic Produce

It is never too early to start healthy eating habits with your children, especially when it can help adopt a healthy lifestyle. Obesity is on the rise with in children, and even though schools and the media preach healthier choices, parents need to instill the right habits. Diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and other diseases are also influenced by what we put in our bodies, and studies have proven that eating more fruits and vegetables assist in warding of certain issues. Introducing organic produce such as tomatoes will indulge young taste buds to make better choices.

Over-processed and chemically altered foods have led to health problems and weight issues. Our lifestyles have become so busy that it is easy to give into the convenient drive through or grab a bag of chips. If that is all they are exposed to, kids will become accustomed to taking this route to snack or dine more often, leading to long term problems. Studies have shown that children who ingest conventional foods have more pesticide residue in their bodies which are potentially impeding development.

“Since we’re often too busy to cook at home, we grab processed foods out of the freezer and pop them into the microwave. We’ve been conditioned to want our food cheap, quick, and filling—no matter if that food also happens to be packed with triglycerides and trans fatty acids and artificial chemicals. For the sake of our children, we need to start rethinking this damaging relationship with food, if possible at the very beginning of their lives,” writes bestselling author Deidre Imus. Her book Growing up Green is a guide to creating healthier lifestyles for children.

What is Organic Produce?

Organically grown produce is described by the USDA as being “produced without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering or ionizing radiation.” In order to be considered organic, the foods we purchase in the grocery store need to come from certified organic farms which have been inspected and received this designation from USDA organic standards. These inspectors ensure that there are no uses of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or other non-organic compounds.

We can also grow organic produce at home. Tomatoes are one of the easiest things to grown in the back yard or on the deck, as well as one of the healthiest. Over 50% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C and nearly 25% of the RDA for Vitamin A is present in just a single cup of raw tomato. Iron, folic acid, calcium, potassium, and lycopene are also present, each promoting good health in a number of ways. “Organic tomatoes are 12 times higher in magnesium, 68 times higher in manganese, and almost 2,000 times higher in iron,” states author Jon Barron, in his book Lessons from the Miracle Doctors: A Step by Step Guide to Optimum Heath.

Starting an Organic Tomato Garden

Younger children love to help and will be excited to start a new project such as a garden. From planting the seed to watching it grow, your child will take ownership over this new venture. The basics are fairly easy. Heirloom tomatoes are recommended for their ease in growing.

• Start with an area that is in moderate to full sun, at least five hours. Eight is optimal.
• Dig into the area, mixing approved compost into the soil. The area should be well drained to prevent rot. If you make your own compost, you can also use it.
• Seeds can be started in peat pots first to provide a sturdier base. These can be done in a sunny window sill. Keep the soil moist.
• After the final frost of spring, plant seeds or seedlings and surround them with wire cages. The cages prevent pesky rabbits from nibbling on the plants, as well as provide a base to support the plant as it gets taller and heavier. Seedlings should be placed 24” apart.
• If tomato plants are grown on a deck, it is important to use pots that are deep, as the root system needs space.
• As the tomato plant matures, use stakes to promote stronger upward growth. As the plant nears 4’ in height, pinch off the top and side shoots to create tomato growth. Pinching off these shoots sends the energy back into the actual growing of the fruit.
• Pick the tomatoes often as they ripen, promoting further growth.

It is important to note that even one plant will produce a large amount of tomatoes, and will continue to produce for several weeks during the warm summer months. A family of four can comfortably eat from 2-3 plants.

Tomato plants are quite hearty and resilient to disease. Once the plant is established, it will pretty much take care of itself, as long as you or your child keeps it well watered. The nutrients of the compost may be enough to sustain the plant, creating large and numerous tomatoes. There are also organically certified fertilizers that can enhance the growth, and should be applied mid season.

For those of us not blessed with an area in which to create a garden, there are products that are perfect for countertops in kitchens. The AeroGarden seed kit allows your children to grow cherry tomatoes year round. This tidy little kit does not use dirt and is completely pesticide free. It will also produce fruit for up to six months.

Kids will love being able to pick the ripened fruit and have it available at any time. This makes reaching for a healthier snack easier and more appealing. They will also take pride in knowing they participated in growing it.

The Taste Test

Once you have harvested the tomatoes, challenge your child to taste the difference between the produce you have grown and a store bought tomato. Conventional tomatoes are harvested before they are completely ripe, and continue to ripen as they are shipped to their end location. Your home grown tomatoes are picked when at their freshest.

The organic tomatoes will have a more vivid flavor and richer color. Children tend to notice color and texture immediately, and the organics will be juicer. Tomatoes are grown in different regions based on growing seasons. You will want to note the difference of those grown on the West Coast versus those grown in the Midwest, for example.

Healthy lifestyles start with you. Become a great example for your child by teaching them the benefits of organic produce. Fun activities such as gardening are one way to instill a lifelong habit.

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