Tips, Ideas & Advice: Healthy Eating Habits for Children

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Welcome back to another edition of Tips, Ideas & Advice!

A couple of weeks ago, I asked:

My son is pretty fussy with food and sticks to just a few things he will eat. How do I get him to try new things without making it a daily battle? 

From the responses I received, it is clear that every mother faces this challenge, so I do hope the following tips, ideas and advice will help you. Take it away, ladies!

Jamie of Chosen Chaos (@chosenchaos):

My boys are 3 and 5, and the girls are 8 months.  I always do great at the baby food part, it’s the transition to the finger foods that I lose the ability to offer new foods.  My advice, focus on the earlier meals.  Most kids aren’t as hungry as the day goes on so I make sure to get a good breakfast, lunch, and snacks in before the dinner bell.  And, always put them on the plate. The new foods may get turned noses day after day but one day they will surprise you and themselves.  Any time I would complain to my pediatrician about picky eaters he would tell me that as long as he was drinking milk and not eating chips for every meal then I was doing much better than I gave myself credit for.  Snacks can be yogurt and fruit instead of cookies.  Finally, I use the purees I’m making for my girls in the meals I make for the family, so zucchini in the smoothie kind of thing.

Kadie of Exiting Lover’s Lane (@kadielynn83):

Only offer him healthy food so that when he does eat, you know it’s something good for him. If he doesn’t want it, don’t push it, but keep offering it the next time you’re having it. Eat some yourself. He won’t let himself starve! He has to eat sometime, and he’ll try it when he’s ready.

Ann of Cooking Healthy For Me (@annholly):

I have heard that someone needs to try something multiple times to determine if they like it or not, so I’d keep at it – they may surprise you!  While your baby is too young I found that the BEST way to get my picky grandson (who is 8) to try new things is to help out in the kitchen!  The minute he was helping make dinner, he was interested in trying every dish, and he really liked things that be wouldn’t touch before!

Elena of Mommy Is In Timeout (@elenawollborg):

My kids won’t eat veggies at all! My husband doesn’t eat veggies either because he simply doesn’t like them. I always thought he was being dramatic, but from the time both my boys started eating, they wouldn’t either. They love fruit, so it’s not like they were unwilling to eat anything unhealthy. What I’ve had to do is be sneaky. I do a lot of purees and homemade sauces where I hide veggies. For example – hiding a hidden squash or sweet potato puree in homemade mac & cheese. I also make a lot of homemade sauces that contain veggies and then puree everything. For example, I make homemade marinara sauce loaded with carrots, onion and green pepper, but then puree the sauce so there aren’t any chunks. I refer a lot to thesneakychef.com for ideas. I also try and use as many spices as possible in my food. That way, they get used to them.

Tasha of The Whole Mom (@thewholemom):

I don’t have a tip as much as a bit of perspective. When my now 17, 13, & 11 year old were little, they were picky eaters. I love to cook all types of food: Thai, Filipino, Mediterranean, Mexican, etc. I have always made my kids try one bite. If they didn’t like it, they could have something else. (Cereal, haha.) They usually didn’t like it. But now, they eat everything. They try everything. They aren’t scared of new and different foods. Their palettes are broad and diverse. I know people who force their kids to eat what they make, no matter what, and to eat all of it. I feel like that is actually how parents create picky eaters. My perspective is, just expose them to new things. Over time, their palettes will grow, develop and broaden.

Hopes of Staying Afloat! (@hstayingafloat):

First and foremost, keep trying to offer him new foods.  He may not like it the first time, or even the 10th, but he JUST might like it on the 11th try.  But there is a fine line between offering and forcing.  If he doesn’t like it.  No problem, try it again another time. I’ve also tried to make the foods fun. I would put cut up veggies in a cupcake pan with different dips in the middle for snacks for the boys.  Same thing with different fruits. I also hid the healthy foods in other things.  I used to make Sweet Potato pockets, Apple-Carrot Mini Muffins, Apple-Zucchini Mini Muffins Etc. My kids also like smoothies.  We call them milkshakes in our house and they think it is a treat.

Ado of Momalog (@adothemomalog):

Get the book Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter. This is the best food book for moms I’ve read and it covers solid foods through to toddler years. A few tips:
  • Your responsibility as a mom is to provide your child with three tasty and nutritious meals/day at regular intervals (and a snack) – and step away.
  • You are not a short-order cook – if you do the above, you don’t have to be.
  • “Step away” means don’t hover, nag, or bribe while your child is eating. If by meal’s end they don’t eat it, or don’t eat much, they will eat at the next meal. Don’t get angry with them or stress them out – just know that they will probably eat more at the next meal.
  • A child’s food should be “tasty” – you have to take into account a child’s palate, so even though spinach might be healthy a lot of kids don’t like the taste unless it’s camouflaged in something else, like quiche.
  • Let your child come to the table hungry. If you allow them to graze all day, or fill themselves with empty calories like chips and juice boxes, or a snack too close to mealtime, they will feel full and it isn’t fair to expect them to eat at mealtimes.
  • Nutritious food isn’t nutritious if your child’s not eating it, so make sure it tastes good – a knob of butter on broccoli, for example.
  • It might not seem like your toddler is getting enough veggies and “good for you food” because they take small bites here and there, but measured in the span of a week, he probably is. A spoonful here and there adds up to a lot in a week.
  • When children are thirsty, they need to drink water. Make it a general policy when dining that their beverage is water (not soda, or sugary drinks like juices, or Capri Suns, sweetened chocolate or strawberry milk which have a lot of sugar in them).
  • Try not to “reward” children with dessert or sweets.
  • In my opinion the healthiest and tastiest food is whole, slow-cooked family food like homemade soups, roasts with roasted veggies, baked sweet potatoes, foods that fill the whole house with good smells but don’t stress me out with too much time/preparation.
  • Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day and if my child doesn’t have protein in the morning it affects her whole school day. A good option for a quick breakfast is to make yummy shakes with protein powder in them.
Thank you so much all! If you don’t already follow their blogs and Twitter, do!

Next week’s question is a blogging one! From me (people, you really need to send me questions, ahem):

I’m teetering on the edge of burnout from blogging non-stop for over 6 months now. Do you have any ideas how I can avoid that? Take a break? Write less? Quit?

Any tips, ideas and suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Please email your tips, ideas and advice, or question/ topic you want me to highlight, by Friday, October 7, 10.00 p.m. (EST) to: mamawantsthis{@}gmail{.}com`

Alison

Alison

Alison

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  • October 4, 2011 Stasha

    Wow, this is great. Lots of good advice. I like Ado’s response. Well, I like them all. Seems we are all in the same boat..
    Next weeks is a good question. I have noticed everyone slowing down in the last month. I wish I had the answer. Maybe I should go sleep on it 🙂
    Stasha recently wrote…Monday ListiclesMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      We are all in the same boat, which is why I hope this post will be a useful resource. And next week’s question? Yes, write me, send me some advice. I’m counting on you 🙂

  • October 4, 2011 Mommy's Paradise

    All of the ladies have very good advice. I used to have/still have a picky eater (sometimes). He’s 3yo now and one thing I’ve realized, is his eating habits correspond with his growth. He’s having a ‘growth spurt’, he’s eating a lot and tries many new things for a couple of weeks. And then there are days he’s not eating much.
    And the second thing I’d like to add is when he’s eating in company with his cousins (4 kids from 6 to 15yo), he’s eating everything the other kids are eating and he’s not picky anymore. Setting a good example is very important and little ones accept it much easier when it comes from other kids.
    Mommy’s Paradise recently wrote…It’s Sweet Tooth Tuesday: Guava Banana Spice MuffinsMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Yes, I noticed that about kids – how they fall in with their peers, including doing good things like eat whatever is given to them!

  • October 4, 2011 JDaniel4's Mom

    I love the tip about making sure they get all kinds of healthy foods before dinner. My son is so tired at dinner that he tends to fuss about foods he likes.
    JDaniel4’s Mom recently wrote…Pause Life for a Moment- Galit Breen of These Little WavesMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Yes, I usually feed my son the most in the daytime!

  • October 4, 2011 Sweaty

    Wow, this is so complete… like an online manual! Seriously :))

    Thanks, ladies, for sharing the best tips ever.
    Sweaty recently wrote…A Token of RemembranceMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Aren’t they just awesome?

  • October 4, 2011 Galit Breen

    Such great tips, lady, as always!
    Galit Breen recently wrote…Nothing Healthy Happened Here Today. So There.My Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Thank you Galit, for your support, as always.

  • October 4, 2011 Mirjam

    Every mom should read this! As a kindergarten teacher I come across children that have problems with eating healthy every day. My children love to eat, the key is: I don’t fuss about it. If you keep offering them healthy food the’ll be ok.
    I have 3 rules: Don’t make funny faces at the food, at least try one bite if it’s something new, and if it’s not new and they don’t like it, they have to take three bites. Works for me!
    Mirjam recently wrote…ChandelierMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Those are very good tips, Mirjam, thanks for sharing!

  • October 4, 2011 Erica

    Great post Alison, thank you! I don’t have too many problems with the kids eating, just Chunk for now….I think he’s more of a vegetarian.

    On the next question, I’d slow down. After my comment post I sat and really really thought about why I started writing….my situation may be different than yours. I don’t know. I don’t get paid to blog. I dont write for anyone as in another blog etc. I write because I enjoy it, it’s my journal, it’s my memories, my “out”…..so I stopped worrying about scheduling posts and having something written and ready. I stopped putting “rules” on myself. If k have posts written, then I do, if I don’t, then I don’t. I feel so much better without the “deadlines” of having a post ready…..lately my posts migtht go up mid afternoon….maybe earlier. I say you try slowing down and see if that helps the burn out. If it does, great! If not, try something else. Hugs friend.
    Erica recently wrote…SlobberMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Thanks Erica for your advice, I’ll take it on board! xo

  • October 4, 2011 Jamie

    I hope my advice helps someone else… I know the other entries helped me!! I’m thinking of a good question now!
    Jamie recently wrote…the one about living with a super-heroMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Jamie, I know it will help someone, thanks so much for contributing! Yes, please send me some questions!

  • October 4, 2011 Natalie

    This is all great advice! I’m worried about my son getting older and becoming pickier. Looks like he’ll be giving me a run for my money!
    Natalie recently wrote…A Case of the Mom BrainMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      With this sea of advice, I know you and Nolan will do well 🙂

  • October 4, 2011 Barbara

    Such great tips!! I’ve done a number of them already.
    Barbara recently wrote…So not FrenchMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      That’s great to know, Barbara.

  • October 4, 2011 Elena

    I love hearing from all the different mom’s – especially Tasha. Good to know they’ll still turn out good eaters – even if they aren’t at the toddler stage. And I love the question for next week! Mainly because I’ve felt the same thing for the past 2 months. Can I tell you how much I love this series? A lot.

    • October 5, 2011 Tasha

      Thanks Elena! Having older kids does give you some amount of peace. Since I still have a bunch of little ones, I often remind myself that the older bunch is okay, so the littles will probably survive. 😉

      I like your idea of sneaking in the healthy stuff. My 7-year-old is super put off by textures or chunks, so this would really work for him! Thanks.
      Tasha recently wrote…Something TangibleMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      I’m so glad you love this series, Elena! I love doing it, I feel like I’m amassing enough info for a book 🙂

  • October 4, 2011 Ado

    I really like Jaime’s tips about making sure they get good food in ’em earlier in the day, starting at breakfast – and how this takes a lot of the pressure off the mom by dinnertime, because we all know that dinnertime is when most of the shit hits the fan – kids are tired, parents are tired…not the best time to try to stuff string beans in their mouths. (-:

    Great advice here Alison thanks for all the tips.
    Ado recently wrote…Stuff I’ve HeardMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Ado, you have the most tips featured here, so THANK YOU.

  • October 4, 2011 tracy

    Great responses.. for your next question…

    I would really think about why your started blogging – fame, fortune, international stardom, riches beyond believe, more shoes…or for fun, for family, for you, for connections? If you are feeling the bloggy burnout then I think you need to ask yourself why you are doing this and go back to what makes you happy because this should be fun and make us happy, right? If that means reading less blogs, responding to fewer comments, writing less or just writing when you really feel inspired – then do it..For you.

    Love you to pieces. xoxo
    tracy recently wrote…The Damn Morning Cats …My Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Tracy, thank you so much for your advice. You’re right, I do need to go back to basics, really. You know I’m featuring this in the next post, right? 🙂

  • October 5, 2011 Laura K

    I totallly agree wtih @hstayingafloat. We have a ‘no thank you bite’ rule in our house. Everyone has to try at least one bite of everything on their plates before saying, “I don’t like it.” Over time, my kids have picked up some pretty sophisticated tastes. My 10 y/o loves smoked salmon and my 6 y/o cites asparagus as her favorite veggie.

    As for next week’s question, I don’t have a suggestion so much as a request: When that post is done, tweet LOUDLY. I stopped writing on my blog a year ago due to burnout, self-imposed pressure to do the ‘best’ post every time, and a general inability to make time for myself. Looking forward to reading suggestions from the veteran bloggers on the block 🙂

    Oh, and thanks for being willing to admit something I was starting to think only I felt!
    Laura K recently wrote…I’ve got a grip on Guilt…A nice tight one.My Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Laura, it’s good to know that certain things DO work with kids and eating!

      I’ll be sure to let you know once next week’s post goes live!

  • October 5, 2011 Kelley

    I REALLY need to push water more…on myself, too!
    Kelley recently wrote…Saving The Faceless BabyMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Me too! I really don’t drink enough water. Ack.

  • October 5, 2011 RoryBore

    Great tips. The great thing about this issue is there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Most do eventually grow out of all their food issues. My son is 7 now, and he sits down, eats and is ready to move on the next thing. Hard to believe there was a time when all he would eat was grilled cheese and kraft dinner!
    RoryBore recently wrote…Tuesday Coffee Chat – The Homework DilemnaMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      That is FANTASTIC to know! It’s hard to see it when we’re in the throes of toddlerhood where everything is a battle – so it’s very reassuring to know that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel.

  • October 5, 2011 Kimberly

    All great tips that I’ll be putting to use, I’m sure. I like the question for next week, as I’ve dealt with the same thing.
    Kimberly recently wrote…Welcome To My WorldMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      If you have any advice as to how YOU handled it, let me know so I can share it? 🙂 Thank you!

  • October 5, 2011 Missy

    Love all the food advice. Feeding children is a daily adventure. Good luck with your journey! 😉

    As for the blogging, I feel like this question was made for me to answer. I’ve been very open on my blog about periods of burnout, and periods when life in general takes priority. It happens.

    In my experience (and granted, we’re just talking about 18 months here… I haven’t been blogging for years or anything), I recommend a few things:

    1. Give yourself a break if you feel like you’re headed toward burnout. But don’t just throw up your hands and say, “I’ve had it! I’m burned out!” Instead, have a plan, like taking a week off, or a couple days each week off. Schedule some guest-posters (I’ve never done that, but probably should!), re-run some favorite posts, and just take the break.

    2. Say goodbye to the guilt. In the past, when I’ve had to go on blogging breaks, the guilt nearly ate me alive. But not anymore. I take care of my family and myself first, blog second. I fulfill and obligations (whether spoken or contractual), of course, but aside from that, if I need a break from posting, I take it.

    3. Finally, think of something you want to write or a project you want to tackle when you come back. Start a meme (or end one if running something like that is weighing you down), partner with a friend for a fun writing project, etc. Set a goal and then you have something to look forward to when you return.

    There’s my way-more-than-you-asked-for advice. 😉 Hope it helps!
    Missy recently wrote…Parental (Self) ControlMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Missy, thank you for your awesome comment, I’m including it in next week’s post! All very sage, especially saying goodbye to the guilt. I think we’re programmed to feel guilty for everything, aren’t we?

  • October 5, 2011 Amanda

    I should probably have chimed in sooner, but I took a half-day workshop on toddler nutrition at our local community centre, and it was taught by a nutritionist who has worked with many families on the same issue. At the time, we were going through all kinds of frustrations. I listened to her advice and meals have been a lot less stressful ever since!

    Here are the basic principles:
    Parents are responsible for planning, preparing, and providing the food (that means you can offer a choice of two similar things, eg. apple or pear, but not ask a toddler “What do you want for dinner?” – that’s your responsibility to plan). We provide them with 3-4 food groups at each meal/snack. Obviously, each item should generally be healthy.

    Toddlers are responsible for deciding what to eat, how much of each item to eat, and even whether to eat at all. That means that he may eat only cheese for an entire meal, and that’s okay. At the next meal, you are not going to offer him cheese. Over a week, this balances out.

    Kids develop a healthier relationship with food when they do not have constant pressure to eat certain foods, and they learn to feel good about their ability to make their own food choices.

    I watch friends try to convince their two-year-olds to take “two more bites” before they can have fruit, and I think “what impact does two bites really have?” Plus, you are then saying that fruit is more fun and tastier than brocolli, since it is the “reward” food. That’s not the message you want to send, that some foods are more rewarding than others.

    We stopped putting pressure on Lilah to eat certain foods, and sometimes she mows down on broccolli and chicken, and other times she eats two bites of yogurt for dinner and calls it a day. But I know in the morning she’ll be famished and eat her entire bowl of cereal and a whole banana. We’re all much happier since we stopped worrying about it so much.
    Amanda recently wrote…Monthly Recap: What I learned in September 2011My Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Amanda, thank you so much for your great advice! I particularly like your point about kids needing to develop a healthier relationship with food.

  • October 5, 2011 Tasha

    Great tips! That is one of the things I love about reading this series of posts. So many great ideas that I wish I would have known for my older kids, but now get to try with my younger set.

    Thanks for including me, Alison.

    Looking forward to this next installment on blogging. I totally get the burn out you must feel. But, I really hope you don’t quit!
    Tasha recently wrote…Something TangibleMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Thanks for contributing Tasha, I’m glad you’re enjoying the series!

      I do hope I don’t quit too!

  • October 5, 2011 Julie

    Lots of great advice. I agree with the “offer vs serve” idea. I’ll offer my kiddo a variety of foods for each meal and let him choose what to eat. Next meal, it’s different stuff, so he doesn’t just eat applesauce every time!
    Julie recently wrote…Do Andean flamingos eat their young?My Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      I do like the offer vs serve idea too, I need to do more of that. I think I lack patience to keep offering something and he refuses to eat it. And I think about all the time and food wasted. Must change mindset!

  • October 5, 2011 Ann

    Folks had GREAT information – thanks for sharing! This is a terrific series! Thanks for including me (who knew?!)

    I’ve not reached the burn out phase, but I’m right at 6 months blogging, so I’m very curious to see what next week brings!
    Ann recently wrote…Roasted Chicken with Savory Mashed Sweet PotatoesMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      You had great insight, Ann, so thanks for contributing!

      I think next week will be very interesting 🙂

  • October 5, 2011 Mrs. Weber

    Great tips here! I love the idea of sneaking veggies in a la puree. What a genius thought for whoever came up with that idea.
    Mrs. Weber recently wrote…My Neighborhood: Michigan Renaissance FestivalMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      I know, right??

  • October 5, 2011 Jessica

    Okay, I’m a little sad my tip wasn’t included for this. I actually gave you real advice last time.

    Okay, I’m over it.

    For blogging, I would say post 3 times a week instead of 5 days.
    Jessica recently wrote…I Grew Something!My Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Ack I’m so sorry, I keep forgetting to check my comments for tips!

      I’ll be sure to include yours for next week. (lesson learned)

  • October 5, 2011 Blond Duck

    I’ll use these tips on my husband!
    Blond Duck recently wrote…Shimmer 28My Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Let me know if they work! 🙂

  • October 5, 2011 Desperate Housemommy

    I think all of these tips, when used in bits & pieces, make up some pretty sound advice. Bottom line: Don’t freak out. Keep offering him healthy choices. He will eat when he needs to. Their little bodies are smarter than we think. 🙂 ps – I’ll be emailing you about your blogging question. Been there on the burnout, my friend. xo

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Yes, I have to remember not to freak out! Look forward to your email.

  • October 5, 2011 John

    I really only have two pieces of advice here – first, focus on weekly intake and not daily intake. Yeah, if a kid doesn’t eat much in a day, s/he’ll get cranky, but it’s not dangerous as long as they make up for it the next day.

    Next, don’t let them be picky – if a kid is hungry, a kid is hungry. Give them healthy food and if they demand on the junk, let them go without eating. It’s tough love, but it works.
    John recently wrote…Where I conjure the end of a runMy Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Good advice, John. The second one is something I have to tackle – though my son doesn’t eat junk, he just doesn’t have a large variety of food he likes, something I’m trying to change up. Wish me luck!

  • October 5, 2011 My Inner Chick

    –Mama, A.
    Great tips.
    ~~~~It’s hard not to reward children w/ sweets. That is such a great tip to remember. How about a Carrot w/ healthy dip!!? Xx
    My Inner Chick recently wrote…Incident on Flight 705My Profile

    • October 5, 2011 Alison

      Thank you Kim. Fortunately, my son doesn’t like sweets, cake, chocolate of any kind, lucky me! Well, for now 🙂

  • October 5, 2011 Kristin

    Some really good advice on the food front. I especially like Hopes suggestion of making food fun – we try to follow that edict but when it doesn’t quite work out, we don’t go the opposite route and make it a big deal either. Because then you can practically see her mentally noting ‘mealtime defiance’ on her List of Behaviors to Repeat Incessantly. 😉

    As for blogger burnout, why yes, as a matter of fact I do have some insight on that matter. I would definitely recommend writing less. Not only will it lessen your feelings of burnout, it will also give you more time to think about what you want to say and how you want to say it, resulting in all-around better content. Also, your readers might come to appreciate you even more as well – while it’s always fun to see a new post from one of your favorite bloggers, there’s something to be said for the thrill of anticipation too, you know? Plus, as a blogger, you can get just as burnt out on *reading* other blogs as you can *writing* for your own. So, I’m a big proponent of only publishing 2-3 times a week. Anything more feels like overkill, both for myself and my readers.

    It’s also perfectly fine to take a break if and when you need it. I’ve gone up to two weeks without posting and, while it takes some time to get my traffic back on track, it’s not like everyone – poof! – disappears. The blogosphere will always be here… and so will your loyal readers. 🙂
    Kristin recently wrote…My Favorite Time of DayMy Profile

    • October 6, 2011 Alison

      Thanks Kristin on your blogging insight – it’d be in next week’s post!

  • October 6, 2011 Rach (DonutsMama)

    This is all great advice. I may have to look at that book that Ado recommended. I’ve heard of it before. So far Donut is not picky, but my husband is and I wonder if it started back in his younger years. I want to create an adventurous and healthy eater.
    Rach (DonutsMama) recently wrote…Then & NowMy Profile

    • October 6, 2011 Alison

      I think there’s no harm having a look at the book and starting her young 🙂

  • October 7, 2011 Lady Jennie

    I like the idea of feeding them the healthy stuff earlier in the day. Something I have success with is dividing the foods so they are not mixed together – a plate with cherry tomatoes, cheese cubes, corn, beet cubes and cucumber slices with bread on the side (for instance). That seems to go down better than a salad.
    Lady Jennie recently wrote…Today’s PostMy Profile

    • October 7, 2011 Alison

      That’s a good idea, Jennie!

  • November 22, 2011 Celeste

    “The minute he was helping make dinner, he was interested in trying every dish, and he really liked things that be wouldn’t touch before!”

    I like this idea a lot….

    To get them involved, getting kids out into the veggie garden is another way.

    Gives them exercise, an education in nature and veggie garden and involved in the whole process

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