When most people think about planting a garden in the spring, they think about the fresh vegetables they will be eating all summer. While vegetables are packed with good nutrients, a garden provides many other benefits as well. This year, make planting and tending a garden a family affair, and everyone will harvest the benefits.
“Digging in the dirt is just plain fun for little children. Why not give them some seeds to put in that dirt to see what they can produce?” said Tammy Roberts, nutrition and health education specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. “If a child has grown and harvested their own food, they are much more likely to eat it. Also, learning to use small garden tools can be good for the development of gross- and fine motor skills for children.”
When we think about planning and caring for the garden, we usually are thinking about the healthful benefits of the food. Make no mistake; while you are paying attention to the chore at hand, your body is benefitting from a good workout as well.
“Did you know you are actually doing some strength-training exercises while you work in the garden? Next time you are carrying a watering bucket or large flowerpot, just think about how that can help your muscles,” said Roberts. Maintaining muscle mass is an important part of assuring good flexibility and balance. And when you are bone-tired from getting up and down, know that the slow movement of getting from a sitting to a standing position is good for maintaining your muscles and bones.
Gardening also is very good for the mind. Children can learn many science lessons in the garden from the benefits of some bugs to how compost is made and helps the garden grow. Adults exercise their brain power in many ways, such as researching new plants they want to grow, finding the best method to manage pests and learning how to irrigate the garden.
Gardening is good for the mind in another way — it can boost your mood. You can go to the garden in a rotten mood, but it’s pretty hard to leave the same way, especially if you are carrying your first ripe red tomato! Gardening also is the perfect way to introduce children to healthy eating habits that they will continue for the rest of their lives.
Once your beautiful herbs and vegetables are ready to eat, try preparing my simple recipe for Garden Fresh Pizza. It’s like a delicious, fresh salad on a piece of flatbread. It’s also the perfect recipe to get your children into the kitchen to help prepare their own meals and to eat more vegetables!
Garden Fresh Pizza
This fresh, easy pizza is the perfect way to bring your children into the kitchen. Older children can slice the softer vegetables using a disposable serrated plastic knife. Younger children can pick the herbs and tear them. Spreading the cheese and placing the vegetables on the pizza crust can be a fun, family affair. Best of all, your pizza is edible art!
1 package (12-inch) prebaked, thin Italian pizza crust, like Boboli
Non-stick cooking oil spray
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 large tomato, chopped (about 1 cup)
3/4 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup green onions, roots removed, white and green parts, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 container (6.5 oz) 50 percent-less-fat garlic-and-herb spreadable cheese
1/2 cup sliced, fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup finely diced, seeded cucumber
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, optional
1. Preheat oven to 450 F. Lightly mist a 12-inch pizza pan or cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Place the pizza crust on the pan. Bake about 8 to 10 minutes to crisp the pizza crust.
2. Using a food processor or blender, puree 1/2 cup each of the spinach, the tomatoes, carrots, 1/4 cup of the green onions, and the basil, oregano, salt and pepper to make a chunky sauce.
3. Spread the cheese over the pizza crust and the vegetable sauce over the cheese. Place the remaining spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms and cucumber on the pizza. Sprinkle with the remaining carrots and green onions. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Cut pizza into 4 wedges to serve. ••
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.”
Her website is www.divapro.com