How Cooking Skills and Gardens in Schools Improve Students’ Health

By Khanya Stroman, age 13

Gardens are not just for the good for the way they smell and look, but they can also improve the long-term health of kids, a new Texas-based education program has found.

Elementary and middle school kids from low-income backgrounds have participated in the Texas Sprouts program. The students learned about basic life skills such as gardening and cooking so they can have better health throughout their lives.

The goal of the program, which took place in the Austin area of Texas through the University of Texas, was to teach kids how to grow and then cook their own food. The Texas Sprouts program took place throughout the full academic year during school hours in an outdoor area. The students’ parents were also given the opportunity to take similar cooking and nutrition classes.

Of the 700 children who participated, about 450 of them were from low-income households and received free or reduced-cost lunches. Before the program began, the researchers found that some students had high blood sugar and bad cholesterol. This could have resulted from poor food choices, such as soda and fast food.

After participating in the program for one academic year, the researchers saw a drop in blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Jaimie Davis, lead author of the study, told U.S. News that after 20 years of experience, “no other intervention that we have tested is as effective as this garden-based one.”

Gardening has many health benefits. Being exposed to dirt can help improve our immune systems. Being outside and growing healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, can also help combat childhood obesity. Gardening is a calm experience, and being outside surrounded by plants that smell good can reduce anxiety.

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