Remember life before cable, computers and video games? Today’s children swim in media-saturated environments that steal away precious and vitally important connections with nature.

Farmer's market bounty

Take the family to a local farmers’ market.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

The average American child spends over three hours a day in front of a TV, video game or computer screen. And in our increasingly digitized world, it’s becoming more difficult to move kids away from technology and into fresh air.

Getting children involved with edible gardening and harvesting can help restore what seems to be a rapidly disappearing relationship and respect for foods that protect health and promote longevity. Getting kids’ hands in the dirt also wins over picky eaters – you know the types – the ones who turn up their noses at anything new, green or not typically advertised on national television.

When kids help plant, harvest and cook vegetables, they undergo a transformation: from picky, poor eaters to hearty vegetable lovers. Even okra and Brussels sprouts become interesting – I promise!

As summer transitions to autumn, cooler weather opens up fun and new outdoor opportunities for family “green time.”

For example, fall is the perfect time to embrace the harvest season with your children. Find a nearby orchard and let them pluck apples right from the trees; then make applesauce together when you get home. Visit a “U-pick” farm or local farmers’ market and introduce your children to the farmers who grew the acorn squash, peppers and sweet potatoes. Later, invite your kids to help cook and serve those vegetables. Or take a carload of kids to a pumpkin festival, where they can feast their eyes on the great expanse of amazingly large pumpkins dotting the patch – then let them pick their own to bring home. After having this much fun, your children will beg you to plant some seeds (or even a tree) next spring!

Depending on where you live, you may even still have time to plant some cool-season, fast-growing lettuce or spinach.

Caring for a garden teaches children self-sufficiency, responsibility and patience, not to mention science and math. (Children learn that plants grow from seeds and need water and sunlight to grow. They can also measure and plot the growth of their new sprouts and then finally harvest the fruits of their labors. Gardening and harvesting provides a firsthand understanding of the seasons, life cycles and our connection to the land – all the while improving children’s diets. So dig in and let the fun (and learning) begin!