DOWNERS GROVE – A new garden at the Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center’s Kids Korner has children excited about the last thing many their age would choose to eat – vegetables.
Kids Korner staff member Pat Paulson got the ball rolling this winter when she planted a trio of herbs in windowsill pots. When the children in Kids Korner started showing interest in the sprouting plants, she and supervisor Jenylle Rys started the outdoor garden. The hospital’s facilities department pitched in, building wooden planting beds and buying the garden soil.
Located in front of the Wellness Center, the garden is filled with cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, peppers, basil and parsley. The vegetables are surrounded by marigolds to keep the rabbits and other small animals away, Paulson said.
Children who attend Kids Korner – the hospital’s child care program for parents exercising in the Wellness Center – can plant, water, pick and bring home the fresh produce to enjoy with their families.
“Anytime they can get their hands in soil it’s really fun,” Paulson said. “People love gardens because it feels good. You put your hands in the soil and there is a connection that is really quite special.”
That connection to the garden was shared by different hospital departments, the children and their parents, too, she said.
“What I would really want to say is how unifying it’s been,” she said. “It brought people together. People are interested, it’s a conversation piece. It’s about relationships, because you have to tend to a garden like you to tend to a pet or you tend to a child.”
Once the plants started bearing produce, Good Samaritan registered dietitian Jeannine Pfau provided recipes for the children to take home with the food. She said that getting children involved with vegetables is the best way to encourage them to eat healthy.
“These little kids have been watching these plants grow from the beginning, so they’re going to be much more excited to try the different vegetables,” she said.
She added that if parents don’t have space for a garden, just bringing children to the grocery store to help pick out the veggies, weigh them on the scale and bag them can make the food more appealing.
Pfau said that including children in the cooking process at home is another good way to encourage the healthy habits.
“The biggest thing is just to continue to offer it,” she said. “It’s the parent’s job to offer the food; it’s the kids’ job to eat it.”
In addition to a possible educational component next year, Rys hopes to extend the program’s purpose and use it as an opportunity to build a partnership between kids and senior citizens.
“It’s my hope to turn it into an intergenerational program and get the seniors to interact with kids,” Rys said.