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Helping to launch the national Sow & Grow project at Scoil Thomáis in Castleknock in Dublin are 2nd class students. Mark Stedman

Gardening 'When children grow their own food, they develop 'food empathy' and have better diets'

Research shows that when children are involved in the garden, they are more likely to try new foods at home, writes Michael Kelly.

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE this time of the year, not least because spring is finally here and we can now start to sow some seeds, but also because this is the time of the year when we kick off our national schools’ growing campaign.

For the last 6 years we’ve been working with our friends at Innocent to get children growing as a way to re-establish their connection with food. This year’s Sow & Grow campaign is the biggest we’ve ever done with over 250,000 children in total taking part in Ireland and the UK. In Ireland alone, 45,000 children will take part in 1,500 schools over the coming months.

They will sow seeds in special Sow & Grow cups in an in-classroom exercise with their teacher. Because the sowing is done in cups (that can be taken home afterwards), any school can take part, regardless of whether they have a school garden or not, and regardless of whether the teacher has any food-growing expertise.

Food-growing movement statistics

As part of the launch this year we’re revealing statistics from a household survey carried out by Behaviour and Attitudes Ireland. The results show food-growing moving into the mainstream.

We were thrilled to hear that 99% of those surveyed believe it is valuable for kids to learn how to grow their own food at school, and also that 47% of those surveyed have grown some food at home in the previous 12 months.

Though the scale of Sow & Grow is immense this year, these survey results show that parents want more food-growing to happen at school. One of the most important steps our Government could take to get children healthy is to put food on the curriculum – this research shows that parents want this to happen and understand how beneficial it would be.

Food empathy

NO FEE 1 Sow and Grow launch Helping to launch the national Sow & Grow project at Scoil Thomáis in Castleknock in Dublin are 2nd class students Kayla O'Gorman (7), Brian Buie (8), left, and Callum O'Keeffe (8). Mark Stedman Mark Stedman

Research shows us that when children grow some of their own food they develop what we call “food empathy”, a deeper connection with food, which is proven to lead to a healthier life.

Food empathetic children have better diets, eat more fruit and vegetables and have a better understanding of food and nutrition. At a time when Ireland still has among the highest rates of childhood obesity in the EU, establishing a deeper connection with food is more important than ever.

On a smaller scale we’re also working with a number of schools in Waterford on an Eat Together social eating programme. We deliver a 2-course hot dinner and the children take a full 45 minutes to eat together using proper plates, bowls and cutlery.

It’s a world away from the normally wolfed-down sandwich. Instead the children enjoy a delicious, nutritious dinner, in a sociable way, experiencing new tastes with their peers.

Research from last term’s programme shows us that the children were more likely to try new foods at home as a result, and that 100% of parents wanted the programme to continue. These are small, but important steps to put food back at the centre of education, where it belongs.

Schoolteachers can apply for a free Sow & Grow pack, which will then be delivered to their school over the coming weeks.

Top 5 Tips for Growing Food with Kids

  1. Kids love sowing seeds (or indeed anything that involves getting their hands dirty). Bigger seeds like those from peas, beans, squashes, pumpkins and courgettes are easier for younger children to handle.
  2. Give kids some autonomy in the veg patch. Give them a dedicated raised bed or part of a bed for them to experiment with. Let them grow what they want to grow.
  3. Encourage them to grow fruit and vegetables that are fast growing so that they see a quick return. Radishes are a good example. Runner beans and sunflowers will get tall quickly. Get them to measure themselves against the plants each week.
  4. Encourage them to sample crops out in the veg patch. They will love grazing on sweet carrots, tomatoes, strawberries and peas, and it will help develop their palette.
  5. The top GIY activities for kids are sowing seeds, digging and watering. Basically, the messier the job, the more they will love it.

Recipe of the Week – Spiced Carrot and Lentil Soup

shutterstock_343572749 Shutterstock / Lucky_elephant Shutterstock / Lucky_elephant / Lucky_elephant

This is a lovely spicey soup that’s full of iron and low in fat.


  • 600g carrots, washed and coarsely grated (no need to peel)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • a pinch of chilli flakes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 140g split red lentils
  • 1l hot vegetable stock
  • 125ml milk
  • plain yogurt

Heat a large saucepan and dry-fry the cumin seeds and chilli flakes for 1 min, or until they start to jump around the pan and release their aromas.

Scoop out about half of the seeds with a spoon and set aside. Add the oil, carrot, lentils, stock and milk to the pan and bring to the boil.

Simmer for 15 mins until the lentils have swollen and softened.

Whizz the soup with a hand blender or in a food processor until smooth (or leave it chunky if you prefer). Season to taste and finish with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of the reserved toasted spices.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.


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