Skip to main content

Gardening with Children Reaps Many Benefits

By Nancy Olsen-Harbich


Children of preschool age and older can reap many benefits from helping out in the garden. Learning how to help plants grow, can foster responsibility and patience in children. Families can become closer as children and parents share a common interest they can work on together.

To reap the full benefits of gardening with children, take them through the whole process from seed to soil to supper. Go together to the garden center to choose seeds, plants, and tools. Let children dig holes for seeds and plant some. Appoint children as official gardening helpers. Appropriate gardening activities for children aged 3 to 5 include collecting picked weeds, looking through soil to pick out rocks and pebbles, and supervised harvesting. If possible, let children help in preparing food from the garden.

Start Out Simple

Certain plants are easy to grow and sprout rather quickly so they can be harvested within one season. Sugar snap peas, beans, and pumpkins are good choices for beginning gardeners because the seeds are large and easy to handle. Jack-B-Little pumpkins are usually dependable and can be fun for children, who are too young to carve, to decorate at Halloween. Other easy-to-grow choices are radishes, carrots, leaf lettuce, patio varieties of tomatoes, herbs, marigolds, nasturtiums, and strawflowers.

Avoid great expectations. Children’s gardens won’t necessarily look like those designed by adults. The rows may not be straight and a few weeds may remain. Relax and revel in your child’s anticipation and excitement as the garden grows.

For safety reasons, children should not eat anything from the garden before they show it to an adult first. Avoid pesticides, especially on plants to be eaten. Make sure to wash all produce from the garden before it is eaten. Also, always have children wash their hands thoroughly after working in the garden.

Multiple Benefits

Besides produce to eat and flowers to admire, gardens can give you and your child multiple benefits:

  • Children may be more likely to eat vegetables that they grow themselves.
  • Planting a garden serves as a science lesson. Children see how the natural world works its wonders, how seasons change, and time marches on. .
  • Tending a garden teaches responsibility, concentration, and patience.
  • As the garden grows, so do children’s confidence and satisfaction of a job well done.
  • If results are less than expected, use that as an opportunity to teach children how to cope with disappointment and how to overcome obstacles by trying a new technique or different plant next year.

Nancy Olsen-Harbich is a Human Development Specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Suffolk County. For information about parenting programs or about gardening programs for children, call CCE at 631-727-7850.

Nuts and Seeds

By Rachel MacKinnon

Let’s Go Nuts!

Nuts and seeds are most satisfying snacks. You can add them to basically any dish, or even snack on them alone. What makes them so satisfying?

The nutritional components of most nuts and seeds will vary depending on type, but in general they are rich sources of healthy fats, fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds such as phytochemicals. With all of these nutritional benefits, nuts and seeds are quite beneficial.

Nuts and seeds offer protection against oxidation, inflammation, cancer, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Containing healthy fats, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, they help promote healthier cholesterol levels by lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. In return, this is how we get a protective factor again CVD. The recommended amount that is proven to show a protective factor is 30 grams of nuts (or 30 almonds, 15 cashews, 20 hazelnuts).

They are also a great way to feel satisfied. From the protein and fat content, nuts tend to keep us satisfied. They require a longer time to digest. The slower your body processes the nuts, the longer you’ll feel full and won’t reach for another snack. Try pairing nuts with an apple and have a snack which keeps you satisfied until your next meal. Nuts offer so much, so take a handful and enjoy. Remember, however, the importance of moderation and portion size.


Rachel MacKinnon is a Dietetic Intern with C.W. Post LIU with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program


Reading and Emotional Intelligence

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

Do you enjoy reading to your child? It is a bonding experience, holding that young child on your lap and turning the pages together in a brightly illustrated book. Even infants love being held and listening to your voice while being introduced to soft books which stimulate their senses. It is never too early to start reading to your young child. 

Not only is reading to a child a close and loving experience, it is also a way to foster emotional intelligence in a toddler or preschooler. By choosing to read quality fiction (which can be recommended to you by a librarian) with your children, you are fostering their understanding of other people and cultures. The story line stimulates their imagination and empathy, thereby increasing their emotional intelligence. In the October, 2013 issue of the journal “Science”, researchers at The New School in New York City found evidence that reading good fiction improves a child’s understanding of other people’s feelings and thoughts. By discussing ways the main characters interact in a book, a child begins to understand how others behave. This can have a positive socializing effect, teaching the child appropriate ways to care about and treat others. Interestingly, reading non-fiction does not have the same effect since it often neglects the human interaction angle while providing factual knowledge. 

Parents can make a significant difference in their children’s development of the ability to regulate their own emotions, to empathize, and to interact positively with others. This social-emotional intelligence is important for children of all ages, and it’s good to start when they are toddlers.  

Remember to read print books together, not e-books (with or without animation and sound effects). E-books can be distracting due to children wanting to “control” these books by pushing buttons on the electronic device. This prevents them from interacting with you, the parent. Researchers at the University of Michigan report in the April, 2019 journal “Pediatrics” that there is more back and forth dialog between parent and child with quality print books. You don’t need all the bells and whistles. What’s important is the child-parent conversation about main characters and plot. Children need human interaction and dialog in order to develop both socially and emotionally. You are your child’s first and most important teacher, so read together every day.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at

Let’s Eat What’s In Season

By Dinah Torres Castro

Long Island is a truly unique area of New York State. We have access to all kinds of food, including fresh fish and seafood. Now that the local Farmer’s Markets are open, we can access the freshest fruits and vegetables right in our own communities. Many of us already know that eating fresh is best, but here are more reasons that will reassure you about getting the most for your money, health, and nutrition:

  • Amazing flavor—when you eat freshly picked produce, flavor is at its peak. Vegetables are crispiest, most fragrant, juiciest, and colorful when eaten in season!
  • Optimal nutrition—vegetables that are picked when they are ripe and fully developed have been exposed to more sun. They have higher levels of antioxidants, so you are getting more nutrition from veggies by eating them in season.
  • It’s economic—you save money. It’s simple…when there is an abundance of a product, prices go down. Seasonal food is much cheaper to produce, and farmers would rather sell at a lower price than not at all. Take advantage and choose seasonal foods.
  • Helps our environment—seasonal foods are more likely to be locally grown and not trucked or flown in from far away (which can add to their cost and be harmful to our environment).
  • Helps our community—farmer’s markets are great places to create feelings of community and teach your children about where foods come from. It can also give farmers a chance to share their knowledge and engage with our local communities.
  • Fosters home cooking—eating seasonal foods encourages us to cook more and make better choices. Cooking at home gives us more control over what is in our food. You get to control how much salt, fat, or sugar you put into your food.
  • Encourages us to be more creative—eating seasonally challenges us to get more creative and come up with new, fun, and delicious dishes based on what you find at the market.
  • Adds variety to our diets—our bodies get more nutrients, vitamins, and minerals when we eat a wider variety of foods. We may miss nutrients if we only eat the same old stuff all the time.
  • Eating seasonally help us to support our changing needs—the natural cycle of produce is perfectly designed to support our health needs throughout the year. We associate apples with fall because apples ripen and are plentiful at that time of year. They are a perfect food to help our bodies get rid of excess heat and cool down before winter. In spring we have an abundance of leafy green vegetables that help us alkalize, detox, and lose some extra pounds after a long winter of heavier foods. In the summer our bodies need to cool down and stay hydrated. We have plenty of choices like fruits, berries, cucumbers, and watermelons available to help us stay cool and hydrated.

So take advantage of the fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables in your supermarkets and local farmer’s markets. For a list of local farmer’s markets, follow the link below:

Dinah Castro is a Bilingual Family Well-Being Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 351 or at

Boys today

By Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H.

It’s tough being a boy today. In past generations, male roles were clearly defined as warrior, soldier, or perhaps as sole provider for the family. As women have joined both the military and the workforce, boys’ roles and their purpose in society have become less clear. We have done a good job expanding society’s definition of femininity, but a poor job expanding our definition of masculinity. For example, men have learned to accept women in the workforce and to take pride in their wives’ and daughters’ full-time careers, but are women equally proud of their husbands and sons who are full-time, stay at home dads? Are men readily accepted as caregivers?

Another thing making it difficult being a boy is being taught to separate from one’s emotions at a very young age. By 8 years of age, many boys have learned not to cry, and that anger is the only acceptable emotion to express. Is it any wonder that our boys and young men are struggling? Boys and men account for the majority of suicides, fatal overdoses, gang involvement, and mass shooters. Additionally, boys are not doing as well as girls in elementary school through college, even in math and science where they previously excelled.

Clearly, we could be doing a better job to raise healthy boys. It is time we expand our definition of masculinity. Boys should be taught that expressing emotions does not mean that they are weak. They need to use coping skills other than violence and harmful substances, and to embrace roles other than economic provider. We need to provide good leadership and role models for boys who encourage connection and sensitivity, as well as confidence and strength. If society does not provide purpose and leadership opportunities for boys, they will look for it on the Internet, in social media, and by playing video games.

Here are some things adults can do to help boys grow into healthy young men:

  • Show affection towards boys on a regular basis.
  • Have family meals.
  • Point out stereotypes in media and comment on good role models.
  • Highlight alternatives to traditional male roles and show boys there are different ways they can follow their talents and still be valued.
  • Allow boys to express a full range of emotions and let it be okay for them to cry.
  • Encourage boys to be assertive but not aggressive.

For more information on raising boys:


“Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men” by Leonard Sax

“The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys are Struggling and What We Can Do about It” by Warren Farrell, PhD and John Gray, PhD

Watch: “The Mask You Live In” (You Tube)

Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H., is a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 330 or at

Why Preschoolers Worry and What You Can Do About It

By Nancy Olsen-Harbich, MA

Adults tend to think of early childhood as a worry-free zone, but the growing knowledge, awareness, and experiences of preschoolers can sometimes provide fuel for anxiety. Add to that their budding capacity to imagine both pleasant and very unpleasant things, and the result can be worrisome comments such as:

“I’m not sleeping in my room. There’s a ghost in there.”

”Are you sure you won’t forget me at nursery school?”

“I’ll never be good at art. I just can’t do it.”

Anxiety Sponges

At times, preschoolers can feel overwhelmed by worry. This is especially true of children who are sensitive by nature or who are experiencing increased stresses in family or school situations. Children are like sponges for anxiety. If it is around them, they will soak it up and release it when “squeezed.”

Look at your own stress level and how that may be affecting your child. Perhaps your child overheard you worrying about money or work problems, or sees you constantly rushing around. Are you a perfectionist and hard on yourself (or others) when anything is not done just right?

What else is your child experiencing? Is there a new baby or new school? Anticipating and adjusting to new experiences, even happy ones, can be challenging.

What is your child seeing, hearing, and reading? Warnings on the news about terrorists or tornadoes, a movie with ghosts, or even a fascinating picture book about spiders can set a preschooler’s active imagination spinning.

What You Can Do

  • Talk things out. Be respectful that your children’s fears/worries are very real to them, even if they seem silly or far-fetched to you. Steer the conversation carefully, resisting the urge to just say “Oh please, you’re FINE!” Being dismissive of feelings only compounds a child’s belief that no one understands. Acknowledge that we all worry or are afraid about some things.
  • Provide reassurance that you are there to comfort and help your child, and that you will never forget to pick up your child at school.
  • Offer facts to counteract active imaginations.
  • Provide practical help. Positive experiences help confident feelings grow. If your child has anxiety about art projects, let him practice using art materials at home so that he will feel more capable being creative in school.
  • Increase physical affection. Cuddle more and read together.
  • Try to turn down the stress level of family life by relying on secure routines and slowing down the pace at home.
  • If your child still seems very anxious, particularly if the anxiety lasts longer than one month, check with your pediatrician to make sure something more serious is not going on.

Nancy Olsen-Harbich is Program Director and a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 332 or at

Grandparent’s Picnic

Healthy snacks for kids

By Rachel MacKinnon

Snack time is an opportunity to increase your child’s nutrition. It can be tricky when deciding what to feed your child, and if you have a picky eater, it’s even more challenging. Children will eat snacks that look colorful and fun. For example, by cutting food into different shapes, foods look new. Kids find it exciting to eat a dinosaur-shaped watermelon slice or a heart-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Having your children assist in the creation of the snack will also encourage them to eat it. Kids are proud of things they do, so include them in the baking and cooking process. They will be more likely to try what they make. Here are a few nutritious snack ideas you can make with your child:

Ants on a log


  • Celery sticks
  • Peanut butter
  • Raisins


Step 1: Wash and cut up celery    stalks.

Step 2: Spread peanut butter along the center.

Step 3: Scatter raisins on the peanut butter, making it look like there are ants on a log.

Frozen Yogurt Treats


  • Plain yogurt
  • Choice of frozen or fresh fruit
  • Optional: vanilla extract flavor, honey and granola

Step 1: In muffin cups, scoop 1/4 cup of yogurt and stir in optional flavoring.

Step 2: Top yogurt with choice of fruit.

Step 3: Freeze treats and serve.


Mini Pizzas


  • English muffin (whole grain)
  • Tomato sauce
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Choice of veggies

Step 1: Preheat oven to 375°F.

Step 2: Slice English muffins into halves.

Step 3: Spoon on tomato sauce.

Step 4: Sprinkle on mozzarella cheese and choice of veggies.

Step 5: Cook for 10 minutes or until cheese has melted.



Rachel MacKinnon is a Dietetic Intern with C.W. Post LIU with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program

Choosing Meals for Picky Eaters

By Dinah Castro

Many parents of young children find themselves battling, begging and even bribing their children to eat a variety of healthy foods. Children can become picky eaters when they reach a stage in their development at which they want to assert independence. This is the time to encourage your child to make their own decisions, but make sure you are offering them healthy choices — for example, let them choose between broccoli and a crisp green salad. Either choice your child makes is a good one. You may also find it helps to offer small portions and allow them to ask for more once they’ve finished. Or better yet serve your meals “family style” and allow your child to pick from a variety of dishes. Use the “one tablespoon of food per each year of age” rule to gauge if your child has eaten enough.

To avoid battles, don’t force children to clean their plates. Threats and punishments only reinforce the power struggle. Do try to introduce new foods in a neutral manner. Talk about the color, shape and texture, but don’t tell them a new food tastes good. Allow your child to explore. Don’t get upset if your child is “messing around” with their food. It is actually part of his natural development to touch, smell, even put the food in his mouth and take it back out.  Use these awkward moments to teach your child how to properly use their napkin. Present the same food prepared in different ways. A child who refuses steamed carrots may dive into a plate of raw carrot sticks served with a light dip.

Research shows that it can take more than 10 exposures to a new food before a child accepts it. Be patient. Some children need time to outgrow pickiness.

Many parents sneak vegetables and fruit into meals to satisfy their own need to know their picky eater receives adequate nutrition. But this practice fails to teach children how to make healthy food choices. If you are concerned speak to your pediatrician and provide a multivitamin that ensures they get their recommended daily requirements.

Healthy Eating

To help your child develop healthy, lifetime eating patterns, try this:

  1. Start small. Allow your child to take a small portion of the new food along with familiar foods that he enjoys.
  2. Make it fun. Try serving veggies with a favorite dip. Cut solid textured foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Snack time, when kids are usually hungry and don’t have the mealtime pressure to eat, is a good opportunity to introduce new foods.
  3. Involve your child. Start at the grocery store by letting her select a new food for the whole family to try. Back home let your child help in the food’s preparation. Kids are more likely to eat what they’ve helped cook, and this is another opportunity for them to show you how “grown up” and independent they are.

Dinah Castro is a family wellness educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 x. 351 or at

The Powerful Green Drink

By Kim Manfried, RD CDN

The smoothie revolution continues to flood supermarkets and home chefs’ kitchens alike. Many green drinks can contain added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and portions that add hundreds of calories to an otherwise healthy option.

Whether you add spinach or kale, most green drinks contain a very well-known green vegetable….celery. Celery is a common add-in, but this well-known green veggie is a powerhouse all on its own. Celery contains many nutritional benefits that most people may not realize, thinking it is only filled with water and contains little to no nutrition. Think again.

Celery contains many healthy and necessary nutrients our bodies need such as magnesium, potassium, vitamin K, fiber, calcium, and iron. It contains sodium, not table salt, but rather a natural and essential salt. Celery salt you can buy in the spice aisle is different from the naturally occurring salt found in celery, and it usually contains additives and chemicals such as nitrates.

When added to a healthy diet, celery can help reduce and maintain healthy blood pressure. It acts as a detox for the body, helping to balance the gut bacteria which reduces bloating, gas, and cravings. Celery also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help with pain from arthritis or acne.

The above nutritional benefits are based on juicing and consuming celery juice alone as a green drink with no added fruits or veggies and only a small amount of added water to help with the blending. The properties in celery that can help with gut bacteria and inflammation are better obtained when celery is juiced alone and not mixed with any other foods, not even the celery pulp. If you like celery, it can be eaten raw or cooked, used in recipes, or juiced with other fruits and veggies if you do not want to juice it alone. You may not get the above stated benefits, but it is still a low calorie and nutrient dense food.

The properties of celery may not agree with everyone. Speak with a health care provider with any concerns you may have. Celery acts as a natural diuretic, so those individuals with any gastrointestinal issues may have to avoid consuming celery juice and or celery in general.

Remember, when juicing celery, consume only the celery juice. Always use organic celery as regular celery contains high amounts of pesticides. As with anything, moderation is key. Remember to eat a variety of veggies daily and not rely solely on celery. Aim for about 8-16oz per day of celery juice to start. Hopefully you will see some positive effects!

Kim Mendel is a Registered Dietitian and Diabetes Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at

keep looking »