This month (July), we held our first co-production meeting for our food growing project at Friars Children’s Centre in Shoebury. The meeting brought together a range of people; the Early Years Lead at Friars Primary School, the local Pre-school Manager, parent representatives, the Children’s Centre Manager and representatives from Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s Parks & Gardens department, their Surveying department and their Early Years team.

The project, which includes not only the Friars Children’s Centre, but the pre-school and nursery too, will see an area of land in the children’s centre’s outdoor space devoted to growing fruit and vegetables.

The practicalities are still being developed, but the plan is to develop different food growing areas for children attending each of the early years settings, with parents, wider family and members of the local community who have experience of food growing. The growing activities will take place not only during “school hours”, but also on the weekend. We will be including an area where children can sit and eat the products of their hard labour, and an area for composting food and garden waste.

But why is the project important? Our Diet & Nutrition Workstream Lead, Barbara Goldberg, explains:

The guidance to eat your “five-a-day” is probably one of the most recognised public health messages, but the challenge to adhere to the guidance is also recognised; fruit and vegetables are perceived to be more expensive than other goods with a longer shelf life; preparation of meals with fresh fruit and veg are perceived to take more time and, perhaps most importantly, it is common for young children to be wary, or even express a dislike for them, so why should parents spend the time and money on fresh produce?

The answer is because fruit and vegetables:

  • Are a good source of vitamins and minerals
  • Are a good source of fibre, which reduces the risk of constipation, gut problems & bowel cancer
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers
  • Are low in calories (unless they’re fried) and fill you up, reducing the risk of weight gain

Just telling children (or adults) that something is “good” for them isn’t always enough though and through our food growing project, ABSS is going to try another approach; getting more children to like them!

A child’s taste preferences develop through different means, starting from the flavour of the amniotic fluid when in the womb; through breastmilk, the flavour of which is influenced by the mother’s diet and is ever changing during those early months, through to watching parents and friends – modelling their behaviour and, through familiarity with and, early exposure to, fresh fruit and vegetables.

At A Better Start, we are trying hard to support parents to ensure that their children are able to maintain a healthy weight, and, develop a healthy attitude to fresh food as they grow up.  One of the ways we’re doing this is by starting the food growing project at Friars Children’s Centre.  Research suggests that children who are involved in preparing the soil, growing seeds and planting the resulting seedlings, watching them grow and caring for them as the plants develop, are more likely to want to find out what they taste like when they are harvested.

Alongside the food growing activities, children and their parents will take part in food preparation using the produce they have grown.  Sometimes a child won’t like something the first time: research tells us that it’s not always “love at first taste” – it can take up to 15 times to develop a food preference.  This is all the more likely if they have the opportunity to watch their friends prepare and eat the foods they have grown and, the sense of achievement that comes with that.

Other benefits to food growing include physical activity; all the digging, raking, planting, lifting, watering, carrying are all good fun and perfect for the development of the fine (small muscles) and gross (large muscles) skills.  Plus there’s team work involved in a planting project, so a good opportunity to learn how to share tools, take turns, help each other and work as a team – there’s even an opportunity for the wider family – including grandparents – to get involved.  How much fun does that sound?

Plant growing will help children develop their senses, become more aware of their environment, the effect of weather on plant growing and, importantly these days, to develop a sense of patience; tomatoes (like Rome) aren’t grown in a day!

So watch this space for details of when our first food growing project at Friars Children’s Centre will get started and how you and your children can get involved!


In the meantime, if you want to start growing fruit and veg at home, you don’t have to wait! Check out this great link to give you an idea of food growing possibilities in containers.


  1. Matt King says:

    Why don’t you team up with Growing Together Shoeburyness which is just behind the children’s centre, rather than creating your own space? This was abss can be part of, link in to and influence the broader community, rather than creating something separate.

  2. Better Start says:

    Many thanks for getting in touch Matt. We are aware of the excellent work that Trust Links are doing with Growing Together Shoeburyness and your therapeutic gardening, recovery classes, etc. for those with mental health problems, physical and learning disabilities and carers, etc. The food growing project that we are developing will be focussing specifically on children 0-3 years and the location has been chosen for the convenience for parents and their very young children as well as staff. We are also looking to accommodate the needs of the very young children and as you can imagine, there are specific safety considerations for this age group. However, there is definitely opportunity for collaboration and learning and we would be very pleased to meet to discuss this further.

  3. Better Start says:

    Hi Matt, we are very pleased to hear that you have met with our diet and nutrition lead and colleagues from the children’s centre. We look forward to exploring partnership opportunities with you as we develop our food growing project at Friars Children’s Centre.

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