Rainbow garden cultivates healthy eating habits

Visiting the garden is a teaching tool for young patients

Pediatrician Sandra Musial, MD, had the seed of an idea five years ago. But it took until this summer to bear fruit — and cucumbers, eggplant, and squash, too.

Musial created a “rainbow garden” at Hasbro Children’s Hospital to teach children where food comes from as well as to encourage better eating habits.

“There’s a lot of data that city kids don’t recognize a potato, but they know what French fries are,” she comments. The idea of the garden is to familiarize children with fresh fruits and vegetables so that they will try eating them – maybe even try growing them in their own backyards.

Youngsters are encouraged to “eat the rainbow,” but it’s good advice for everyone. Eating fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors is an easy way to get the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals our bodies need to thrive.

In the pediatric garden on the east side of the hospital, an array of plants sprout from six 3-by-3-foot containers filled with organic soil. Pretty colored ribbons stream from bamboo poles to help scare away birds.

It was a challenge to find vegetables to paint all the colors of the rainbow, says Musial, but she managed it, right down to blue peas and purple string beans. Mini pumpkins, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers are among the other crops. Annuals such as verbena, lobelia, and petunias bloom in each bed to help attract bees for pollination.


Patient Angelina Nguyen, 8, enjoyed her visit to Hasbro Children's Hospital's vegetable garden. 

Signs explain the nutritional benefits of each color, such as “Purple vegetables like eggplant and purple cabbage are good for your brain and nervous system.”

“There’s a lot of data that city kids don’t recognize a potato, but they know what French fries are,” says Sandra Musial, MD.

Musial says, “At well-child visits, we review what makes a proper diet, including five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.” Not only is this vital for optimal nutrition but also to prevent constipation, a problem for many children, she says. 

Weekly updates about what’s ripening are posted in the examining rooms, and kids go on scavenger hunts to find the cucumber that’s growing inside a bottle, for example.

The pediatrician explains that visiting the garden is a teaching tool for youngsters in the pediatric obesity clinic, known as the HEALTH clinic (Healthy Eating Active Living Through Hasbro). “A lot of our conversation in the obesity clinic is about how half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables,” Musial says. While the patients are outdoors getting exercise with hula hoops, jump ropes, or playing Frisbee, they are encouraged to check out what’s new in the garden. 

Inpatients had an opportunity to do their part in creating the rainbow garden. Kids in the medical/psychiatric program painted pots and planted purple bean seeds to give the plants a head start indoors. Dr. Musial said the children benefitted from caring for the plants and seeing them grow and thrive. Other patients created signs to label the plants under the guidance of Kyle McDonald of the Healing Arts program.

In the spring, physicians, nurses and their children pitched in to plant the garden with seedlings purchased at the Southside Community Land Trust plant sale. A committee of about 30, mostly residents, tends the garden and ensures that the beds are watered. 

An avid gardener herself, Musial is looking forward to next year’s planting season now that she has seen which plants have done well.

“When kids participate in gardening, it's active fun and they will be much more likely to eat the veggies they worked to plant,” she says.