Jennifer Garner on Teaching Her Kids to Be Kind: ‘The Most Powerful Thing to Do Is to Live It'

The actor talks about helping families through Save the Children and Once Upon a Farm and how she's teaching her three kids the power of giving back.

Jennifer Garner

Yvonne Tnt & Madison Voelkel /

Jennifer Garner recalls the moment she saw that stranger struggling to cross the street. The actor and mom of three pulled over and helped him, a small good deed she says has stuck with her kids—Violet, 16, Seraphina, 13, Samuel, 10.

“It wasn’t a huge thing,” Garner tells Parents at Town & Country’s ninth annual Philanthropy Summit in New York City. “But my kids have spoken more about that moment than anything else.”

It solidified her belief that kids are watching—and what you do to spread kindness and make a difference speaks volumes. “I think the most powerful thing to do is to live it,” she says. “And live it rippling out from your home, whether that's a next door neighbor or someone at church, taking them a meal and taking your kids along as you do it. For something bigger, like really being involved in an organization, let your kids see it matter to you. That's the way to teach them.”

That’s how Garner says she’s been passing on lessons to her kids at home. And these days, she’s been putting a lot of her energy into helping America’s youngest population. 

Garner, who has been working with the international humanitarian aid organization Save the Children for over a decade, says she’s proud to see how conversations about children’s health have shifted. When she and Mark Shriver, the chief strategy officer at Save the Children, first started trying to raise awareness of the importance of helping children from birth to 5 years old, Garner says they were met with disregard, especially from big foundations. “Now those same foundations are totally focused on birth to 5, or in part, at least, really concentrating on them in a way that they didn't,” explains Garner. “To be part of that momentum shift, it's pretty great.”

Another proud accompaniment: bringing Save the Children into her home state of West Virginia and watching how it’s helping families there, including during the 2016 flooding, where the organization distributed necessities to families who lost everything. A lot of Garner’s work focuses on rural America, where families are disproportionately impacted by child care access—already a concerning issue in the country as a whole. On top of that, families in rural America also suffer long-standing health care issues and high rates of food insecurity—11% of rural households were food insecure in 2021, according to Feeding America. Many rural communities are also considered food deserts, making access to healthy, nutritious food nearly impossible.

These grim facts also inspired Garner to co-found Once Upon a Farm, an organic family food company that focuses on producing nutritious meals for babies and big kids. “You’ve got to start with nutrition,” says the award-winning actor. In partnership with Save the Children, Once Upon a Farm aims to give a million nutritious meals to children living in food-insecure communities across rural America by 2024 through the A Million Meals program.

What’s more, the company has made its organic cold-pressed baby food available to parents on WIC in several states, ​​including Florida, Texas, New York, Michigan, and Connecticut, and is working to get it approved in more. “I have shopped with moms through Save the Children and watched them try to navigate SNAP and WIC and food banks and [dealing with] how they're going to feed their family and do the math of all of that,” says Garner, adding that it's not always easy for them to find the more nutritious options they want.

Nutrition during the first year of life is critical for proper growth and development, the Cleveland Clinic explains, and implementing good eating habits at this stage can create healthy eating patterns for the rest of their life. 

“It just changes their palate and helps them start off with a preference for fresh food and fruits and vegetables instead of sugar and instead of super processed food,” says Garner. “We want to help set palettes to help just grow a healthier nation.”

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