by guest blogger, Deirdre Evans (note: this will be our last "Little Green Thumb" for the season – it'll be back again in the spring!)
Gardens planted in the Spring with just a few small seeds are now overflowing with vegetables ready to be picked and eaten. Instead of exploring what's coming out of the garden, I thought I'd look to how it's good for us. How does each plant help my child stay healthy? To help answer my questions, I spoke to paediatric dietician, Erin Walker at the IWK, she helped answer my questions around why all these foods are good to eat.
Deirdre: Erin, I know these foods are good for my kids but I don't necessarily know why, I am hoping you can help me out. First on the list is tomatoes, my kids love tomatoes and this time of year they are picking a rainbow of colours from the garden. Be it the little yellow tomatoes, red cherry tomatoes, orange tomatoes and even purple tomatoes – they simply can't get enough of them. So why are tomatoes so good for their growing bodies?
Erin: Thanks Deirdre for asking! Tomatoes are high in vitamin C, which may help shorten the duration of the seemingly inevitable “back to school cold”. They are also high in an antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene helps prevent damage to cells, and also contributes to heart health. It’s never too early to eat for heart-health!
Deirdre: I find broccoli is something that my kids always love. I can remember when they were 9 months old, I would puree the broccoli into a paste that they would eat/wear for dinner. They still love it today, both cooked and raw, plain or in dips, they will gobble it up! What is so good about broccoli?
Erin: Broccoli is a source of vitamin K, which helps make proteins that aid blood clotting when your kids scrape their knees. It also helps with bone formation! Eating broccoli with dip may help taste-sensitive children get past the slightly “bitter” flavour in broccoli, and the fat content will help them absorb this vitamin!
Deirdre: So most years I advise people not to try growing peppers in Nova Scotia. This year our weather was an exception and there is a huge crop of peppers coming out of the garden. I don't know what to do with all the red, yellow, orange, and green peppers that are still producing. What are the benefits of peppers?
Erin: Peppers are a great low calorie snack; keep some cut up in the fridge for a quick grab-and-go food. Peppers provide the body with anti-oxidants, as well as vitamin B6, which helps your body use energy. Vitamin B6 also helps with formation of a protein that carries oxygen to the blood. This can help us feel less “winded” during exercise.
Deirdre: When it comes to Halloween pumpkins are a hit. Visiting Howard Dill's farm last week reminded me that pumpkins are not just for carving, they are also for eating. What are some of the great nutrients that come from pumpkins?
Erin: Pumpkins and squash are an excellent source of vitamin A, which can help with vision and also helps protect from infection by keeping the skin healthy. Roasted pumpkin seeds are a snack that provides heart-healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. Pumpkin is also a good source of fibre (need I say more?) and is easily hidden in many foods.
Deirdre: Carrots are sweeter when the weather cools and it's another one that is great for infants as well as great for older kids. There is such a rainbow of carrots available today that these are always fun for the kids. We can grow orange carrots, purple carrots, yellow carrots, ones that are purple on the inside, yellow on the inside, etc. What’s in a carrot?
Erin: Carrots are one of those vegetables that I find most children enjoy due to their sweet flavour. As you might have guessed by their name, they are a great source of carotenoids like alpha- and beta-carotene. Carotenes are antioxidants which protect against free-radicals in the body. Did you know that children (and sometimes adults) who consume a lot of carotene can experience a harmless, reversible orange-colouration of the skin known as carotenemia?
Deirdre: This time of year there is bright green and purple kale in the garden that lasts well into the winter months. This is one of those vegetables like spinach and beet greens that surprise me when the kids ask for seconds. We started it pureed as an infant food, and have now moved to tasty after school snacks like kale chips. I often hear adults talk of it as a cancer fighting food, what are the benefits for kids?
Erin: Kale is sometimes referred to as a "superfood". This is because it is very nutrient-dense; it is low calorie, yet it contains vitamin A, vitamin K, manganese, calcium, fibre, antioxidants and other cancer-fighting compounds. It can be sliced into strips and added to soups, blanched and pureed and added to spaghetti sauce, steamed, or even made into chips. Tip: try to have at least one serving of dark green veggies daily. A serving size of leafy greens is 1 cup raw, or 1/2 cup cooked.
Deirdre Evans is owner of Urban Veggies, and founder www.urbangardener.ca. She is a garden coach and mother to two young boys. Deirdre helps people grow fresher, healthier, tastier food in urban garden boxes here in HRM. Erin Walker is a professional dietitian in Halifax.