One of the keys to growing great families is primarily to keep them healthy, fit and well and as a parent I care about what my kids eat. There seems to be a constant battle to keep our diet free from things I can’t pronounce and a walk down the supermarket aisle will be a child centric assortment of brightly coloured snacks proclaiming to be great for kids, all the while tempting children with their freebies. And it isn’t the packaging that is sickly sweet, the contents within are often jam-packed with sugar, or salt or other ingredients that can go beyond the daily recommended amount in one serving.

But growing kids are hungry kids and when they hit a growth spurt they become a ravenous beast where nothing you throw at it will fill the bottomless pit. This is where it can become expensive, as the need to feed these growing machines is often accompanied with a certain degree of whinging. “Why can’t we have the {insert ‘brightly coloured, teeth rotting, way too costly, popular treat of the moment’ in here} James and Brian have them every day for lunch!” But you have to remain strong. Those growing bodies need good quality food in them, not something masquerading as good for you.

But even a wander down through the produce section has me concerned. For a start there are apples, which are to be expected, but they are pre-sliced and bagged. They will have most certainly been treated with something or other to stop them from growing brown. An apple isn’t that hard to cut, and aside from toddlers and kids with wiggly teeth, they are easy enough for a hungry enough kid to manage whole.

But the biggest thing that irks me is the price of fresh fruit. In the height of summer and autumn those with plum, peach and apple trees harvest so abundantly that they often don’t know what to do with them all, and yet the stores are selling them for around $8 a kilo. This doesn’t make sense to me.

Growing great food

So I say if you can’t beat them, join them. Grow your own snacks for ravenous kids. While autumn isn’t the best time to be starting a fully loaded vegetable garden, there are still things that can be planted now, like carrots, cabbage, broccoli, beetroot, peas and silverbeet to name a few. And while kids may not want to snack on a cabbage, peas and carrots straight from the garden are so sweet and tender they are like candy and you won’t be able to keep them out of your garden, but that is ok because they are eating healthy.

But kids are naturally drawn to sweet food and nature’s best sweet stuff is the fruit. And to be able to let children eat as many apples as they want or take a dehydrated fruit leather to school that only has one ingredient, or have fresh fruit juice from your own peaches is so reassuring to a concerned parent. You are filling the bottomless pit, saving money and all in the knowledge it is good for them.

Now is a great time to plant fruit trees, so they can get established in the lingering warmth and as the rains return they will be able get a good start. There are loads of fruit trees to choose from, and once you decide apples or peaches, you then have a vast array of varieties to pick from. The possibilities are endless. And even if you don’t have the old style quarter acre backyard, but a small pocket of land in the city or even a balcony, there is a tree for you. There are varieties on dwarf root stock that have been bred to grow small. There are even columnar types that don’t branch out, so will suit a small garden perfectly.   You can even train trees to grow up a wall in a beautiful espalier style that can be considered garden art. There are even trees that are perfect for growing in containers.

There is an old Chinese proverb “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.” So get out there this autumn and plant a tree that will keep your kids growing strong and healthy.

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Sarah O’Neil lives on a small 3 acre lifestyle block. The family moved from the big city to the country in 2007. Sarah has published 3 books, including The Good Life, four glorious seasons in my country garden. She's also an award-winning blogger, winning a Yates Vegie Growing Challenge and still writes regularly. Visit Sarah’s website at sarahthegardener.co.nz.

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