Over the school holidays our girls spent a lovely week in Dunedin with Donal’s sister and her family. While they did many fun things (such as visiting the chocolate factory) one of the highlights for them was the fact that Deirdre had her own vegetable garden. They loved being able to go and pick some fresh vegetables each night for dinner. They enjoyed a wonderful range including runner beans, snow peas, tomatoes, baby carrots, fresh potatoes and even grapes (not bad for Dunedin!). I don’t think they tried the chilies she was growing.

One of the things that I really enjoy doing in my leisure time is gardening. However we do not have a vegetable garden. Even though the trip to Dunedin was over a month ago the girls are still talking about the joys of picking your own vegetables and keep asking if we can have a vegetable garden. I can see that I might have to relent and give up some of ‘my garden’ for the benefit of the family.

Although I know very little about vegetable gardening I do get the impression that, depending on what you choose to grow, you don’t need bucket loads of space. In fact some vegetables can even be grown in amongst the ‘normal’ garden or even in pots if you take the time to water them well.

Growing vegetables at home is certainly one way of getting your children interested in vegetables – especially when they are young. I do remember my father’s lovely vegetable garden, where I enjoyed helping to pick and wash the fresh vegetables, and they did seem to have a wonderful flavour.

One vegetable that can be grown very successfully is the potato. Even if you don’t have much land it can be grown in old tyres. Stack three or four tyres, fill them with soil and plant two to three seed pieces about 3-6 cm deep in the top tyre. The black of the tyre absorbs and radiates heat. Using this method you can apparently get a very good yield.

The potato produces more nutritious food more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop – up to 85% of the plant is edible human food, compared to around 50% in cereals.

Potato is the world’s 4th largest food crop grown after maize, wheat and rice.

In New Zealand they are a top vegetable with 97% of us eating them according to the 5+ a day website. Fresh potatoes are consumed four times a week by 53% of us, and 21% of New Zealanders eat them daily.

It would be fair to say that in the Western world potatoes have had a lot of bad press nutritionally; a lot of this has been unfounded. With the band wagon of low carb diets many of my clients have been convinced, before they come to see me, that it is wrong to eat potatoes.

However there are many good nutritional points about potatoes.

Potatoes are rich in carbohydrates but low in fat. This makes them a good source of energy. Sure they might have a higher glycaemic index than some other starchy foods, but as we usually eat them with a source of protein such as meat, fish or chicken this will help to lower the glycaemic load of the meal.

Foods with a high glycaemic index will get absorbed into your blood system more quickly so are not as satisfying as other foods with a lower glycaemic index – but the glycaemic index is not the only way to judge a food. Ice cream has a low glycaemic index, but that doesn’t mean it is an everyday food and that we can enjoy it at the expense of sensible food choices.

Potatoes are also very rich in vitamin C — a single medium-sized potato contains about half the recommended daily intake. Vitamin C is important in assisting with iron absorption. Vitamin C is also an important antioxidant helping to prevent cell damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin C also gives you healthy skin, teeth and hair.

They are a good source of B vitamins which we need to consume regularly as they are not stored in the body. B Vitamins help to convert food to energy and they are also important for cell growth.

When eaten with the skin on they are a good source of fibre. One average potato with the skin on provides 4 ½ grams of fibre, compared to an average peeled potato which has 2 ½ grams fibre. It is recommended that female adults aim for at least 25 grams of fibre a day and for adult males 30 grams a day.

So the humble potato should not be shunned — as it is a vegetable available all year round; it can be cooked in many different ways; and it does contribute important nutrients to your diet.

Depending on how I go with plans for the vegetable garden I will keep you informed, but I think at the very least I can try the potatoes-in-the-tyre trick.



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Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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