If your children are anything like my stepdaughter, one of the more difficult daily challenges you’ll encounter is finding good, healthy foods they’ll actually eat. Many parents have discovered, like I have, that getting children to participate in growing their own foods by gardening at home is not only a great way to give quick science and gardening lessons, but is also a great way to get them interested in the benefits of eating healthy, natural foods. Try a few of the following fall gardening tips to get your kids on the right track as the cooler weather approaches.
Know your climate
“Fall” can mean several different things, depending on what part of the world you live in. In Austin, TX, for example, despite the fact that the first day of fall was Sept. 23 (just like it was everywhere else, of course), the temperature climbed up into the upper 80′s and it felt like anything but. The forecast called for similar temperatures for the next several weeks, and the high didn’t drop below 80 degrees until the week of Halloween. Needless to say, it was far from fall.
In other words, not everyone will be able to follow the handy advice on the back of the seed packets in order to get their fall garden off to a good start. If you have a local natural gardening supply store, ask for their advice on the best plants to plant for your fall climate, and when to do so.
Know your children’s tastes
My wife and I have had a lot of success getting my stepdaughter to warm to some vegetables she’d otherwise turn her nose up at, simply because she grew them herself — or, at least, helped to grow them herself. In my opinion, homegrown food simply tastes better than store-bought food. There just seems to be something about putting the work into growing your own food than make you want to eat and enjoy it. That said, if your children are adamantly opposed to beets, kale, and broccoli (three traditionally great fall vegetables), growing them yourself is unlikely to change their minds. But relax, there are plenty of other great fall vegetables (and fruits!) from which to choose.
Get creative with your use of what you grow
There’s something very satisfying about picking a piece of fruit or vegetable off the plant and tucking right in. But don’t expect your eight-year-old to unearth a potato and immediately start gnawing away. Unlike many spring and summer plants, most fall fruits and vegetables will benefit from cooking them before eating. Use this to your advantage by creating an opportunity to cook a new meal with your child. If she doesn’t like kale salad, try crisping some up in the oven by making kale chips; if he doesn’t like carrots, throw some in a stew, perfect for a cold autumn day. The more creative you are, the less fixated your child will be on eating vegetables (the horror!).
A little color goes a long way
Okay, it’s true: Fall gardens are better known for vegetables than fruits. Add to it that root vegetables often prosper in fall and the aesthetic of your garden can look as gloomy as the weather. But hope springs eternal, and you needn’t give up on injecting a little color yet. Fall is the best time for planting a colorful array of herbs in your garden — a great addition to any meal — and it’s even the ideal time for planting beautiful strawberries. A word of caution, though: some herbs can really take over a garden, so consider quarantining them in a separate location.
Fall can really take some spring out of your step as the weather gets downright cold, and the approaching holiday season gives you more and more reason to stay indoors. But by planting a simple fall garden, you can give yourself a reason to get back outside, and provide a wonderful, healthy resource of sustenance, and activity, to your child’s life!