Cooking a healthy meal can be a full-time job for any parent. Between planning and organizing, it takes a lot of effort to stay on track. That’s why I have a few hacks on hand to quickly improve the nutrient density in meals.
Quinoa is a great cook ahead that can be sprinkled onto a salad for an exotic addition of protein. It absorbs flavors so you can pair it with any dressing and it will taste great. Quinoa is also a great way to cut back on rice. For recipes that call for rice, try replacing ½ of the amount with quinoa. You will hardly see the difference yet you will improve your nutrition by adding fiber and lowering your glycemic index. Quinoa is a good source of minerals such as folate, iron, zinc, and magnesium. It also contains all the essential amino acids, giving it a high score for a good source of protein. Beware though, it is still a grain and too much of it can be “too much of a good thing”.
Rich in iron and really flavorful, this makes a great addition to the kids’ mac and cheese. They simply LOVE it. Recently I have started experimenting with combining it with cauliflower rice. I sauteed a chopped onion or leek for about 5 minutes, then add the riced cauliflower (2 bags frozen) for another 5 minutes, sprinkle some dill or use fresh if you have, add salt and pepper. After it caramelizes add a bag of frozen spinach and cook for about another 10 minutes. Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt or some feta and you have a low carb, Greek spanakopita inspired delicious and quick alternative. Spinach is a quick add on to rice, quinoa rice or even sautéed as a side dish. Power up!
Mushrooms act as a major immunity booster that can help the body fight illness as well as several types of cancers. It is recommended that you have a little daily. But who can keep up? Try freezing your mushrooms for easy access to omelets, and sautéed meals. Sautée some with onion and keep in the fridge as a sandwich or salad topper. Consider making mushroom burgers. They are easy, quick and very filling.
These are really misunderstood in my opinion because they are usually eaten out of a can. Try soaking a bag overnight and then giving them a quick boil until soft. No spices needed! After they are softened you can eat them plain -so sweet!- or add them to any salad. Keep in the fridge for an easy add on! You can also throw them in the blender with lemon juice and olive oil for a nice hummus.
The best way to increase your fruit intake is to keep it easily accessible. Take a few minutes to cut fruit and keep it in the fridge. It will more likely be your next snack or meal. My favorites for this are watermelon and honeydew. Another great trick is to load up on berries. They have a very short shelf life so eating them will be a priority.
This superfood can be added to any snack to boost fiber and omega 3’s along with antioxidants. Who doesn’t want that in a bowl of cereal, instantly? Consider adding to your yogurt, toasted bread, and even ice cream.
This is my go to side dish when I need that extra something to add to a meal. If I am baking dinner it can go straight into a baking dish with some EVOO. If not I can easily steam it and cleanup is a cinch. A major player in the cruciferous family, it is rich in everything, good for you and delicious. Always keep on hand.
Setting up for success with easy cheats makes up a big component of healthy eating. Now that the kids are helping themselves to snacks it’s even more important to have these easily accessible and at the front of the fridge.
It’s been a cold and icy winter here in Connecticut and we are making the best of it with warm cozy fires in the evenings and bundling up with layers of sweaters and wool socks if we have to go out. On the other hand, my poor cat has had it with the cold temps that keep him inside more than he wants to be and we start hearing about it from him when mid- January rolls around. We’ve learned how to speak cat during these cold winter months. He is very vocal and expressive when he’s not happy.
However, I happen to love January, especially the last week, because this is the time when I begin to implement my growing plan for the upcoming season. I begin to start my seedlings in the greenhouse for an early spring crop. If you are thinking about starting a garden, now is the perfect time to start planning. A well planned garden will make planting and care both easier and more productive.
Before You Dig
Here are some basic things to consider:
Soil – what kind of soil do you have? Is it loose, level, well drained? Is it sandy or hard clay? Plants will not grow in either of these soil types unless lots of organic matter like well-rotted compost is added.
Sunlight – how much sun does that spot have during the day? You need at least 10 plus hours of sunlight per day for high quality vegetables.
Shrubs and Trees – they will compete with the sunlight if they are near your garden. Monitor where the shade pattern is during the day and place your garden outside of the shaded area. In addition, their roots tend to choke out tender vegetable plants, so the further away they are the better.
Water – How close is the water supply to your garden? Gardens require frequent watering during the growing season. If you must carry water to your garden or haul a long hose, place your garden nearer to the water supply.
Location, location, location – garden placement is the most critical piece to growing. If your garden is too far away, chances are it will be neglected. Gardens need to be cared for daily, which means, planting, weeding, pruning, watering and harvesting (which is the best part of all). If your garden is on the “back forty”, chances are you will never reap the full rewards of your hard work.
Create a Garden Plan:
Once you’ve confirmed that you can meet the above basic conditions, the next step is to plan out your garden on paper. This will be your map to building and maintaining your garden during the growing season. This plan doesn’t have to be fancy – I find the simpler the drawing and/or list, the easier it is to implement and to later adjust.
My garden has 22 raised beds numbered 1 – 22. When I create my garden plan, I tend to plant a single vegetable type in one bed. For example, beds 15, 16 and 17 contain arugula and beds 7, 8 and 9 have lettuce etc. I’ve tried fancy garden software but it didn’t work well for me because I have several beds of varying size and conditions (i.e. some beds are part shade).
When creating your plan, consider the following:
Size/ Cost – How big is your garden going to be? Obviously, the available space you have will dictate the size. Remember there are upfront costs to consider when starting a garden and the bigger your garden is the more it’s going to cost.
Vegetable Location – Are you planning an entire row with one vegetable or are you planting half with one thing and half with something else? Are you planting in the ground or in raised beds?
Row Length – This is important to determine how much seed to buy. How many plants can you plant per row? The answer to that question will be in the seed description.
Inter-Row & Inter-Plant Space – A foot wide path between rows is a good rule of thumb. You don’t want your rows too narrow as weeding becomes very difficult. Conversely, you don’t want your rows too wide as this wastes space and requires more weeding. Ick!
PlantingDates – You need to figure out the approximate date of the last frost in your area. I start turning over my soil and prepping as soon as the ground is defrosted and warmed up. It could be a few weeks before or after the general frost date for my area.
Succession Planting – What plants will follow when each vegetable is harvested? This is a space saving technique but you need to plan for it to work.
Vegetables – What to Plant?
What are you going to grow? My advice is to plant what you like to eat and don’t over plant. If you plant 20 squash plants your family is not going to be happy with you. You are not going to grow everything so use the available space wisely, especially if it’s small.
Sweet corn is a perfect example of what not to grow on a small plot. Corn needs to be grown in a large space (over 1000 sq. ft.) for proper pollination. So choose vegetables that your family will enjoy and that make sense for the space you have.
Small gardens (less than 1000 sq. ft.) – think about plants with a high yield per plant, which include the following vegetables:
Peppers (hot and sweet)
Squash (bush variety)
Large Gardens (1000 sq. ft. or more) – larger gardens can obviously grow a larger variety of vegetables (including those that take up more space) but remember the bigger the garden the more work required and the higher resulting yield. If there are only two of you and unless you want to be super gardeners or love to be outside puttering around, I’d recommend downsizing to a small plot:
All the vegetables listed above
Melons (vining varieties)
Squash (vining varieties)
How will your garden grow? Some plants (i.e.- lettuce and peas) are better suited to grow in the early spring whereas squash and tomatoes are heat loving plants that do well in high temperatures. Make sure that your plan includes a seasonal planting schedule that correlates with your successive plantings.
Planting every few weeks provides a continuous harvest throughout the growing season. To avoid gardener burnout, spread out your plantings to avoid a monster harvest all at once and instead have a steady flow of vegetables throughout the season. For example, planting new lettuce every two weeks during the early and mid-spring seasons guarantees you’ll have lettuce until it gets too hot.
In addition, successive planting ensures the wise use of your space. Planting squash in place of an earlier crop like peas will allow you to grow two crops in the same space in a single season.
Seeds and Plants
Order seeds from quality organic seed companies now. Don’t wait until the snow melts. I don’t recommend that you purchase seeds from a large box store as their seeds tend to be of poor quality and have low germination rates. In addition, don’t forget that there are GMO seed companies parading around as “your local friendly seed company” so buyers beware!
I’m not going to get into the details of the GMO debate but if you want to know more, just “Google” it. This is a hot topic in the world of agriculture and gardeners and consumers need to understand how important it is to buy properly sourced seeds from non GMO companies. To get you started, here is an article from Mother Earth News.
There are many organic seed companies, but here are a few that I’ve used personally and recommend:
Yes, it is possible to have a garden even if you don’t have available land by growing in a container! All that’s needed is good quality organic potting mix and a container – i.e. – an Earth Box or even a baby wading pool will work! For DIYers, purchase a storage container (or baby wading pool) from a large Box Store. It doesn’t have to be deep as about a foot of growing space is all that’s needed. Drill a few holes in the bottom and sides to allow water to drain out of the bottom and air through the sides for the roots to develop.
Pictured below are some of the containers that I grow in. Easy Peasy!
Baby Wading Pools
Fabric Grow Tubes
Large Grow Bags
If you have questions about your garden, please feel free to contact me. Happy Garden Planning!!!
Spring is days away and it’s been so cold the snow has turned into solid ice. My cat has lost his mind from not being able to go outside. To pass the time of day he has resorted to playing fish on my daughter ipad. Although I think he knows something up with this “pond” – he keeps shaking his paws thinking they are wet and but they are dry, and then there’s no smell.
As a farmer, I cannot wait for warmer weather to start digging in the soil again. In January, I completed all my shopping for seeds, and on March 1st, the new season began I started planting my new seedlings in trays. The best part is my new aquaponics system is finished and I am excited to see how well the system works. This system was designed to grow hundreds of lettuce and herbs. In another week or so, the fish should be arriving and that will really boost the system.
(These are garlic cloves sprouting into garlic greens)
While talking to a friend recently, she mentioned she couldn’t wait to start eating fresh local greens. I suggested she start a small kitchen herb garden on her counter – it’s the fastest way to get fresh greens and in less than 10 days she can be cutting fresh greens for her salads.
Start with any kind of container. I personally like the containers our Chinese food come in. They hold enough soil to do the job.
Gently poke holes in the bottom of container. An easy way to do it is using a board underneath the container and hammer the nail through the bottom. For those who want a higher tech method, a drill with a small bit will work fine. Just make sure there are enough drainage holes in the bottom so the water can drain.
Moisten the potting soil prior to filling the container. The soil should be wet enough to make a meatball size clump – but not soaking wet where there is water dripping from your hand.
Sprinkle your seeds over the top of the soil and cover with plastic wrap until the seeds sprout then remove the plastic. If the container has a lid, gently close it but don’t seal it tight. The goal here is to keep the soil moist until your seeds sprout. Remove the lid completely and water when soil appears dry on top.
Easy Kitchen Garden Varieties:
Garlic Greens – (need a deep container for this) just peel a few garlic cloves from the grocery store and plant.