Gardening, Cooking, and Making Your Family Healthier

June 11th, 2010

I am really into nutrition, sometimes that zeal will permeate this blog, this post is one of those times.

I’ve talked significantly in the past about growing your own food, growing healthy foods, and whatnot, and I’m not going to merely be rehashing that here, you can look in the related posts in the bottom.

Instead I want to talk more specifically about nutrition and cooking, but in a way that is only applicable to gardeners, for a reason which will become evident.

My personal relationship with food has morphed into mostly considering it as fuel. There probably isn’t a person out there who would even consider putting substandard or contaminated or the wrong sort of gasoline in their car. Afterall, they don’t want their engine to break down and car repairs can be costly.

And yet people don’t seem to give the same care to their own body, and if you think mechanics bills are high you should see doctor’s bills. The fact is our bodies are engines, and if you don’t put in the right fuel your body will break down, and that affects your quality of life.

I don’t like salmon, I will never crave salmon, I would prefer almost any protein to salmon, even other fish (except for tuna, tuna is gross). But I try to eat salmon every week, because it is very healthy for you (wild caught as much as possible though, even if frozen. Frozen wild caught > fresh(thawed) farmed). Likewise, for the past quite a few years (5 maybe) I’ve had the exact same thing for lunch almost every day. Normally people might want variety, but I see my lunch merely as fuel for my body and I treat it as such. So I have a protein smoothy with bananas and either raspberries or blueberries depending on seasonality and what I have in the house.

I don’t mean to get all preachy, but I just think that if more people thought of food as fuel, rather than a daily source of pleasure and indulgence, we wouldn’t have all the obesity problems we have as a society.

But I digress. Today I am making shredded chicken enchiladas. I cook some onions and chicken with some salsa, stock, and other seasonings for a long time until it gets all shredded then I add some reduced fat cheese, assembled the enchiladas, and bake.

However I added some ingredients you may not typically think of for enchiladas. Swiss Chard, Beet Greens, and Purslane.

Swiss Chard

These three foods are superfoods. Swiss chard and beet greens are closely related (looking identical from the ground up) and extremely healthy. They are probably the healthiest leafy green you can eat, and they stand up well to cooking. They are also very easy to grow. If allowed to go to seed they will reseed here in Michigan. I don’t even have to plant swiss chard anymore, it just grows in my chard bed because I always end up letting a few go to seed at the end of the season. With swiss chard and beet greens you can eat both the leaves and the stalks, though I only added the leaves today, and with beets you of course get the superfood roots that have incredible nutrition benefits, beets are perhaps the single best food preventer of colon cancer. Both the roots and leaves are high in fiber as well, and tons of other nutritients.

Purslane is so easy to grow it is like a weed, in fact, it is a weed. Though I grow a cultivated variety of it that is more upright than the weed version. You can eat any version though. In addition to being high in nutrition, and like chard being able to stand up to the heat in cooking, it is the highest known plant source of Omega 3 fatty acids, including EPA type Omega 3s, which is the good kind also found in fish. Purslane also reseeds readily, plant it once and never plant it again. Of course, as a weed too, it tolerates drought, and can grow almost anywhere, needs little fertilizer, etc.

Now, here is where it gets interesting. It doesn’t always make sense to buy these plants at the store (nevermind that you can’t really buy purslane most places in the US), a whole bunch of swiss chard might be hard to eat if you’re only using it as an additive, but if you garden, you have the opportunity to grow these very very very easily to grow plants (both can go in containers too, especially purslane), and only harvest what you need when you need it.

So, during summer, I add one or both of these plants to almost everything I make. I can add them to soups, stews, stirfry, pasta sauce, casseroles, anything mixture like such as my enchilada filling tonight, and of course salads, basically anything I cook that is not grilled or a dessert. They add nutrition to meals for free, without changing taste (for those picky eaters) and most probably won’t even notice they’re in there unless you tell them. So you’re sneaking nutrition on your family. There is hardly any excuse not to do this really.

Spinach is another option for this manuever, but it isn’t quite as easy to grow (it has more pest problems, neither purslane nor chard/beets seem to be bothered by any leaf pests, at least around here), and also isn’t going to reseed for you. It also typically doesn’t get harvested all season like the other two can be. With chard/beet greens and purslane you can pick off leaves as you need them for a longer period of time and the plant will keep producing, spinach won’t do that for as long and bolts quicker.

If you can dedicate just a few square feet of your garden to these two plants you’ll have a perpetual source of sneaky goodness you can add for added nutrition to all your summer cooking. I highly recommend it.

9 Responses to “Gardening, Cooking, and Making Your Family Healthier”

  1. Scentsy Wickless Candles  Says:

    It’s nice to see someone else realize the importance of using food as a fuel instead of indulgence, however, I must confess I’m not perfect yet. I do try to impliment as many of the power foods in my diet as possible. If I don’t get a chance to use them in my food, I always try to use them in a daily vegetable juice. It also helps relieve the guilt as I continuously work on the journey.

  2. DONA  Says:

    Great info. Thanks

  3. Seattle Katie Jones  Says:

    We are in the process of house hunting and one of the requirements is a place to grow a nice vegetable garden. Not only for the cost, but for the health reasons you mentioned. In the meantime the local Farmer’s Market will do.

  4. Laura  Says:

    I’ve got that coloured Swiss Chard in a pot on my terrace!!
    They’re really decorative and good!!!
    Greetings from Italy!

  5. James  Says:

    We love going green and believe everyone should start to grow their own food. Its a much better way to stay healthy and to create less carbon emissions. I love Romain Lettuce. There are also some fruit trees that are great to grow. Very Easy. Also if interested check out this cheap plant store online.

    Cheap Everything and even a FREE PLANT!!

  6. Marta Ratajszczak  Says:

    It’s interesting that you talk so much about growing food, because in Poland, this is seen as something done by “village” people – and not done by educated, urbane people who have a garden. Yet – as you point out, you can get so much from such a small area of your garden.

    I’m always trying to talk to my customers about the possibility of growing their own food – but – many of them just do not see the value in doing so. It’s a shame.

  7. Mike  Says:

    Great post! Thank you for all this helpful information. It’s true that it’s very important to cook healthy with organics when possible!

  8. Texas Gardner  Says:

    I tried to grow spinach in San Antonio Texas with little success. I may try to cover my crop next time with a net or something to prevent bugs from getting to them. Boc Choy does really well and the easiest to grow.

  9. Katie  Says:

    I grew spinach 2 years ago when I started my garden in late september, and BONUS it came back as a very early spring crop before going to seed early. So this year I planted some again late in the fall so that I will have some nice baby greens early in the spring. This past Summer I grew (and ate!) Swiss chard for the first time. Only 2 plants and it is still producing! It’s mid January now and I’ve had all we can eat for the past 6 months! Yay for greens! Great ideas too on how to sneak them in and use them up in recipes:)

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