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Yet there’s another option for anyone looking to introduce more whole foods into their diet; why not have a go at “growing your own” at home?
There’s something special about growing your own fruits and vegetables. From planting the seeds and seeing the first tiny shoots appear, to watching your plants grow and mature…then of course, the excitement of picking your own crops and getting to eat the fruits and vegetables of your labour.
Here’s the great thing…you don’t necessarily need to have a vegetable patch or even a garden! You can easily grow your own using window boxes and pots on a balcony or in a tiny paved backyard.1 If you already have a garden, but don’t think you have space for a dedicated vegetable plot, use containers or hanging baskets instead or try growing vegetables in between flowers and other plants.
From a nutritional point of view, you’ll also have the extra satisfaction of knowing that not only are you getting essential nutrients from a natural source – but that you nurtured them yourself, bringing them from the earth to your table with your own two hands!
To help you get started, here are some ideas for simple and nutritionally beneficial foods to grow at home. All of these can be grown from seed or, if you’d prefer, you can buy small plug plants ready to grow on at a garden centre or nursery.
One of the key benefits of growing tomatoes is that they’re very versatile. You can eat them freshly picked in salads, grill them on toast for breakfast, bake them or use them as an ingredient in many dishes.
They are nutritionally rich in vitamins A, C and E, plus they’re an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene, which gives most tomatoes their classic red hue.2 They’re also easy to grow in pots, tubs, grow-bags and even hanging baskets, where the fruit will tumble down the sides. The smaller varieties of cherry tomatoes are particularly good for growing in hanging baskets.
Salad leaves, such as lettuce, spinach, cress or endive are also easy to grow, and in fact make a great partner for tomatoes; they can grow between other plants as long as enough light can get through to them. Salad leaves grow well in window boxes or any small containers, and don’t take up too much space.
Picked and eaten fresh, these seemingly light leaves are packed with vitamins and minerals.3 For example, cress is a good source of vitamin C, whereas young spinach leaves and endive are rich in folate and iron – 90g serving of spinach and endive provides approximately 130mcg of folate.4
Although courgettes take up a bit more room, they’re easy to grow and can be prolific fruiters – plus they are incredibly versatile, nutritional powerhouses.5
They’re a good source of potassium and vitamin C. In fact, a 100g serving of lightly cooked courgettes can provide approximately half of your recommended daily vitamin C intake!6
Bake them, sauté them stuff them… they’re a useful ingredient in a variety of dishes – plus if you’ve grown your own tomatoes too, you’re on your way to a delicious ratatouille!
Root vegetables, such as carrots, are a good staple vegetable7 to include in your diet and are even sweeter and tastier when grown organically at home. Although traditionally grown in the ground, it’s possible to successfully grow “short-root” varieties in pots. Alternatively, some people grow carrots in tall thin pots or even drainpipe tubes!
Their distinctive orange colour comes from the antioxidant beta carotene. Raw, sliced or chopped, boiled, steamed or added to casseroles, soups or stews – carrots are versatile, and will preserve their nutrients very well however prepared.
A favourite for children and adults alike, strawberries are versatile in that they can be grown in a garden, tub or even a hanging basket. It’s possible to buy specially designed strawberry planters, with holes or pockets for the plants to grow out of and the fruits to cascade down the sides.
Freshly picked juicy strawberries are a real treat, and even better when you’ve picked your own crop – growers often remark that they can ‘taste the sunshine’ in their own strawberries. Rich in potassium, folate and vitamin C, strawberries are one of the tastiest and most indulgent ways to supply yourself with key nutrients.8
These are just a few easy ideas to start with, but if you get the gardening bug why not broaden your horizons? You can invest in growbags or convert an area of your garden into a designated plot. If you’re lacking space and want to investigate further growing opportunities, look for a local allotment near you where you could rent a plot, or find out if there are any community gardening schemes in your area.
Finally, remember that a golden rule in nutrition is the more variation the better, so why not look into diversifying and expanding your harvest as you become more confident? Growing different produce can also help you discover new recipes, as you seek to make the most of your newfound bounty!
There’s no doubt that growing your own whole foods can be nutritionally beneficial, but it can be so much more. Cultivating your own little patch of soil and connecting with nature to “create” food of your own can be emotionally satisfying.
Easy to start, infinitely rewarding to master, why don’t you give it a go? Next stop: self-sufficiency!
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