Stuppy: Connecting with nature for better health – Seacoastonline.com

stuppy:-connecting-with-nature-for-better-health-–-seacoastonline.com

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Question: What encourages pleasurable physical activity, a positive mood, a sense of satisfaction, and increased access to healthful foods? Answer: Spending time outdoors growing some colorful, flavorful foods for your table!It’s that time of year when the outdoors is turning green. Maybe it’s also a time to consider getting better connected to where your food comes from, to be reminded of the process it takes to go from seed to table, and an opportunity for reducing food/packaging waste with regard to the environment.Growing some of your own fruits and vegetables means they are at their peak of ripeness and flavor when you bring them to the table. Since many Americans do not consume the recommended amount of these two food groups, it might encourage you and your family members to increase their intake.Growing fruits and veggies can be cost effective as well. For the minimal cost of a few seeds or plants, you can end up with a bountiful harvest just outside your door. You might even try a few new options that will expand the types of produce you purchase outside of the growing season.Including children in the process of planning, planting, and caring for a garden can encourage their intake of the harvest, which can be especially helpful if they are pickier eaters. It is a gentle way to nurture a sense of responsibility while cultivating a respect for the path food takes from the field to the grocery cart. Watching seeds grow into plants can be very satisfying and rewarding for both children and adults.Herbs are delightful to grow as they have such wonderful and unique scents and flavors. Who does not enjoy rubbing an herb leaf and inhaling that amazing aroma? Fresh herbs not only add flavor complexity to individual foods but also broaden the variety of flavors of a meal. In addition, the use of herbs means less salt is needed in a recipe.What and how much you decide to grow depend on the amount of space you have and the sun exposure. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs tend to thrive in full sun. Also consider having a source of water nearby. If space is limited, maybe explore the idea of deck/patio planters or window boxes. Imagine having a window box full of fresh basil just waiting to jump into your next meal!  Tomato plants are a perfect choice for patio planters, especially the grape or cherry tomato versions that rapidly produce a ready harvest beginning in mid-summer.When choosing what to buy, note that some seeds can be grown indoors and then set outside when the weather is warm enough. Others do best when planted directly in the garden (like beans, radishes, lettuce, peas, etc.). Amateur gardeners might want to purchase some as plants, as in the case of tomatoes. For gardeners in the northern latitudes, the shorter growing season needs to be considered. Seed packets will usually tell you the approximate time until harvest.In mapping out the garden, account for the final size of plants in addition to space for you to do weeding and harvesting. Speaking of weeds, mulching might be helpful for reducing weeds and for conserving soil moisture. Also, be aware of final plant heights so that larger plants do not cast shade on shorter plants.  You do not necessarily need a dedicated garden for your edible gardening. As an alternative, fruits, vegetables, and herbs can be incorporated into your flower gardens. Another space-saving idea would be trellises. Vegetable vines like peas and pole beans love a place to climb. Some gardeners even use these for cucumbers and squash. Another option would be to plant vines under the base of upright plants like tomatoes.As you plan the garden, note that some plants prefer the coolness of spring/early summer (like peas, lettuce, and other leafy greens) while others like it hot (like tomatoes and squash). For vegetables like beans, think about staggered planting so you have an ongoing harvest. This means several plantings throughout the summer. Maybe as the cool-loving veggies start to fade, use this space for more beans.Fruit like berries and tree fruit obviously need several seasons until they are ready to harvest so think ahead if you have space for these. Vines like grapes need space to climb so some form of structure, like a fence or arbor, might be helpful. These structures can add interest to your landscaping and/or a place for you to relax in the shade as well.With the environment in mind, instead of using inorganic fertilizers, try organic forms and natural compost. If you do not have space for your own compost pile on site, small composting bins are readily available. These can convert any plant-based food prep scraps and garden plant material into nourishing compost that you can add to your garden. This can also be a great teaching tool for educating children about how nature replenishes itself naturally.While your garden is growing, you can look for new recipe ideas for how to use your harvest. This can then expand your normal repertoire of meal options to enjoy. Herbs can enhance almost any dish and you cannot go wrong with experimenting with various combinations of these.So, as the outdoor world is starting to awaken from winter, isn’t it exciting to imagine all the benefits you and your family could have from growing some healthful and delicious foods in your own garden?Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, LD is a registered, licensed dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, ME and Portsmouth, NH.  She has also been the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy, presents workshops nationally, and provides guidance in sports nutrition. (See www.pamstuppynutrition.com for more nutrition information, some healthy cooking tips, and recipe ideas). 
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