By Kim Tessmer, RD, LD, Consulting Dietitian

Starting a garden can be both fun and rewarding.  Gardening can offer you peace of mind knowing that your produce is healthy, safe and fresh, not to mention less expensive. The art of gardening not only generates healthy foods but also may spark a new hobby that can get your body moving, relieve stress and provide some much needed quality family time.  It can also be the perfect summer project for kids!

If those benefits have you intrigued and ready to garden, keep in mind that for novice gardeners it is best to start small and not bite off more then you can chew.  You can always expand if you display a green thumb!  Your garden can be as elaborate as digging out a plot of land in your backyard or as simple as starting a few pots on your patio.  Wherever you decide to start it, make sure your plants will see lots of sun.  Do a little homework to find out which produce will grow best in your climate, as well as how to prepare the soil, use safe fertilizer and some other tricks of the trade!

When ready, pick your favorite produce, or better yet, if you have kids let them choose which veggies and/or fruits they would like to grow and at the end EAT!  Getting your entire family involved in the entire process can be a fun way to spend quality time together and teach the kids a little something about nature and good nutrition.

There are plenty of produce to choose from, but easy starters to consider include:

  • tomatoes (consists of a huge variety)
  • bell peppers
  • strawberries
  • onions
  • watermelon
  • beans
  • carrots
  • cucumbers
  • zucchini
  • squash

What you choose will depend on the type of garden you decide on and how much space you have.  You can grow most produce from seeds, or start with an already established plant.  If starting from seed, some types of produce such as tomatoes and peppers will need to be started indoors before they are ready to be planted outside.  In addition, consider growing an herb garden that you can use in cooking all year long.

Fruits and vegetables are chock full of health-promoting and disease-fighting antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients. The fresher they are the more of a nutritional punch they pack – and what can be fresher then picking them right from YOUR own garden!  Tomatoes are high in vitamin C and lycopene; peppers supply loads of vitamin C and A: Strawberries provide a punch of fiber along with vitamin C; Carrots will ensure you are getting plenty of vitamin A, K, C and fiber, and that is just to name a few!

Once you harvest your nutrition packed garden fare there is a whole host of ideas on how to enjoy them including: wrap them in your favorite La Tortilla Factory tortilla and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil; stir-fried with your favorite lean meat or fish; marinated and grilled; served in a crisp garden salad; sliced up to create a super healthy pizza!  The best part is that you get to enjoy the experience of eating fresh, healthy vegetables and fruits that you grew yourself!  Happy Gardening for your health!