8 Reasons to Plant a Garden

8 Reasons to Plant a Garden by Musings of a Northern Girl

I surprised myself last year by doing something I had never imagined I would do.   I planted a garden of edibles.

My dad loved his gardens.  When I was young, we always had a fairly good sized vegetable garden, and lots of flower beds.  My dad spent hours outside in the summer, coaxing along his babies.  His roses were beautiful and a great source of pride for him. I was particularly fond of the rhubarb and the raspberries.   Dad recently had to give up his flower beds, as he just can’t care for them anymore.

I admit, in the past, I laughed a bit at my dad.  Anytime I would visit, he would walk me around the yard, showing me what was blooming.  He was always so proud.  I didn’t really understand it then.  I do now.  I’ve had small flower beds for about seven years, and every day I find myself inspecting them, wondering if anything new is blooming.  When I find something new, I call Greg over, so he can admire it with me.  I have more of my dad in me than I thought.

Last year’s garden started with my desire to grow some herbs.  There is no direct sunlight in my house, and plants just aren’t able to survive.  So having a few herbs in pots was not an option.  Planting outside was the only way I would be able to grow herbs.

I opted to create a small garden instead of trying to grow them in planters.  As I was trying to determine the size I would need, I realized that if I was going to get Greg to create a garden space for me, I might as well create one that would be large enough to grow a few veggies too.  So my small garden (to match my small yard) was born.

Reasons to Plant a Garden

Greg used some flexible plastic edging to define my small garden.

My garden really is quite small.  It runs along the side fence, as that is the sunniest spot in our mostly shady backyard.  It’s about 10 feet long and roughly four feet wide.  It’s not much, but it’s mine.  It is big enough to grow a few things.

I love my garden.  Last year was not a great year for gardening in my city, as it was rainy and cold.  But I had some success, especially with the herbs and the lettuce.  Now I am hooked.

If you haven’t ever planted a vegetable garden, I encourage you to think about it.  You might enjoy it more than you think.

8 Reasons to Plant a Garden

8 Reasons to Plant a Garden

  1. The freshest produce possible: Want salad for dinner? Go out to the garden and pick the lettuce and the cucumber, make the salad and eat. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.
  2. The taste: The herbs and vegetables I harvested last year had the most amazing taste. When my step-daughter tasted the cucumber from the garden as she was prepping the salad, not knowing the source of the veggie, she declared it the best cucumber she had ever tasted.
  3. Organic produce: There is no need to wonder what might be on your food when you grew it yourself. It still needs a good wash to get the dirt off, but it’s nice to know there are no chemical residues on it.
  4. Save money: The cost of having your own garden is low. Even with the costs involved in building the garden last year, buying plants that were already started and some things that didn’t produce because of the cold, wet summer, I spent far less than the value of what I harvested and we ate from the garden.
  5. Show the kids how food grows: Many children today are a bit fuzzy about the source of their food, as they haven’t been exposed to food production. They might not know that carrots grow in the earth, peas are in pods or that cucumbers hang down from a vine. If you involve your kids in your gardening efforts, they will understand that food production isn’t instantaneous.
  6. A reason to spend more time outside: The garden needs tending and you want to be outside on nice days don’t you?
  7. Your favorite herbs, when you want them: Plant a few of your favorite herbs in your garden and you will have ready access to fresh herbs any time you need them. You won’t have those days when you are prepping dinner, only to realize you are out of a key herb for your dish. No need to remember to pick some up at the grocery store. I was able to harvest herbs last year until early December. Yes, I dusted some snow off the plants a couple of times, but I had what I needed.
  8. Satisfaction of producing your own food: There is something incredibly satisfying about producing concrete things. Food is not only concrete, but essential. Being able to eat the fruit of one’s labours is pretty darn cool.

Have you ever had a vegetable garden?  Will you be planting one this year?

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7 Reasons I Workout

Reasons I workoutMost of my life I have been an active person.  I love to hike and kayak, I have taken martial arts classes, and for several years I walked or biked to work about six months of the year.  In 2005 Greg and I moved to a small town and I stopped doing many of these activities.  At one point, I definitely turned into a couch potato.

Several years ago, when I had my annual physical, I had some disturbing results.  My blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels were all great, as expected.  But one thing was very out of whack.  I had done a lung capacity test, and the results were not good.  Even though I was in my late thirties, my results indicated that my lung age was 51. What? I’ve never been a smoker, how could this be?

This news was particularly upsetting because my father has lung disease.  Not only was he a heavy smoker for 35 years, but he was frequently exposed to asbestos in his workplace back in the fifties.  Seeing my dad suffer with his much diminished lung capacity has been difficult. He is not able to do small things, like bring the recycling bin to the end of the driveway, without laboured breathing and breaking out into a sweat.

My doctor told me that inactivity was the main cause for my poor lung capacity.  He recommended that I exercise regularly. You would think that would be the kick in the pants I needed to start living an active lifestyle again.  In reality, life was pretty challenging for me at that time and I couldn’t find the energy to do it.  This is ironic as the lack of energy would never be solved by remaining a couch potato.  I did what I could, small things like taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator (my office is on the sixth floor) and going for walks a couple of times a week.

workout strength trainingGreg tried unsuccessfully to motivate me to take an exercise class or join a gym.   He was working out regularly, participating in several sports and going to the gym.

A couple of years ago I finally made the decision to join a gym.  I joined because I wanted to feel better.  I opted to participate in group exercise classes rather than workout with the machines.  I wasn’t very good about going regularly, but going once a week was better than not going at all.

A couple of months ago, I finally made the commitment to myself to go three times a week.  For the most part I’ve been able to do this and I feel pretty good about it.

fitness class

Photo by Ed Yourton via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence

Why do I work out regularly?

  1. For my health. Despite the fact that I’m skinny, thin, petite, being a couch potato is just not good for me. My lung capacity test results certainly demonstrated that being thin does not necessarily mean being healthy. Regular exercise helps combat several diseases, including heart disease and arthritis. My mother has arthritis. Seeing her suffering, arthritis is a disease I want to avoid. My father also has heart disease, which increases my risk, making it even more important for me to reduce the risk factors that are within my control, such as regular exercise.

     

  2. To have more energy. It can seem counterintuitive, but expending all that energy doing vigorous exercise actually improves my overall energy level. Even though I’m spending more time at the gym than I was last year, I’m actually able to get more done at home each week. This is due to my increased energy level.

     

  3. As an outlet for stress. My life is stressful. Heck, whose isn’t? Regular workouts help relieve my stress. It helps with the tension that I carry in my neck, shoulders and back (pretty common among those who work at a computer all day). It also helps mentally as there is something very satisfying about giving it your all during a 60 minute class and testing your limits.

     

  4. To feel stronger. Yes, I know that being able to do planks or push-ups from my toes doesn’t have a real world application. But feeling stronger makes me more confident. Having confidence is always a good thing.

     

  5. So that my muscles hurt less. When I was working out only once a week, the recovery time for my muscles was two to three days. I hated being sore for days after each workout. It decreased my motivation to workout. Working out three times a week has improved that. My muscles hurt a lot less after each workout.

     

    health and fitness exercise

    Photo by Jasmine Kaloudis by CC BY-ND 2.0 licence

  6. It gives me a reason to focus on me. During a workout, the focus is all me. I pay attention to my movements, to how my muscles feel and I focus on my breathing. While working out, I never think about my to-do list or to the challenges at work. It’s all about me for those 60 minutes.

     

  7. It makes me feel good. I’ve discovered that exercise can be fun. It also puts me in a good mood. At the end of a class, I feel really good and ready to take on a variety of challenges.

 

I workout for me.  For how it makes me feel.  For how it makes me healthier.  For how it makes my life better.  The bonus?  If my life is better, it’s better for the people around me.  So everyone wins.  But I do it for myself.  I can’t do it for anyone else.

Why do you workout?

Healthy Eating: How to Easily Add More Fruits and Vegetables to Your Diet

Last week I discussed how eating more fruits and vegetables can be the starting point to healthy eating. Now I’ll share some tips that can help you find easy ways to make eating fruits and vegetables part of your routine.

fruits-veggies-healthy

I will start by identifying opportunities to include more fruits and vegetables in your daily routine. Then I will identify some obstacles to eating fruits and vegetables and explore ways to overcome them.

Opportunities to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

  • Have some fruit with breakfast, like a banana, an orange or some berries. Whole fruit packs more nutritional punch than juice, so aim for that.
  • Bring a fruit and some veggies in your lunch to eat at work. It’s easy to grab an apple, pear or a nectarine in the morning as you are getting ready. Also, carrots, bell pepper, or cucumber can be easy options for the veggie.

clip art paper bag

  • Serve at least one vegetable with dinner, regardless of what you are eating. If you don’t normally serve vegetables when you eat pasta, chili, tacos, or pizza, give it a try. You can make a salad, or serve some steamed broccoli or carrots or your favorite vegetable.
  • If you already serve a vegetable with dinner, add a second one. It could be a salad, or a roasted vegetable, or any vegetable you enjoy. It will add more variety to your dinner plate, and most people like variety.

Obstacles to Eating Fruits & Vegetables and Solutions

  • Obstacle: I forget to eat them
    • Solution: Make some of your fruits and vegetables more visible, to serve as a reminder to eat them.
      • Keep some fruit out in a bowl on the kitchen counter or table. Seeing fruit that is ready to eat can help you to remember to take some for your work lunch or when you are hungry for a snack and rustling around in the kitchen.
      • Keep a couple of vegetables (like baby carrots, broccoli or lettuce) in the main part of the fridge instead of the vegetable drawer. It will be more noticeable to you each time you open the fridge to get something.

bananas and oranges basket of fruit on display apples and oranges

  • Obstacle: I don’t have enough time in the morning to prepare vegetables for my lunch
    • Solution: Keep some vegetables on hand that are quick and easy to grab and go.
      • Buy bags of baby-cut carrots, so that you simply need to take some and put them in a baggie. Bell peppers are another option, as you can bring a whole one and slice it at lunch time.
      • Prepare a larger serving of vegetables with dinner the night before, so that there are leftovers that you can bring for lunch. Extra steamed broccoli can be eaten as a cold salad with the addition of a bit of balsamic vinaigrette. Beets with a bit of balsamic vinegar are also good cold.
      • When making salad for dinner, make extra for the next day. Don’t dress it in the salad bowl, do that on the individual plates. Undressed salad will keep well until at least the next day. Now you have some salad that you can bring to work for your lunch or you can serve it for dinner on the second day.

 

  • Obstacle: I skip lunch/don’t have time for lunch at work
    • Solution: Bring some fruit and vegetables anyway, and eat them as a morning and/or afternoon snack. They can be eaten during a 5 minute break, or while you are doing work at your desk.

 

  • Obstacle: I buy my lunch at work and there aren’t usually many vegetable options
    • Solution: Bring some fruits and vegetables to work with you anyway, and eat them when you take a morning or afternoon break.

 

Hopefully these tips and tricks will help make it easier for you to find opportunities to add more fruits and vegetables to your routine as they really can serve as the launch point to healthy eating habits.

assorted fresh vegetables

How do you incorporate fruits and vegetables into your daily food routine? What makes it challenging sometimes to do so?

Want to Eat Healthy? Try This

Do you want to eat healthy, but don’t know how to start?   Eat more fruits and vegetables: especially vegetables.   If you already eat some, eat more.  If you don’t eat any, start eating some.  It’s that simple to start.

assorted fresh vegetables

You might think this is too simple.  Doesn’t eating healthy mean changing your diet completely and giving things up?

Trying to dramatically change what you eat and how you eat in a short period of time is one way to guarantee that it will not be sustainable.  If changes are made gradually, you have a much greater chance of enjoying long-term success.

Fruits and vegetables are nutrient dense foods, packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre.  Eating more of them will help you fuel your body with good things that will help keep it going.

choosing healthy fruits and veggies

How can the simple action of adding more fruits and vegetables to your plate result in healthier eating habits? Adding fruits and vegetables to your daily eating routine is easy.  It doesn’t require giving anything up.

If you start eating more fresh fruits and vegetables (or some if you currently don’t eat any), with time you will begin to enjoy eating them more than you do currently, and you will be able to eat even more of them.  As you increase the amount of fruits and veggies, other food items, likely less healthy options, will gradually be displaced, because the increased fibre intake from the vegetables and fruit will leave you feeling more satisfied and full.  So you won’t feel deprived.

As you eventually start to increase your consumption of fruits and veggies, and decrease your consumption of less healthy, more processed foods, you might be surprised to find that you don’t enjoy the more processed foods as much.  When you eat whole foods, which are bursting with great flavours that are real, those other foods, which are not as flavourful or fresh, become less appealing.

The transition away from a diet heavy in processed foods and towards one made up mostly of whole foods began about three years ago for my family.  It started was when my 16-year-old step-daughter moved in with us.  She kept asking for more vegetables.  Who has ever heard of a teenager that wants to eat vegetables?  Yet, that’s what we had.  As I have said before, vegetables were an afterthought that often didn’t make it to our dinner plate.  It was a conscious decision on my part to add more vegetables to our meals.

The extra vegetables started displacing other foods on our dinner plate.  With more vegetables, the portions of rice and pasta and meat became smaller.  I discovered that I actually like vegetables.  This was a revelation, as I have always been a picky eater.

Processed foods and fast food just weren’t as appealing as they had been in the past.  I no longer enjoyed the greasy taste and smell of fast food or the lack of flavour and texture of so much of the processed “just pop it in the oven to heat it up” food that we had been eating.  The fresh, crisp, bright flavours of the food I was preparing were better.

It was surprising to me that fast food was no longer appealing.  I had been happily eating it several times a week for a couple of decades.   Now I eat fast food less than once a month.

The amazing part of this change to me is that I didn’t have the goal to stop eating fast food or processed food.  My goal was simply to provide the vegetables my step-daughter wanted.  Now our meals are mostly healthy ones. Our eating habits have been transformed because we were exposed to the great flavours of real food.  And I don’t feel like I gave anything up.

So now you know the starting point to healthy eating.  Eat more fruits and vegetables.  Next week I will share some tips on how to do that.

Eating Healthy IS Affordable

Do you have to choose between cost or healthy?

Making healthy food choices is something that has grown increasingly important to me.  After all, food is what fuels my body.  I want my body to serve me well for years to come, so I want to treat it well and eating in a healthy way is a part of that.

I often read and hear the statement that eating healthy food isn’t an option because it is “too expensive”.  This always surprises me.  I am not sure why statement is made, but I’m guessing the person hasn’t really compared costs.  The statement that healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food just isn’t true.  We don’t have to choose between healthy eating or spending less. Eating healthy is affordable.

I define “eating healthy” as eating whole foods, so eating minimally processed foods.  To me, eating healthy is also about the proportions of different types of foods on my plate.  In general, vegetables and fruits take up the biggest amount of space on my plate, and meat portions are small, about 3 to 4 ounces.

You might think that my statement that eating healthy is affordable is just my opinion.  It’s not.  I will demonstrate just how affordable eating healthy really is by doing some price comparisons.

The healthy food plates (i.e. minimally processed, whole food) are real meals that I have prepared for my family in the past month.  They are typical meals for us.  The processed food examples are items that are widely available in grocery stores, and the portion sizes are based on the portion size provided on by the manufacturer on the food label.  In the comparisons, I have kept the type of meat the same within the pairs, as the cost of meat is typically the largest part of the meal’s cost.

Price Comparisons

All prices are in Canadian dollars.  The costs of the whole food meals are calculated using the real prices that I paid for all the ingredients.  The costs of the processed foods are based on recent sale prices from local flyers, except for the stuffed chicken breasts, as the regular price of that store brand is significantly lower than even the sale prices of all the other brands.

Example 1

cost of processed food meal

Processed Food Meal: Marc Angelo pork souvlaki (1 skewer or 2.8 oz), Betty Crocker scalloped potatoes (1/2 cup) and Ziggy’s oil & vinegar coleslaw (1/2 cup)

Cost: $1.93

healthy eating options are affordable

Healthy Food Meal: Pork tenderloin teriyaki (3.5 oz) with maple ginger carrots (1/3 cup), steamed broccoli (1 cup) and jasmine rice (1/2 cup)

Cost: $1.55

Note:  If I reduced the amount of pork on the plate to 2.8 oz, to match the amount from the processed meal, the cost per portion would be $1.39.

Example 2

processed food is expensive

Processed Food Meal:  VH Steamers Shanghai ginger beef

Cost: $2.99

beef stir fry

Healthy Food Meal:  Beef stir-fry with Jasmine rice

Cost:  $1.27

Example 3

Stuffed Chicken and Pasta Meal

Processed Food Meal:  Compliments stuffed chicken breast (1 breast, 5 oz) and Knorr Sidekicks pasta (1/2 cup)

Cost:  $2.33

affordable chicken souvlaki with vegetables

Healthy Food Meal:  Chicken souvlaki (4 oz), carrots with butter (1/2 cup), beets (1/2 cup) and wheat berry salad (1/2 cup)

Cost:  $2.14

When looking at the price comparisons, note the fact that my plates, made up of whole foods (healthy food) are not only less expensive, but have more food/larger quantity of food, than the portions of processed food.  The costs of processed food would be higher if a person eats more than what the manufacturer identifies as one portion, which is the amount that I used in my price calculations.

In particular, when I hear/read complaints of healthy food being expensive, people often state that fresh fruits and vegetables are far too expensive.  Yet, from the examples above, you can see that meals made up of processed foods are cost more than my plates, even though the processed meals don’t include many veggies and my plates include at least two types of vegetables, which equal at least two portions of vegetables (1/2 cup equals one portion) for each meal.

Maybe you’ve never sat down to calculate the cost per portion of your meals. If you haven’t and eating healthy food, whole, minimally processed food is part of your goals, this is good news.  Healthy food isn’t only good for your body, but it’s good for your wallet too.  Eating healthy is affordable.

What obstacles, if any, do you face when trying to eat healthy?  Share them in the comments below.