Spring into Your Nutritious Garden

Having a garden to grow our own food in can enrich our lives in many ways.

Growing fruit and vegetables increases access and consequently our intake of these food high in fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants giving you all a huge range of health benefits and reducing your risk of many lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

As a great weight bearing activity and being outside soaking up those sun rays for vitamin D you can be sure to keep your bones strong, muscles strong, limbs limber and mind happy too.

Home food gardening also greatly reduces our food miles, carbon footprint, food waste as well as the cost of food. So many pluses!

Becoming a good gardener and having a productive food garden is not something that just happens overnight. It takes many years as there is so much to think about, do and many mistakes to be made to learn from.

Learning about how food grows really helps us know what we are eating, appreciate it and even love cooking.  Slow down and experience the full sensations of the garden.  From the different textures and moisture of the soil, water, plants and produce to the smells and taste of it all.

For beginners, starting out with a couple of pots is a great idea to learn about plants and get in the habit of looking after plants. I like to recommend pots with water reservoirs built in and to mulch to reduce evaporation of water and nutrients, meaning more productivity and less failures. 

When confident to move on, build up pot numbers and move to a bigger veggie patch or 2, start a compost, keep worms, chickens, bees or even install an aquaponics system for fish. The sky is the limit. And if you don’t have enough space joining your local community garden can be an option.

Just like our gut needs a good mix of nutrients and fibres for a good microbiota, the garden needs a good mix plants to avoid any imbalances and avoid any one pest taking over. Just like alcohol and some drugs can wipe out the good and bad guys in our gut so do herbicides and pesticides in the garden. So learning about companion planting, crop rotation, organic gardening, natural pest control and having a range of different plants and flowers helps to keep a good thriving ecosystem and a higher yield.  Great flowers to grow include marigolds, nasturtium, lavender and any herbs that flower, most do.

To start with easy to grow herbs are parsley, rosemary, mint, oregano and thyme. Easy to grow vegetables are lettuce, shallot, beans including snow peas, sugar snap peas, beetroot and silverbeet which grow and can be harvested all year round, as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicum, beetroot, potato, sweet potato and carrot.

If you happen to have excess produce you can take it along to your local Produce Swap- Long Jetty, Dooralong, Matcham Holgate, Woy Woy. Meet some new people and learn about what they grow and what a diverse range of foods that can be grown in your local area.  Pick up someone else’s surplus harvest, seeds, plants or home-made preserves.  If you don’t have anything to offer from your garden you can simply bring along some empty jars, egg cartons, baskets or even some coffee grounds from a local café with some bags or containers to distribute.

I think the best home garden meal is a salad. Salads can include more than just your standard lettuce, tomato and cucumber- try a mix of finely sliced cabbage or fennel, grated carrot and beetroot, green beans, snow peas or sugar snap peas, capsicum, corn, shallot, herbs and even edible flowers like violets and peppery nasturtiums. Add some roasted sweet potato or steamed corn on the cob, home laid chicken eggs or nuts and you have yourself the freshest, tastiest and nutritious meal you can get in town.

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Help The Whole Family Eat Better Plastic Free

As a dietitian I am excited by Plastic Free July.  Eating a diet without having any form of plastic packaging can be a challenge but it can definitely be a healthier one which means our food supply will be more sustainable for future generations. 

Most of us have already swapped our single use shopping bags, coffee cups and drink bottles for reusable ones and are not forgetting them so often now which is fantastic.

I believe the next step after this is to avoid plastic packaged fruit and vegetables.  It has been quite a while since I have bought produce in a net, plastic wrapped and even used a plastic bag. I simply refuse, go without and buy something else instead.  The most environmentally friendly bags are cloth bags made from pre-loved material such as sheets or clothes as this prevents these items going to land fill and avoids the manufacture of more new stuff and the carbon footprint associated. 

Before I built up my supply of cloth bags I reused the standard plastic ones so at least they got a few more uses before they broke.  I find that the reusable plastic net bags sold now are not made to last as one of my plastic net bags is starting to break after only 1 year.  Another reason I like to use cloth bags is because it makes my shopping trip bright and colourful, almost fun.  Some of the fabrics I use bring back fond memories and it helps me put more care in about what I buy and be mindful during the shopping experience. 

I love hand selecting my fruit and vegetables, even getting the ones people are less likely to buy, cracked carrots, scrapped zucchinis and funny shaped produce so there is even less wastage. I have always grown up eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and I know that is because we always had so many around all the time.

Using unique bags can also help getting kids involved in the shopping process especially if they have their own set.  It keeps their busy fingers out of trouble and makes them feel they part of meal times.  With their curiosity it is great for kids to explore and learn about fruit and vegetables- learning when they are ripe, how to care for them- do you put it in the fruit bowl or fridge or is it time for the freezer? Feeling the texture, weight, firmness and aroma at different ripening stages is important learn to eat a wide range of fruit and vegetables as they grow.

Fruit and vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and fibre and are powerfully protective against chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They help keep our bowel motions soft and regular, unlock and give us energy, support our immune system, brain function and good mental health.

Out of the essential food groups, fruit and vegetables have the most variety in colours, textures, sizes, shapes and tastes and all these qualities change if they are cooked in different ways and change throughout the chewing and eating process. With so much to learn to enjoy, continuing to teach our kids to eat fruit and vegetables as they grow will set them up with healthy habits for life. 

I recommend having at least 2 sets of re-usable shopping bags in the household or car so that they are not forgotten. Sticky notes can also be helpful placed in the ideal location to help you remember and get into the habit of taking your bags. 

If you are wanting to continue to reduce your single use plastic you can also use cloth bread bags and buy your bread from the bakery.  Linen is the best fabric to use but if you just have cotton simply place your bread, cloth and all, in a bread box or container to avoid it drying out. Even if you do forget your bread bag you can also take back your bread tags and twist ties to the bakery for reuse and use the bread bag as your bin liner or place in the Redcycle bins.

Then if you are super keen to keep up your plastic free goal, taking jars and containers to the whole food shop, butcher, deli, fish shop and take-aways is the next step.  Trashless take-away is a great website to find a store near you that promotes taking your own container.

To get more involved in your community you can join Boomerang Bags to help make reusable cloth shopping bags for your community. No sewing experience is needed as there are plenty of non-sewing jobs and people are always willing to show you how it is done.

For Plastic Free July Bright Diets will be selling Bright Bags. Unique, upcycled cloth shopping, bread and fruit and vegie bags to brighten up your shopping trip.

Over the next few months to years you will notice a huge change in the amount of landfill waste in your household bin, find your family’s eating to be more fresh and wholesome and I bet you will feel very proud indeed!

Bright Diets is selling Bright Bags- upcycled reusable cloth bags for your shopping trip. Call 0407492278 or email brightdiets@gmail.com if interested in purchasing from our range of patterns and sizes.

Happy Plastic Free July!

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Eat Like an Eco-Warrior

Today more than ever we are more aware of our impact on the Earth and the eco-friendly movement has well and truly taken off.

We know that what we eat has a huge effect on our planet from deforestation of rainforests- the lungs of our Earth, to carbon emissions made from the production, processing and transport of our food, the use of chemicals to grow food and last but not least all the food and packaging wastage along the way.

Sometimes it can be hard to know where one is to start to even try to make a dent in the big problems of our food system.

As eating a healthy diet is actually better for the planet and your health this can be the best place to start. 

1.  Stick to the 5 core food groups: These healthy foods have protective effects against heart disease, overweight, diabetes and some cancers. 

·                    Wholegrains

·                    Fruit (Go for 2 a day)

·                    Vegetables (Go for 5 a day)

·                    Iron rich protein foods: eggs, legumes (beans, lentils), fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, tofu (limit to 1-2 serves per day) lean meat, poultry.

·                    Calcium rich protein foods: Low fat dairy products, soy alternatives, fish with bones. (Aim for 2-3 serves per day) 

2.  Cut down on those ‘Discretionary choices’ AKA ‘sometimes foods’ such as fried food, chips, sweet foods, chocolates, lollies, biscuits, pastries.  These are highly processed, often plastic packaged, nutrient poor and add to increasing risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  Is it a coincidence that these foods are not good for our environment and not good for our health?

Avoid impulse buying of highly processed over packaged ‘sometimes’ foods. Be prepared when leaving the house.

·                    Eat beforehand

·                    Take snack foods such as fruit, yoghurt, cheese and biscuits or nuts

·                    Pack lunch for work or school using re-usable containers

3. Fresh produce from the green grocer or farmer’s market are usually cheaper, fresher, hence more nutritious, taste better and lasts longer.

·                    Buy minimally processed and packaged foods and take your own green bags even for fruit, vegetables and bread or containers for meat/ deli items.

·                    Choose products with short ingredients lists. 

4.  Even Fresher! Cut out the transport between harvest and plate.

·                    Start a vegetable garden.  Easy ones to grow are tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, capsicum, silver beet and beans.

·                    Join your local community garden and produce swap group.

5.  Drink mainly tap water and reuse drink containers. 

Your body does not need the sugar, artificial colours, flavours or sweeteners found in processed beverages and the environment definitely does not need the carbon emissions from making all these extra ingredients or the plastic!

6. Get out and get active, turn off the screen and move!

Movement is protective against many of those chronic diseases, helps you relax, keeps you in a happy mood and also makes you sleep better!

·                    Limit the use of your car – walk or ride your bike.

·                    Go for a jog or stroll, enter and train for a fun run/walk.

·                    Give family gifts of adventure like kayaking, stand up paddleboard classes or walking tours.

Join me at the Central Coast Harvest Festival Eat Like an Eco-Warrior Workshop to learn more about eating better for the planet, how to make changes to your eating and become an advocate for making changes in our food system and community.

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Manic Mealtimes to Marvelous Mealtimes

A universal concern amongst parents is what their kids eat and how to get them to eat that healthy balanced diet.   Often it is difficult to know just how much kids need to eat as their appetites change from day to day or week to week and their food preferences can also annoyingly change all of a sudden too.  Sometimes we want that overnight quick fix but in reality it just takes time, patience and perseverance.  Here are a few strategies focus on to keep your sanity and help them on their healthy way.

Consider the whole diet

-          Think about their eating over the whole day or week rather than for that day.

-          Offer 5-6 small meals over the day to give your child plenty of opportunity to eat a range of different foods from the 5 food groups.

-          Offer water as the main drink as sweet drinks can fill small tummies up, ruin appetites and natural appetite regulation.

-          If they don’t like cooked vegetables try vegetable sticks perhaps with dip as snacks or with the meal, soups, vegetable juice or even fruit as an alternative until they learn to like eating their veggies.

-          Always provide foods that kids will eat in addition to foods that you want them to learn to eat.

Eat at the table together

-          Mealtimes are not only a time to eat but a time to socialise. Creating happy memories at mealtimes help kids associate eating as being a positive experience.  Kids are more likely to try something new when they are calm and in a happy mood at the table.  If focussing on food creates conflict best to change the subject and focus on something more fun and interesting.

-          Children learn by seeing what is going on.  When parents eat with their kids they are showing their enjoyment of foods so kids learn to eat these foods too in time with enough exposure.

Have Fun with Food

-          Encourage your child to enjoy interacting with a wide variety of foods. Start a vegetable garden, involve them in meal choices, shopping and cooking.

-          Make some quirky creations and invent elaborate stories to capture their interest. Bugs and butterflies, cars and boats, faces and flowers. Chop things up in different ways and just let them play.

Eat mindfully

-          Remove distractions like TV and other screens and focus on the sensations of the meal.  Talk about the smells, textures and tastes and why you like certain foods.  Tell stories about fond memories of growing, cooking and eating foods when your were young.

-          Encourage listening to one’s natural hunger and satiety signals.  This is an important skill that is commonly lost when we eat for reasons other than for true hunger.  Avoid offering food as a reward, distraction or if they get upset. Use other rewards, activities and comfort strategies.  Appetites will change depending on activity and energy levels, growth and how much they have been eating. Trusting your child’s natural hunger is the best way for them to know how much to eat is just enough and to avoid eating more than what their body needs.   

 

If your child is aged 2-5 years old they would love reading about how Pierre learns to eat a rainbow. 

Pierre Learns To Eat A Rainbow is a story about how Pierre, the pear, learns to eat a wider range of foods. It is for both children and parents to help them through that fussy eating phase we all go through. It is a one of a kind rustic creation that little eyes and fingers would love exploring the pages of and with the help of their parents learning about all the wonderful different types of foods there are to take pleasure in eating. It is the ultimate book for the next generation to care for their world, made mostly from up-cycled materials and only available electronically through Amazon. Have fun reading!