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What You Need to Know About Cooking From Your Own Garden

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Few things are as rewarding as enjoying your own harvest. You've spent time and effort to create a garden full of healthy vegetables -- and now you're ready to enjoy it. Cooking from your own garden is a healthy habit, but figuring out how to use it all before it goes bad is a constant challenge even for small gardeners.

Follow these tips to make the most of the healthy opportunity to cook from your own garden.

  • Plant what you know you can grow and eat. What comes to your kitchen starts in garden planning. When thinking about what you'd like to put in your garden, first look at your typical diet. Are there any foods you eat regularly that you could plant in your garden? Are there any foods you're interested in trying? Know that you may end up with a lot of what you plant, so choosing food that you know you already enjoy is a smart way to not only save on groceries, but also ensure your harvest won't go to waste. And of course, if there are vegetables you don't like and don't plan to eat, don't plant them.
  • Grow food you enjoy at peak freshness. A fresh, ripe tomato straight from the garden just can't be beat even at the most upscale, fresh focused grocery store. When you're planning your garden, think about foods that you want to eat especially fresh from the garden.
  • Plan meals around your harvest. Consider your harvest schedule and when you can expect certain vegetables to be ready to eat. When you're meal planning, take into account what's coming out of your garden. You may have to get creative and expand your typical menu to incorporate what's coming out of your garden. Consider salads, roasted vegetables, even smoothies. A glut of tomatoes might mean it's time to make spaghetti sauce or salsa. Tons of potatoes? Baked potatoes for dinner might hit the spot.Cooking Light and Farm Flavor are great resources for finding garden fresh recipes you can put to work in your own kitchen.
  • Put off picking until you have a plan. If vegetables look like they're almost ready, start thinking about how you'll use them. But if you're not sure yet, think about leaving them in the garden just a little bit longer, assuming they won't get too ripe. That way, you can take a beat to think about how you're going to use up your harvest while keeping it where it will be freshest: out in the garden.
  • Preserve what you can't eat in time. Even the most efficient planning and cooking can still leave you with too much to eat before produce goes bad. Consider pickling and canning so that you can enjoy produce from your garden year round, not just when it's fresh from the ground. You might consider freezing some of your produce, too.
  • Give away or trade what can't be eaten or preserved. Even after eating and preserving what you can, you may still be left with more than you can handle. Don't be shy about giving away fresh produce to friends, family, and neighbors. You might become the most popular house on the block. But if you're continually finding that you have more of a particular vegetable than you can handle, consider scaling back on that crop next year.

Eating from your own garden can be healthy, fun, and inexpensive. Plan ahead in garden design and in your menu so you can make the most of the food in your own backyard.

Susan Austin is a family research specialist with Family Living Today. A mother of three and small business owner in Texas, Austin spends her days juggling work and family life -- sometimes expertly, sometimes not.

 
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