For easy meals, plant favourite ‘menu gardens’
Meal prep will be simpler, cheaper and healthier
If you’re looking for fresh meal ideas, consider planting “menu gardens.”
Grow a few of your favourite foods together in pots or raised beds, following a theme — saladbar fixings, for example, or pizza toppings, or juicing ingredients.
Meal preparation will be simpler, cheaper and healthier.
“Even if you have land to grow a large garden, one advantage of growing a few edible plants in a small space or container close to the kitchen is that it makes it easier to pull together a fresh recipe,” said Patrice Powers-Barker, an extension educator with Ohio State University.
“The entire family meal doesn’t have to be created from scratch,” she said.
“Make some of your easiest go-to recipes and then dress them up with fresh herbs on top, or add fresh seasonal vegetables to your traditional side salad.”
Be creative. Add, subtract or substitute the edibles you grow in much the same way you modify food recipes.
Some specialty gardens that can spice up family meal planning:
Salad bar garden
Combine leaf lettuce, sprouts, kale, arugula, romaine, baby carrots, cucumbers, spinach and parsley in a single garden plot. Or go Asian and plant bok choy, red mustard, coriander, radish and Thai basil.
“Even though basil is probably the most popular leaf to add to pesto, it can be made with all different kinds of plants: parsley, mustard greens, tomatoes,” Powers-Barker said. Don’t forget the garlic.
Group cherry tomatoes with onions, oregano, basil, bell peppers, fennel and parsley. The possibilities are endless.
Plant some tomatoes in a large pot with cilantro, jalapeno and lettuce.
Carrots, cabbage, watercress, Swiss chard, cucumbers, sweet potato, celery, zucchini and mint. Use the mint for garnish.
Cucumbers, mustard, cabbage, beets and dill.
Stir fry garden
Snow peas, Chinese mustard, green onions, bok choy, baby carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli.
Three sisters garden
A traditional Native American grouping of corn, beans and squash. They complement one another nutritionally as well as when grown together on the same hill.
Culinary herb garden
Dill, thyme, fennel, tarragon, oregano, mint, parsley, sage, basil and rosemary.
Mint, passionflower, rose hips, camomile, echinacea, lavender and basil among a great many others.
Pumpkins, squash and corn. Want more? “How about a Just Jammin’ garden with strawberries and raspberries?” said Dixie Sandborn, an extension specialist with Michigan State University.
That would be a more permanent garden.
Or, she added, “maybe a kaleidoscope garden using vegetables with unusual colours?
Carrots, eggplant of several colours, tomatoes — red, yellow and orange striped.
“’One potato, two potato’ or some other catchy name for a potato garden featuring several varieties of potatoes grown above ground in wire or barrels,” she said.
Menu gardens can be fun for families with kids, said PowersBarker. But their appeal is broader than that: “As older adults transition from serving many people to making recipes for one or two, a small garden can be a nice way to prepare meals in smaller batches.”
Menu planning can be easier if it starts in the garden. Group your plants according to how they fit in a menu. Pumpkins and squash can be grown together in Halloween gardens; grouping makes it easier to gather them for display or the table.
A three sisters garden is a traditional grouping of corn, squash and beans that thrive when planted together. The corn supports the bean vines as they grow, the beans pull nitrogen into the soil and the squash shades the soil and smothers weeds.