In honor of Earth Day, let’s recognize how the Earth provides foods to keep us nourished and fed.
Gardeners tend to have an appreciation for what the Earth has to offer, but that may be especially true right now — as the world grapples with the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Fears have caused people to panic shop and hoard food.
People who grow their own food don’t have such worries.
So, even if you aren’t yet a gardener, perhaps the recent times we’ve been living through will serve as a motivator for you to consider taking it up.
Having a diet that consists primarily of foods that came from a plant is helpful to maintain good health.
It’s hard to get the recommended amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber if you mostly consume processed prepackaged foods. If you’re doing that, you’re likely consuming too much sodium, fat and sugar.
Food from the ground, such as herbs, spices, beans, nuts, whole grains, vegetables and fruit are full of nutrients. They’re considered nutrient-dense foods because they have a high nutrition content, with few calories.
A calorie-dense diet, on the other hand, is one that has lots of calories and little nutrition.
For instance, think of the choice between a sugary soda vs. a homemade fruit smoothie.
Your body will get lots of calories from the soda, but negligible nutrition.
A fruit smoothie, on the other hand, has much more nutrition. To make one, use a small amount of 100% juice, some plain flavored yogurt, and various fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, bananas, kale and so on.
Or consider the difference between a doughnut and a bowl of oatmeal (no sugar added), mixed with fruit.
The doughnut provides plenty of calories, sugar and fat. The oatmeal with fruit provides fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Some options are less obvious.
When choosing packaged foods, be sure to read the ingredients.
Here’s a tip: Look for packaged foods with a short list of ingredients, and ingredients that are easy to pronounce.
Also, be sure to check the nutrition content on the nutrition facts label.
Be sure to keep in mind that even when a meal starts off healthy, it can quickly become less healthy by heaping on toppings containing fat, sodium, sugar and calories.
One way to add flavor to your foods while skipping all of the extra calories is to use herbs and spices.
So, skip the sauces, gravies or dressings, and use herbs and spices to add flavor.
Here are some popular herb/spice combinations, recommended by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, for livening up common meals:
- For beef: Try bay leaf, marjoram, nutmeg, sage, thyme, onion powder or pepper
- For lamb: Try curry powder, garlic, mint or rosemary
- For pork: Try onion powder, garlic powder, sage, pepper or oregano
- For veal: Try bay leaf, curry powder, ginger, marjoram or oregano
- For chicken: Try ginger, marjoram, oregano, paprika, poultry seasoning, rosemary, sage, tarragon or thyme
- For fish: Try curry powder, dill, dry mustard, marjoram, paprika or pepper
And now, for some popular combinations for vegetables that are currently in season:
- Carrots: Try cinnamon, cloves, dill, ginger, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage
- Corn: Try cumin, curry powder, onion, paprika, parsley
- Potatoes: Try dill, garlic, onion, paprika, parsley, sage
- Summer squash: Try cloves, curry powder, marjoram, nutmeg, rosemary, sage
- Tomatoes: Try basil, bay leaf, dill, marjoram, onion, oregano, parsley, pepper
Here are a couple of tips.
Herbs (the leafy part of the plant) and spices (the root, bark, stem, etc.) can be fresh or dried; just know that if a ratio calls for one and you substitute for the other, the amount will vary.
Keep in mind that 1 tablespoon of cut fresh herbs is the equivalent of one teaspoon of crumbled dried herbs and ¼ teaspoon to ½ teaspoon of ground dried herbs.
Also, remember there really isn’t a right or wrong way to flavor your food. So, add spices and herbs, based on your personal preferences — and enjoy!
By Shari Bresin
Shari Bresin is the Family & Consumer Science Agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Pasco County.
Here’s a nice healthy snack you can make for the kids (or yourself) as they do school, or you work at home.
Pop popcorn kernels on your stove, or in a microwavable silicone popcorn popper.
Instead of the typical toppings of salt, butter or cheese — try topping the popcorn with some olive oil and dried herbs or spices.
Some possible topping flavor combinations include:
- Rosemary and ground pepper
- Garlic powder and onion powder
- Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes
- Cilantro and lime juice
- Basil, oregano and red chili powder
Published April 22, 2020