Not like Mom cooks — but, fun foods make healthy choices great eating

Fresh vegetables and herbs, grown at home, bought from area farmers or in the fresh produce aisle are the best choices for healthy eating.

It’s easy to slide back into bad habits when trying to eat healthy, especially if weeks of eating out with friends, attending festivals and seasonal parties has brought a smorgasbord of great and favorite foods to the plate. Learning to convert the palate to new cooking styles or seasoning regimens takes time and experimentation at home in the kitchen, or with selective dining. However, fresh herbs can transform the flavor of favorite recipes and add a fresh spark to one’s palate when used during cooking or as a garnish. People who may not have the space or the inclination to create an outdoor garden should know that many herbs can be grown successfully indoors. Small in size compared to outdoor gardens, indoor herb gardens can be grown on a windowsill and can be housed in decorative containers, serving double-duty as living centerpieces on kitchen or dining room tables.

How does someone start an indoor herb garden?

Find a container that fits your decor. Punch holes in the bottom, if necessary, to allow for proper drainage. Line the bottom with gravel or perlite to help with drainage, then top with potting soil. Position small herb plants and fill in with extra potting soil. Sage, thyme, dill and rosemary are good starters, but any herbs will do. Add a top-dressing of peat moss to assist with water retention and help the plants thrive. Place the container in your desired location and enjoy the welcoming aromas and fresh herbs at your fingertips.

What flowers are beautiful in the garden and edible?

Marigolds are just one of the many flowers that can be consumed. Cultivating beautiful blooms is a popular pastime for gardeners near and far. While gazing at a yard full of vibrant colors or enjoying the aroma of freshly cut blooms is enough for many gardeners, others may want to embrace a long-enduring tradition — growing edible flowers. Cooking with edible flowers is a trend that has endured for centuries. Today, nothing may make a meal seem more gourmet than the inclusion of flower petals in the recipe. Before delving into the expanded world of cooking using edible blooms, some notes of caution should first be mentioned. Avoid flowers that may have been sprayed with fungicides, herbicides or insecticides. To verify safety, only use edible flowers grown specifically for this purpose, not flowers picked from roadsides or from landscapes. Remember that not all flowers are edible. Some can be poisonous or cause severe gastrointestinal upset when consumed. That means all flowers should be carefully researched prior to experimenting with them in the kitchen.

This list of varieties are deemed safe but double-check against allergies and any interactions with medications prior to use.

Allium — These are blossoms which include garlic, chives and leeks and can be used to add flavor to foods.

Basil blossoms — Pinch off the blossoms of basil, which come in colors from white to lavender, in order to stimulate growth of the leaves of the plant. The blossoms are more mild than the leaves but can be tasty as well.

Calendula — Sometimes known as “poor man’s saffron,” this yellow flower in the marigold family can taste like saffron when it’s sautéed. Uncooked, calendula can have spicy notes that add variety to salads and garnishes.

Chamomile — This plant features small, daisy-type flowers that can be used in treats and teas.

Cilantro — The flowers from the cilantro plant can be eaten, just as the leaves and the seeds that form the spice coriander.

Fennel — Just like the plant itself, the flowers of fennel have a subtle licorice flavor.

Hibiscus — Blooms are famously used in hibiscus tea, tart and cranberry-like.

Lavender — The sweet, perfumed taste of lavender works in cocktails and desserts.

Marigolds — These tiny flowers may be used in vegetable gardens to repel animal and insect pests. Blossoms have a fresh citrus taste that can be used in cooking.

Pansies — These vibrant early bloomers can take on a wintergreen flavor and look beautiful when glazed on cakes and other desserts.

Roses — Rose petals can lend a subtle, fruity flavor to many different foods.

Zucchini — The blossoms from this squash, which have a slightly sweet taste, can be enjoyed in many different ways including battered and fried or stuffed with herbs and cheeses.

What are some fast-growing vegetables for the impatient gardener?

Stepping outdoors and picking a freshly grown vegetable is a joy for many homeowners who like to garden. Growing vegetables at home offers many benefits. In addition to providing a worthwhile hobby that can increase physical activity, having control over homegrown produce can reduce exposure to a number of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. This translates into foods that are healthier for the body and the environment. Gardens also can help the average person save money on often costly produce, all the while reducing gardeners’ carbon footprints. Waiting to reap the rewards of a harvest can try the patience of those accustomed to satisfying their needs on a moment’s notice. This is especially true for young gardeners who have grown up in a society that increasingly provides immediate gratification. While tomatoes, peppers and watermelons require long growing seasons, many other fruits and vegetables grow much faster. This offers plenty of bounty in a short time for those who may have gotten a later start on their gardens or simply don’t have the patience to wait on the more time-consuming growers.

Arugula — Some people call arugula “rocket” because of just how quickly it grows. The green has been growing in popularity as a salad starter or vegetable side dish. Simply cut the leaves when they are large enough and as needed for recipes. Other fast-growing greens include kale, chard mustard greens and watercress.

Radishes — Typically ready for harvest about one month after planting makes them among the fastest-growing vegetables around.

Snap beans — Beans can be steamed, added to salads or eaten raw with dips. They’re often a summer staple. Some of the fastest producers are ready to harvest in about 50 days.

Turnips — Both the roots and the leaves of turnips can be eaten, and this old-fashioned vegetable makes a great addition to soups and stews. Because the plants tend to be tolerant across many gardening zones, they’re handy and easy-to-grow even as the weather cools.

Squash — Don’t mistake the squash in the garden for cucumber. Both look similar but green squash, or zucchini, can be much more versatile. Zucchini can be grilled, baked, sautéed, stuffed, fried, and even turned into noodles.

Green onions — To add fresh flavor to foods, green onions (scallions) grow much more quickly than it takes onion bulbs to mature.

Speak with a garden center expert to learn more about which vegetables, fruits and herbs grow quickly and will thrive in a home garden.

What are some good foods for heart health versus some bad?

A variety of foods are considered helpful for maintaining a strong and healthy heart and cardiovascular system, while others can contribute to conditions that may eventually lead to cardiovascular disease or cardiac arrest. Moderation enables a person to sample a little of everything, but not to make any one food a habit.

GOOD FOODS — Tree nuts can help lower LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) and improve HDL (the good stuff) and also are a filling source of protein and other healthy nutrients. Whole grains contain complex carbohydrates for energy, as well as protein and fiber. Fatty fish, cold-water, fatty fish, such as halibut, herring and salmon, contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are heart-healthy, and also can be found in walnuts, flaxseed and some soy products. Beans and other legumes are an excellent source of protein and can be a stand-in for meats that are high in saturated fat, contain cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber and folate. Yogurt as reported by researchers in Japan, found yogurt may protect against gum disease that can elevate a person’s risk for heart disease and it can counteract bad bacteria and boost immunity. Raisins contain antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation often linked to heart disease and other debilitating conditions. Fresh produce also is a good source of antioxidants.

POOR FOODS — Fried foods have little nutritional value and tend to be high in saturated and trans fats. Sausage or processed meats and red meats are best limited in consumption. Added sugars can increase blood pressure and triglyceride levels and often hide in foods that you would not associate with the sweetener. Plus, many people unwittingly consume too much sugar simply through sugar-sweetened beverages and ready-to-eat cereals. Leave the salt shaker in the spice cabinet and opt for herbs for flavoring. High-sodium diets often are to blame for hypertension, a major risk factor for heart disease. Dairy can contain artery-clogging saturated fat particularly the full-fat versions. Butter, sour cream and milk can be problematic when people overindulge. Opt for low-fat dairy when possible.

It is important to eat good food in order to be healthy and fit. Your body and health will be conditioned according to the type of food you eat and the amount you intake each day.

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