When asked for her recommendation on how many servings of vegetables a person should consume on any given day, Staff Sgt. Vanessa Arthur doesn’t hesitate to respond.
“When considering nutrition, we like to combine fruits and vegetables into one group,” said Arthur, Schriever’s Health and Wellness Center diet therapist. “People should consume eight servings of fruit and vegetables daily.”
She’s not surprised, however, that many people eat less than the recommended amount and she’s pretty sure she knows why.
“I think a lot of people may have had a bad experience with vegetables when they were children, most of the time, because the vegetables they ate were overcooked. It’s a common practice. People just cook their vegetables too long. They should be slightly crisp or crunchy, not soggy or mushy. Oh, and they’re better fresh.”
Arthur holds fond childhood memories of her grandmother’s garden. She remembers hosing down the raspberries that snaked up the side of her grandmother’s house, then plucking and eating the fresh berries straight from the vine. During other trips, she would collect collard and mustard greens from the garden and wait anxiously as her grandmother prepared them for that night’s dinner.
March is National Nutrition Month. Besides imploring Airmen and families to consume more fruits and vegetables daily, she argues that parents can help mold their children’s future eating habits by undertaking a home garden.
Larry Stebbins, director of Pikes Peak Urban Gardens, a local nonprofit group centered on helping communities build and maintain their own gardens, says people can literally get their hands dirty by starting small.
“Folks who are apprehensive about starting a garden, or who want to try out the experience before committing to something big, can begin by planting in a portable container,” he said. “You can grow tomatoes, greens and spinach in a pot on your deck, in a whiskey barrel or right in a bag of top soil. I’ve even seen people reuse their kids’ old plastic swimming pool.”
According to Stebbins, all amateur gardeners need to grow their own fresh vegetables is a little growing soil and a sunny spot in the yard.
“You want to pick a nice spot that gets sun for most of the day, preferably in the morning too,” he said. “We have cool nights here. The longer the soil can stay warm the better, so morning sun is important.”
In early spring, as daylight begins to lengthen, soil has begun to loosen. People may have even noticed a few green grass blades peeking out of their hibernating lawn turf.
Stebbins recommends toiling or shoveling soil down a good foot and then adding some amendments to create good growing soil.
Beginner gardeners can learn more about how to create the best growing soil at their local garden shop or at websites such as www.ppugardens.org.
Stebbins likes to add a composted cotton burr mulch to soil because it creates a loose, fine substance that should stay that way through the spring and summer growing seasons. Seeds should be planted twice as deep as the size of the seed and packed loosely in an effort to surround the seed but not compact the soil. Gardeners can also choose starter plants instead of seeds.
This time of year, he tells gardeners that the spring planting season is just around the corner.
“We like to plant day neutral onions in mid to late April and then lettuce, spinach and broccoli in late April to May,” he said. “People will want to visit their garden every day, if simply to make sure their plants are getting enough water. They’ll want to keep their soil moist, but not wet and as they gain some experience they’ll begin to figure out what works best. We like to say the most important thing is to enjoy the journey. Many people get hooked once they taste their first fresh [home-grown] vegetable.”
Count Arthur as a fresh-vegetable fan. As someone who teaches nutritious cooking classes at Schriever, she’s in the business of preparing good-tasting veggies as a means for helping Airmen and their families live healthier.
“Some stores and markets will wax their produce to produce a shine,” she said. “This practice, of course, is designed to induce people to buy, but as consumers, we don’t know what types of pesticides or chemicals were used during the farming process. We also don’t know how long ago that produce was picked or how far it has traveled to reach our local store. If you grow your own fruits and vegetables, you know for sure there are no pesticides to worry about and you’re guaranteed fresh produce.”
Both Arthur and Stebbins recommend people try different vegetables so they can find out what they like most because it will help in choosing what to plant for that next meal.
“People can also experiment with different herbs and spices,” Arthur said. “Too often, vegetables tend to get smothered in gravy or heavy sauces, but we like to mix garlic or onion powder in as we prepare ours. Steaming is a great way to cook and sautéing with olive oil is also a good way to prepare them. Grilling fruits and vegetables with meats also brings out flavor in the foods. Frying is never a healthy option and make sure to stay away from added salt.”
For more cooking tips or for more information on preparing healthy meals with fruits and vegetables contact the Schriever Health and Wellness Center at 567-4292.