Plant an Indoor Kitchen Garden If You Just Can’t Wait!

Indoor kitchen garden potted herbs

I know from Facebook comments on our garden planning post that there are at least a few of you who are really anxious to start gardening. I’m here to tell you that you can start right now. Plant a simple garden in your kitchen to give yourself year-round fresh ingredients for your meals.

A kitchen garden is generally the area of your outdoor garden dedicated to growing herbs and vegetables. Yes, do that, too, but I’m suggesting that you actually start gardening indoors.

You could keep this as simple as a few potted herbs on the window sill or as complicated as taking over a portion of your house with a structured area complete with grow lights. From simple to complex, here are a few ideas where you might start.

Herb Pots on the Window Sills

Scope out window sills to see how much sunny space you actually have. You will need at least five hours of sunlight a day to grow herbs well. Start with just 1-2 pots of the herbs you use or like the most. A lot of fresh food aisles in the grocery stores have herbs for sale in pots, but where is the fun in that? Buy soil-less potting mix or make your own from peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. (Bringing in soil from outdoors could mean bring in creatures you don’t want inside.) Especially with children, growing from seed gives you more of the experience of gardening that is likely to lead you toward a bigger garden.

Fill Your Window with Green

If you want to grow more than just a pot of herbs, you could build your own hydroponic window farm with a few recycled materials and a pump. This is a great way to grow lettuce and other greens.

Make Your Garden a Feature

If you are ready to embrace your gardening, why not make it a feature in your decor. If you move your garden away from the window, you will need grow lights. You can buy shelves with lights built in or get creative with the way you arrange the plants. Put your favorite plant at about nose height in an area you walk by frequently. Imagine yourself rubbing the sage or peppermint leaves for a little aromatic boost during your day. If you have curious toddlers, put the plants high enough that you won’t find them tipped out onto the floor.

Serious Indoor Gardening

Herbs and lettuce are easy, but what about vegetables? You can grow some vegetables indoors. Tomatoes, radishes, and beans can all be grown in pots, but you can also get very serious about your indoor gardening with a deep and wide shelving system complete with lights. These look similar to cafeteria tray holders, and you could build your own system from cafeteria shelving. When you are growing indoors, it’s a challenge to give your vegetables enough room for the roots. If you buy or build shelves, an adjustable system is ideal to accommodate large and small plants.

When your kitchen begins to look like a greenhouse, it might be time to actually build a greenhouse. For now, for the anxious late-winter gardener, survey the kitchenscape to see where you can plant your little patch of green.

3 Reasons We Like Making Love in the Kitchen

Meghan Telpner creed

Where does Nature Mom go when she needs allergy-free recipes and clear reasoning for changing her eating habits? Making Love in the Kitchen with Meghan Telpner.

I seriously can’t recommend her site/blog enough. And if you are lucky enough to be local (she’s in Toronto), her cooking classes completely changed my boring, tasteless cooking void of all our allergy foods. I’m still learning everyday.

1. Don’t Take No for an Answer

A diagnosis of disease is not the last word. You have control of your health. It’s best if you start now, before allergy or disease force you to change your habits. If you are already facing disease, nutrition-dense foods will only help. No, I’m not claiming that you should forgo allopathic medicine, but you can improve body and mind through diet.

This is one of the most important lessons I learn from Meghan Telpner. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and chose meditation, acupuncture, and a whole foods diet rather than surgery or medication. After six years, she is symptom free. During that time, she became a certified nutritionist and opened her own cooking school in Toronto.

2. Create a Guide that Excites You

For Meghan, her creed is her philosophy of living. Her creed is the image you see above. You might find this inspiring, but I want to tell you that part of the power of this creed is you flipping the switch and realizing that YOU can and you MUST create your own beautiful philosophy of living so that you are realizing your own dreams. Start here if you like, but stretch it, test it, try out a few new things, and build a philosophy that makes your heart sing.

3. You Can Still Eat Brownies

Are you worried that your food will be boring if you remove sugar and other processed ingredients? Really? Well, stop that right now. If anything, conventional, processed foods are a crutch that keeps you from being creative with food. If you need to be convinced that you will be fine in a future with healthful foods, Butternut Squash Ooo-eee Goo-eee Brownies will ease your transition.

When you hang out on the Parenting by Nature Facebook page, you will find that Nature Mom and others mention Making Love in the Kitchen a lot. Join us!

Save Money and Time by Cooking Meals from Scratch

Slow Cooker Meal Ingredients

I think a lot of parents struggle with cooking from scratch, especially if it’s not what they grew up with, but we are trying to do better for our own children. What do you do if stopping for pizza or cooking from frozen just seems like the only way to get dinner on the table tonight? Not only do processed meals contain ingredients that you want to avoid, they are a more expensive option than cooking from scratch with whole ingredients.

Freeze It
Understand first where you reach for a meal when you are in a time crunch or just too tired to start from scratch. Prepare in advance for that moment of weakness. To start, you need to think about the solution before tonight. When your will is strong and the kids are quiet (like that happens), plan ahead. Buy enough that you can make three times as much as you need. Eat the same food two nights in a row then freeze the rest for another meal later. You just put a bit more work into preparing one meal while you got three out. Think quantity, and work ahead.

Choose Convenience Tools Rather Than Convenience Foods
Buy a slower cooker and a bread machine. These should be on your baby registry. Experienced parents will understand.

If you wake up feeling like it might be one of those days, pull your saved leftovers out of the freezer and create some new kind of stew. Our favorite slow cooked meal is curry. You can hide a lot of vegetables in a mild curry that children will eat. Clean out the refrigerator or freezer and use what you have so it doesn’t go to waste (which, of course, saves you money). You do this in the morning, and you don’t have to think about it again until it is time to put on a pot of rice near dinnertime.

Fresh bread without fuss doesn’t mean using a mix. You can mix your own recipe in advance from whole ingredients to avoid expensive specialty mixes. Dump the ingredients in and hit the button. Kneading bread by hand feels great, but sometimes you aren’t into the process so much as focused on the result. It’s OK to do both.

Have a Back-up Easy Meal
My mother was a single parent who worked all day. We ate a lot of tv dinners. Sometimes, though, when she really wanted us to eat immediately, she opted for her favorite easy meal: egg sandwiches. It’s an omelet between slices of bread, and it takes about five minutes to prepare. If you have bread and eggs, you are set. My family’s quick meal is salad. We cut up all sorts of fresh vegetables and leftovers, toss it in a bowl, and call it salad. Know what your family is willing to eat and keep the fresh ingredients available.

Food: Discuss
We have had a great response to food discussions on the Parenting by Nature Facebook page recently, and, when we asked what you want to save money on, the answer was overwhelmingly FOOD! That’s why we followed Saving Money on Food with this post. You had a lot more great ideas, though, so during February we’ve scheduled a whole month of posts devoted to food and other ways our customers keep their families healthy naturally. Keep sharing your ideas and experience. Other parents can learn from you.

Image © Warren Price |

5 Ways to Get Your Child Involved in Preparing Meals

Mother and young child cooking together

Do you ever think that it’s just faster and easier to make the meals yourself than to have your small children help? Don’t send them away! Your children need that time at your side to eventually learn to prepare meals themselves.

My husband is the one who says it’s easier to do things himself. I just tell him, “If you don’t have them help now, you’ll pay for it later when they don’t have a clue what to do.” Later is now. He is paying for it. It took my children a while to figure out the most basic steps to cooking, but they are finally (in their pre-teen/teens) interested in feeding themselves.

Avoid that delay. Help your kids see meal preparation as a fun learning experience, and the extra minutes you spend now will pay dividends later. Plus, you get a great companion while you cook.

1. Have them measure ingredients.

Start with those ingredients that have the least potential for spreading all over, maybe beans, and work up to flour and oil.

2. Bring them shopping and ask their help in choosing ingredients.

Have them help you check the basics off your shopping list. Also, make sure you have a couple of favorite recipes that have flexible ingredients, like infinitely adjustable pasta salad, so your child has real choices to make at the store.

3. Buy a kids’ recipe book.

A cookbook that includes foods with kid-appeal as well as step-by-step instructions with photos that make it easy to understand what to do will not only make the learning process smoother, but it will also give your child a measure of independence once they have a few skills.

4. Show them how to make sandwiches.

Sandwiches are the easy first step into meal preparation for a child. No heat or sharp knives necessary. Just show your child the simple steps to putting tasty spreads on bread. A peanut butter sandwich may seem simple to you, but it’s a mystery to a child who hasn’t made one before.

5. Teach them how to make a pasta salad.

Older children can make pasta salad on their own (sort of—neither of mine are excited to pour out and strain cooked pasta yet), but even a young child can stand on a stool over a bowl of cooked pasta and choose ingredients for a meal.

Baby steps! Help them now and your children will be confident in the future as they prepare their own meals.

Image © Candybox Images |

Dinner on a Budget

Young family making dinner on a budget

When you are making a healthy dinner on a budget, you balance two needs: keep the quality high and keep the grocery bill low. The more work you are willing to put in and the more you plan in advance, the less you will end up spending and the easier it will be to keep this balance.

Grow It Yourself

Can you plan dinner a year in advance? Sure, sort of. Now is a good time to plan your garden for the year.

It’s nice to eat fresh vegetables, and you may also want to preserve your own food to save money. My mother always made pickles and salsa. We seldom bought these at the store. I guarantee we won’t need to buy mint tea this year, but there is nothing else we grew this past season that will cover our needs for the whole year. I aspire to grow enough of one food that I can make it worth the time and effort to preserve a year’s worth from our own garden. I have two ideas for foods I think I could cover out of my garden if I focus our efforts for the year: berry preserves or pickles.

Even if you don’t grow your own food, you can buy foods when they are abundant and prices are low then preserve them yourself.

Buy Ahead

One way to cut costs is to buy food as it is discounted. If you want to take advantage of daily specials (“Must be sold today!”), you will need somewhere to store the food. You don’t even really need to plan in advance, as long as you are willing to do a bit of improvisation once the moment of recipe decision comes.

A small, energy efficient chest freezer costs only a few hundred dollars. Chest freezers run more efficiently than upright freezers, and they freeze most efficiently if they are kept full.

Cook It Yourself

When you’re tired and hungry, you are much less likely to make the less expensive choice for dinner. Just to for comparison, and to encourage you to plan ahead, this is what my family of four pays for a chicken dinner.

  • Eat out chicken dinner, restaurant, $40-50 (if you are lucky)
  • Buy chicken dinner, fast food, $20-30
  • Buy chicken dinner, grocery store, $15-20
  • Buy a cooked chicken, grocery store, $6-8 + another $10 for side dishes for $16-18
  • Buy a raw chicken and cook at home, $5 for 2 chickens (on special) + $5 for tortillas, avocado, cheese, and lettuce for a total of about $10 (and, it lasts for a couple of meals)

I base this on the two chickens I bought this weekend (“Today’s Special”), which provided a great Sunday lunch and dinner for about $10. We didn’t really plan ahead, but we improvised around the best deal available.

Even if you only eat take out food once a week, that can add $100 a month to your food budget. If you actually eat out in a restaurant, you add closer to $200 a month. It doesn’t seem like much at the time, but it all adds up quickly

What you need on those evenings when you are tired and hungry is something you can pull from your freezer and heat up.

Divide Meals

If you need quick, easy to heat and eat meals, make them yourself. Before I was married, I could make a huge pot of soup on the weekend and eat it for a week when I got home late. With four people to feed, we can sometimes get three meals out of one pot of soup or chili or two meals out of a dish of lasagna.

Look at your family’s favorite foods and figure out which are most easily scalable. Then, make a lot, divide it into enough for tonight and later. Freeze the rest in the right amounts for a whole dinner, and you have a very easy meal for another night. It’s your own two-for-one meal deal.

It is possible to be frugal by buying the cheapest foods, but don’t fall into that trap. Eating processed and prepared foods costs you more in health and wellness in the long run. Stick with whole foods, single ingredients that you put together yourself.

Eat well and inexpensively!

Image © Arne9001 |