No-Bake Mint Chocolate Pie

IMG_1754

This dessert was such a hit yesterday at Thanksgiving dinner that I decided to share it with everyone in time for Christmas, when it would make a great addition to holiday traditions. Sprinkle this little piece of delectable pie with some crushed candy canes and you’ve got yourself a festive treat that’s actually pretty good for you!

I’m proud of this pie because it’s my own creation, whereas many of my other recipes are modifications of meals I’ve come across elsewhere. The amounts in the recipe below are approximations since I’ve never actually measured anything when making it:

  • 1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 bar dark chocolate or about 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 18 mint-chocolate sandwich cookies (I use Newman-O’s)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

To make the crust, crush the sandwich cookies and mix with the melted butter. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch pie dish. For the filling, combine the first four ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the filling onto the crust and refrigerate for several hours until the filling is firm. It’s THAT easy!

Not only is it easy, it’s pretty healthy as far as desserts go. In my post on chocolate brain pudding, I mention the health benefits of dark chocolate and coconut. If you really want to make this pie good for you, skip the crust and pour the filling on its own into a pie dish; you’ll eliminate the refined sugar and carbs found in the cookie crust. Another alternative would be to cut the number of cookies in half, in which case you’d have less of a crust and more of a light cookie crumble embedded in the pie; or simply sprinkle a handful of crushed cookies on top of the pie as a decoration. There are lots of possibilities!

Frozen Banana “Ice Cream”

DSC03281

In my post on sugar, I mentioned that my girls don’t know the word “dessert” because we don’t eat dessert in our household. While that is absolutely true, it is absolutely NOT true that we don’t enjoy a variety of tantalizing foods that could easily be classified as desserts were it not for their dearth of sugar and depth of nutrients.

Frozen banana “ice cream” is one of those foods. Sometimes we eat it as a snack and sometimes it is simply part of lunch, but one thing is always for certain: the bowls are licked clean! It is one of the easiest treats in the world to make: simply peel 2-3 bananas, cut or break them into 1-2 inch pieces, freeze the pieces, and put them in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth (this amount will make about 2 servings).

If you have a single-serving processor such as a Magic Bullet, like I do, you may have to puree, then stop and shake the container, then puree, then shake the container, and so on until all of the bananas are blended. It’s a bit annoying, but I prefer it to cleaning out my full-sized blender every time I make the ice cream, which is almost daily.

It will take the banana pieces at least 4 hours to freeze, so I generally put them in a container in the freezer the day before I plan to make the ice cream. If you’re not the plan-ahead type, simply cut up several bananas once you’re done reading this post and store them in the freezer so they’ll be ready whenever you want to give it a try! Once you use up those banana pieces, refill the container with more pieces and put it back in the freezer for the next time you get a hankering.

My girls and I love to add nut butter to our banana ice cream; we’ve discovered peanut butter and sunflower seed butter to be especially delicious. Adding a tablespoon or two of nut butter to the blender along with the banana pieces adds a bit of fat and protein to make the snack more satiating. Half an avocado, virgin coconut oil, and/or coconut flakes will have the same effect. Other frozen fruits such as blueberries and strawberries taste good, too. If you’re sticking with plain bananas, adding a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a touch of heavy cream or whole milk will enhance the flavor.

Frozen banana ice cream is an excellent alternative to sugary desserts for those who’d like to transition their children to a lower-sugar diet. The natural sugars in the bananas make it sweet enough to pass as dessert for those used to eating sweets, while the complete lack of processed sugars makes it better for our bodies. Try some of the different flavor combinations above–or invent your own!–until you find one that you and your kiddos like. You will be so thankful to have a food that your kids crave and is actually good for them!

Healing Eczema, Asthma, Sleeplessness, and Tantrums Naturally

The mangy munchkin's eczema

It might come as a surprise to you to learn that it is possible to “heal” sleeplessness and tantrums, and as even more of a surprise that it is possible to heal all of the conditions mentioned above simultaneously through dietary changes. But it is!

Let me tell you the story of the mangy munchkin’s legs, pictured above at the beginning of summer 2015. She’d been suffering from persistent eczema for several months and had also started developing symptoms of asthma. Non-steroidal creams wouldn’t clear up the eczema so I took her to a pediatrician for advice. The doctor’s suggestion was to try a name-brand cream and then to try an over-the-counter steroidal cream if one of the non-steroidal creams she recommended didn’t help. Knowing about the connection to gut health and overall health, I asked if a change in diet might make a difference but the pediatrician insisted that food was rarely an issue with eczema except in serious cases (I guess she didn’t think Libby’s case was serious).

None of the non-steroidal creams she recommended worked. Not wanting to use steroids on the mangy munchkin’s delicate skin, I took her to a naturopathic doctor for alternative advice. The naturopath immediately concurred that food was likely an issue, so she ordered a food sensitivity test that examined antigens in her blood to determine whether certain foods may have been causing an autoimmune reaction in her body, resulting in the eczema. Sure enough, a handful of foods that she ate commonly (including eggs, dairy, coconut, and beans) registered on the test. After eliminating these foods from her diet for a month and applying a bit of Neosporin to the last remaining spot of eczema on her left leg (which had become infected from scratching), her eczema cleared up completely–and along with it, her systems of asthma disappeared.

Just one month of eliminating certain foods from her diet healed her eczema, whereas nearly three months of trying various creams did not. While the steroidal cream may have cleared up the eczema (we’ll never know since we never tried it), her rash surely would have returned given that all of the foods she was sensitive to would have still been in her diet had I followed the first pediatrician’s advice. Had I not turned to her diet to heal her, we would have been dealing with bouts of eczema indefinitely, and very likely with a worsening of her asthma.

What’s more, her nighttime awakenings and fits as well as her daytime tantrums subsided, something that I didn’t even think to associate with her diet at the time. I only recently realized that her food sensitivity issues were connected to her sleep issues as well when she experienced a resurgence of her eczema this week after she ate handfuls of cashews one afternoon. She’d never had them before so we didn’t realize she was sensitive to them, and along with the rash came several nights of midnight awakenings and several days of crankiness and bad behavior, which is just now subsiding as her rash has disappeared.

Dr. David Perlmutter and Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride both share countless stories of behavior and sleep improvements promulgated by dietary changes in their books on gut health. If you have a toddler who has trouble sleeping and/or throws lots of tantrums (or is depressed), don’t assume it’s the terrible twos or threes–it could be a food sensitivity (or sensitivities, as in the mangy munchkin’s case). Any child or adult, for that matter, who exhibits anxious or moody behavior could be suffering from a damaged gut, which is connected to the brain through the vagus nerve and has been proven by scientific studies to influence not just our digestive tract but also our minds.

What if you can’t afford a naturopath or there simply isn’t one in your area? The GAPS diet is an approach developed by Dr. Campbell-McBride that offers a more-or-less surefire way of healing the gut even if you don’t know what your or your child’s food sensitivities are. It requires a drastic alteration in diet, eliminating most foods besides meat, vegetables, and broth for several weeks to several months depending on how serious a person’s symptoms are (and thus how seriously their gut is damaged). If that seems difficult to swallow, think of it this way: meal planning becomes super easy since there’s only so much you can eat! The website linked above provides a wealth of resources for those considering the diet, including recipes.

The good news about a natural approach to healing is that once a child is off of the foods to which they are sensitive for a period of time, giving their digestive and immune systems a chance to heal, those foods can be reintroduced and enjoyed once again down the road; how much further down the road depends on how quickly they heal. It only took a month of eliminating the foods to which the mangy munchkin was sensitive before her symptoms cleared up and she was once again able to eat butter, coconut, gluten, and other foods she had previously been sensitive to, only now without any side effects.

I urge anyone with children—indeed, anyone at all—to take seriously the connection between food and health. Modern medicine and the media would have you believe that the only thing food affects is our weight, but in reality it affects so much more. Anthelme Brillat-Savarin had it right when he coined the phrase “you are what you eat.” If you eat crap, that’s what you’ll feel like. If you eat well, you’ll nourish your body into performing at its absolute best.

The Mangy Munchkin’s Meal Plan

Licking her plate clean

After my last post on the evils of sugar, I received a request to write a post about what I feed my kids. If we don’t eat breakfast cereals, processed foods, desserts, or drink juice, what do we eat? It might seem that there’s not much left to please children if you cut out everything with sugar and refined carbohydrates, but as you can tell from the photo above, there are still plenty of delicious foods left to keep our little ones happy.

In this post, I’ll give a basic run down of the current menu in our household (it varies from time to time as I discover new foods and recipes) and then share some ideas for snacks to keep your kiddos satisfied in between meals and on the go. If I’ve already posted a recipe that I mention, it’ll be linked to the appropriate post; if I haven’t yet posted a recipe, I’ll try my best to get to it soon so that you can start trying out some of my ideas in your own home!

Breakfast is a big deal in our household. It competes with dinner for the largest meal of the day and is always hot except for a side of sauerkraut. Most mornings my youngest and I eat eggs from our free-range hens while the mangy munchkin, who has an egg sensitivity, eats sausage from one of the farms and ranches in our area (for more on why I’m careful about the meat I select, read my post on pastured meat and eggs). All of us eat a side of homemade sauerkraut with our meal to aid with digestion and to provide a healthy dose of probiotics. Occasionally we’ll enjoy a bowl of soaked oatmeal for breakfast instead of (or in addition to) our eggs and sausage. Oatmeal is absolutely delicious with a dash of cinnamon and a tablespoonful of virgin coconut oil, which enhances flavor, satiation, and nutrient absorption. Instead of fruit juice, which has as much sugar as soda, we sip water kefir with our meal.

If we don’t eat oatmeal with breakfast, we often eat oatmeal cake for lunch along with chocolate brain pudding and frozen banana ice cream. When I make chocolate brain pudding for my girls, I just use a few squares of chocolate since I don’t want to expose them to too much caffeine. Another common lunch we enjoy is homemade sourdough rolls smothered with butter (we prefer Kerry Gold) and a side of milk kefir, which I make nice and thick so that it has a consistency somewhere between yoghurt and cottage cheese. Believe it or not, my girls LOVE this super tart, probiotic treat and always ask for seconds.

Dinner typically involves some sort of meat or poultry and as many veggies as I can muster. If I make slow-cooker chicken I dump in kale, beets, beet greens, broccoli, zucchini, onions, garlic–whatever looks fresh and good at the grocery store (although we usually buy the broccoli frozen). If I brown ground beef, I do it in a large cast-iron pot with a lid so that I can add chopped mushrooms, eggplant, and onions to cook along with the meat for a healthy hash. Baked sweet potatoes or squash mashed with butter and cinnamon are a common side with any dinner, and “dessert” is often one or two pieces of crystalized ginger, which doubles as a digestive aid.

So what about snacks? Since I make most of my meals from scratch, I want snacks to be easy. Here are some things I keep on hand for simple, healthy snacking:

  • Cheese
  • Olives
  • Avocados
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Raisins
  • Apples
  • Dried coconut
  • Frozen blueberries
  • Frozen peas (boil a handful at a time–takes two minutes!)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Popcorn (tastes great drizzled with virgin olive oil and sea salt)
  • Organic, nitrate-free jerky (we make our own but buy it at our health-food store when we run out)
  • Dehydrated veggie snacks (also purchased at our health food store)

If your kids are used to a more sugary, starchy diet, switching them over to the kinds of meals and snacks mentioned in this post might be challenging at first, but it is definitely possible (see my last post for tips on transitioning your children away from refined carbs and sugar). Your reward for sticking it out will be cheerful, healthy children who won’t require a trip to the doctor’s office every month!

Oh, and a note about olives: if your kids refuse to eat them at first, show them how to pop them on their fingertips and see if they don’t eat them up once they realize what a fun “finger” food they are!

The Truth About Sugar

Trick-or-treating

Above is a photo of the mangy munchkin reveling at her first Halloween in costume. Just over 1 1/2, she spent most of the evening in a daze, looking somewhat confused whenever someone placed a treat in her little basket. A year later, when I searched for that same basket to use again this Halloween, I found it in the pantry–still full of the candy I wouldn’t allow her to eat.

Every year at this time millions of parents face the dilemma of what to do with bagfuls of candy that we really don’t want our children to eat but that we feel strangely obligated to allow. After all, we don’t want to let it go to waste. And we don’t want to be the mean parents who keep our kids from enjoying Halloween.

Or do we? I, for one, have no trouble dumping whole baskets of candy in the trash can (it’s garbage anyway) or saying NO to gorging on sweets on Halloween night. I’ve never been one to bend to peer pressure, and when my children’s health is at stake, my resolve is even stronger. I’m known (probably not very affectionately) as the food nazi in my family, monitoring every bite of food that goes into my girls’ mouths. I’ve even leapt across rooms to defend my children from spoonfuls of sugary sweetness that I don’t want them exposed to, and I can only hope that some day my relatives come to respect my concern over the large amounts of sugar customary in our society.

You see, it’s not just a temporary sugar high that impacts our children (or ourselves) when we eat too many sweets. Eating sugar–especially refined sugar–alters our microbiomes in a way that leads to damaging inflammation in our bodies, which in turn makes us susceptible to autoimmune conditions such as autism, ADHD, asthma, eczema, diabetes, heart disease, and even Alzheimers, not to mention everyday illnesses such as the common cold. Having an imbalanced microbiome can even impact our moods, making us more irritable, anxious, and/or depressed. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when we altered the mangy munchkin’s diet in order to clear up her asthma and eczema, her temper tantrums also abated. Terrible twos? Maybe it’s just too much sugar (and refined carbohydrates in general).

So what constitutes “too much” when it comes to sweets? I once read that the human body has not evolved to handle much more sugar than is contained in a single orange–about 35 grams per day (I unfortunately can’t remember where I read this information, but rest assured that I wouldn’t have committed it to memory had I not trusted the source). I was shocked when I first read this because at the time I consumed far more sugar than that even though I ate far less sugar than most of the people around me. I still consume more than 35 grams of sugar on most days, but I try to keep my “overdosing” to a minimum.

With time, I’ve slowly whittled away at the primary sources of sugar in our diet. We don’t eat desserts after meals (my girls don’t even know that word) and we snack on more veggies than fruits (although I do allow up to two servings of fruit each day). We don’t eat breakfast cereals, nearly all of which have some amount of added sugar; in fact, we don’t eat processed foods at all since a majority of them contain high-fructose corn syrup–even foods that aren’t generally thought of as sweet such as ketchup. We don’t drink fruit juice but instead sip on water kefir, whole milk, and just plain water.

As I’ve eliminated sources of sugar, I’ve found that I’ve simultaneously lost my desire for sweets, making it surprisingly easy for me to resist cakes, cookies, and candies, even when they are the centerpiece at a party. Instead, I crave fats, proteins, and whole grains: lightly salted fried eggs, buttered whole-wheat sourdough bread, oatmeal cut with coconut oil and heavy cream. Yum! I do allow myself a serving of dark chocolate every day, but I don’t consider it candy–it’s brain food.

If you think you or your kids could NEVER stop craving sugar, consider this: the microbes in your gut actually send signals to your brain to feed them the kind of foods they crave, so when you start starving the bad bugs (the ones who crave sugar and refined carbs), they will begin to die off and you, too, will stop craving sugar. In fact, “die-off” is a term that refers to the process your body may go through as your microbiome rebalances itself, during which time you may experience headaches, diarrhea (or constipation), or other unpleasant flu-like symptoms as your body expels the unwanted microbes (you can read more about die-off here). This short article by Dr. Raphael Kellmen explains how rapidly our microbiome can adjust to dietary changes–literally overnight!

As adults, we can likely muster the fortitude necessary to do what we know is good for us–but what about our kids? How do I get a one-year-old and a two-year-old to eat well? It’s actually surprisingly simple: you say no to the bad stuff (refined sugars and carbs, processed foods, and vegetable oils) and provide them with the good stuff (whole grains, healthy fats and proteins, and plenty of fresh veggies and fruits–just don’t overdo it on the fruit). It may take a few days for your children to accept your “no” and begin to eat the healthier foods you offer them, especially if they’ve become accustomed to a particular diet, but they WILL learn. We had to go through several days of the mangy munchkin barely consuming a bite of food when we transitioned her away from the snacks that daddy had been sharing with her (chips and candy) and back to eating solely healthy foods, but she eventually learned that no means no and if she wanted to satiate her hunger, she’d better eat what was offered.

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, in her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, describes an approach based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for getting children to change their diets. She suggests presenting a small bite of a child’s favorite food, set off to the side, and only allowing it to be eaten once a bite of a healthier food is eaten first. If the child refuses, allow him or her to do so and don’t try to stop any kicking or screaming. Simply restate your conditions and give the child time to decide that they are willing to eat the healthier food in exchange for a bite of their desired food. The next day, mandate two bites of the healthier food before the desired food is allowed. Continue increasing the number of bites of the healthy food required to obtain a bite of the unhealthy food until the child will contentedly eat a full meal of healthy, nutritious food–and then stop offering the unhealthy food altogether. Persistence is crucial because if you break your resolve just once, you will prolong the battle indefinitely. Your child needs to know that you will not cave when they throw a tantrum or use whatever tactic they are prone to use to get their way. Due to the rapid changes that occur in our microbiome when we alter our diets, it shouldn’t take long for children to begin appreciating and even craving the healthier foods. My girls absolutely love sauerkraut, milk kefir, and real sourdough bread, foods that most people consider far too sour and tart to consume, and I believe it’s because their microbiomes have come to crave these rich sources of probiotics.

I suppose some moms might call me mean for not allowing my children to eat sweets devoid of other nutrients (we do eat fruit and coconut puddings sweetened with a tad of honey), but I don’t have a problem saying no when the mangy munchkin asks to have a piece of cake or a cookie at a party, or when the nurse offers her a lollipop after a doctor’s appointment (I bring a small box of raisins instead). I’ll jealously guard the health of my children’s microbiome for as long as I can do so because you become what you eat, and I want my girls to become healthy women whose microbes send them signals to choose nutritious foods. I’ll still allow them to go trick-or-treating tonight, but that bag of candy they come home with will go straight in the garbage–where it belongs.

Homemade beef stroganoff

The Best Beef Stroganoff

Homemade beef stroganoff

Beef stroganoff is a staple in our household. Everyone in the family from my kids to my husband devours this dish and asks for seconds–and sometimes thirds and fourths! We had to avoid it for a few months when the mangy munchkin was healing her leaky gut (she had a sensitivity to dairy and gluten that has now cleared up) but it’s finally back in the rotation and making everyone smile–especially me because it’s so easy to make!

My basic recipe incorporates the following ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground beef (preferably grass fed)
  • 10-15 crimini mushrooms, chopped (any small mushroom is suitable)
  • 8 tablespoons butter (also grass fed)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (use a full teaspoon if using unsalted butter)

If you prefer a thicker sauce, you can also add 1/4 cup of flour to the list, stirring it into the butter/cream mixture at the end. I leave the flour out because we try to minimize sources of starchy carbohydrates in our diet. In fact, we often eat this dish without the bed of pasta underneath, supplementing the meal instead with sides of squash and veggies, which are healthier sources of carbohydrates that contain other important nutrients as well.

To make the stroganoff, begin by melting the butter over low heat in a saucepan. While the butter is melting, begin browning the ground beef along with the mushrooms in another pot or pan (I use my cast-iron frying pan). Once the butter is melted, add the chopped onion and turn the heat up to medium-low, allowing the onion to turn translucent before adding the garlic. In the meantime, continue browning the beef until it is thoroughly cooked, stirring occasionally. Once the onions are translucent and the garlic has been added, stir in the heavy cream, pepper, and salt, continuing to stir until all is well blended with the butter. Combine the sauce with the ground beef and mushrooms and serve.

If you’re worried about the calories in this dish … don’t be! Butter is actually an extremely healthy source of essential fatty acids as well as vitamins A and K. Ground beef, when sourced from grass-fed steers, is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as important minerals such as iron.

Every cell in our body requires fat in order to carry out its functions, and our brains are actually 50% fat. Young children, whose brains are developing rapidly, especially require healthy portions of fat in their diets, including saturated fat. More and more evidence is coming to the fore that the low-fat fad of the 1980s and 90s was in fact terrible for our health and has only contributed to the rise in diet-related diseases rather than ameliorated them (carbohydrates, especially refined ones, are turning out to be the real villains). Furthermore, fat is necessary for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K, and E. According to Dr. Mercola,

In order to absorb fat-soluble vitamins from our food, we need to eat fat. Human studies show that both the amount and type of fat are important. For example, one study showed that absorption of beta-carotene from a salad with no added fat was close to zero. The addition of a lowfat dressing made from canola oil increased absorption, but a high-fat dressing was much more effective.

So smother your salad with dressing, butter up your bread, and enjoy a handsome helping of rich, creamy stroganoff every so often. Every cell in your body will rejoice!

Grow Indoor Herbs and Veggies–Even in Small Spaces!

Indoor basil plants

When I began this blog a month ago I shared a trick I learned for making indoor plants flourish. In that post, I promised to eventually share a few tips for getting started on indoor planting for those who are novices. Also included are a few ideas for branching out (pun intended) if you’re already a practiced potter.

If you’re just getting started, you’ll need a few basic supplies:

  • Pots with drainage holes and a catch plate
  • Potting soil
  • Bark, wood chips, or mulch of some kind
  • Seeds
  • Sunny spot to place your pots (indirect sunlight is fine for most plants)

Gardening supplies can be purchased at your local nursery and at many common Big Box stores such as Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot, and Tractor Supply. I recommend using unpainted clay pots for your indoor planting, as I’ve found that some of the decorative clay pots I’ve purchased leach their colors into the soil (I no longer use these pots to plant anything I’ll be eating). I discovered this one day when I over-watered one of my plants and the water that spilled over the edges of the catch plate was the same color as the pot.

As you can see in the photo above, I’ve used plastic pots as well, although I plan to transition to clay once I uproot my basil plant and replace it with kale (unfortunately, the mangy munchkin seems not to like basil, so I don’t need such a large plant anymore–notice the smaller one I’ll be replacing it with in the adjacent pot). I’ve read so many reports of plastics leaching chemicals into the environment that I worry we might be ingesting a small amount of toxic residue when we eat from the plants in plastic pots.

When I first potted my plants a couple of years ago I couldn’t locate organic potting soil, so I used the standard Miracle-Gro potting mix available at Walmart. When I replenish the soil each spring, I replace several handfuls of the old soil with several handfuls of an organic compost that I’ve since identified at Tractor Supply if I don’t have any of my own backyard compost ready (another post to come on the topic of home composting sometime in the future).

Covering your soil with a layer of mulch is important for keeping moisture from evaporating out of your pots and leaving the top layer of soil cracked and dry. In a pinch, a few handfuls of grass clippings will do the trick, too, although it won’t be quite as attractive; layer the clippings an inch or two thick since they will shrink down as they dry out. Grass clippings will double as food for earthworms if you go the route suggested in my first post (note that the earthworm trick is only for established plants and not seedlings).

So now that your pots are ready, what are you going to plant? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box–or pot–when it comes to selecting the herbs and veggies you’ll plant. What kinds of herbs and veggies do you most like to eat? I like to choose my indoor plants based on cost savings. Fresh herbs and greens are often the most pricey items you’ll find in the produce section, so I tend to plant those. Just remember that the size of the plant will be in proportion to the size of your pot. If you’d like to grow a nice-sized kale plant, you’ll need a larger pot like the big green one in my photo. A bunch of kale equivalent to the sort sold in the grocery store can be harvested from a healthy kale plant about twice a month–just make sure to leave enough leaves (I generally leave about half) for the plant to continue absorbing sunlight and performing photosynthesis, otherwise it will die.

If you have kids, allow them to help you decide what to plant. Doing so is a great way to get them into gardening and to teach them where their food comes from. I grew a pea plant last winter since the mangy munchkin loves fresh peas. She was incredibly excited when we were finally able to harvest the pods and split them open to eat (in that vein, it’s a great lesson in patience, too!).

I purchase my seeds from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds, where prices aren’t much higher than at the Big Box stores but quality is much better. You can request a free catalogue and browse the dozens upon dozens of options. Look for herbs and veggies that recommend a plant spacing of about 12 inches or less, as those that require 18 inches or more will develop root systems too large for indoor planting. If you have extremely limited space for plants, you can also try Bambeco’s garden-in-a-bag approach. When I lived in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia, I grew cilantro, basil, and chives this way and was pleasantly surprised by how well the plants flourished.

Another option for those with little space is to purchase a packet of claytonia seeds. Claytonia is a delightful little salad green with tiny white flowers that are also edible. It would grow well in a small pot and could be harvested periodically for a stylish addition to salads; in the meantime, it will serve as a pretty decoration.

There are endless possibilities for indoor planting that will enable you to enjoy fresh herbs and vegetables throughout the year. Just make sure to refresh your soil at least once a year in the manner suggested above so that your plants will have the nutrients they need to flourish. And DON’T try to save on the cost of pots or potential leakage by purchasing pots without drainage–you will end up with swampy, stinky soil that will kill whatever you plant. To avoid leaks and messes, simply water slowly using just enough water to see a small amount trickle into the catch plate (eventually, you’ll get used to how much water your plants need and won’t have to watch for the trickle).

Happy harvest!