Don’t let a ‘black thumb’ keep you from clean eating.

Adopting clean eating can transform your lifestyle and have long-lasting impact on your health, as well as support sustainability by avoiding packaged, processed foods. Clean eating translates into understanding the sources of your food, knowing what is in the food you are eating, and choosing chemical-free methods to grow and prepare food. Getting into the habit of selecting food mindfully at each step of the eating process is a good way to adopt a cleaner diet.

What if you want to grow your own food as a way to eat a clean diet, but aren’t sure where to start?

If you can follow directions to bake a cake or assemble a bookcase, you can grow your own food. The key to a green thumb is to start small and build on your successes.

Here are five steps to help you get closer to clean eating, starting with food choices and ending with growing your own food. Don’t worry — we’ll get you started with some tips so a “black thumb” won’t keep you from achieving your clean eating goals.

1. Eat Clean. Rethink dinner as a smaller serving of protein plus a whole grain, with half the dinner plate comprising vegetables. Using local produce in season not only is less expensive because it’s plentiful, it’s usually more flavorful and nutritious and less likely to be genetically modified or grown with pesticides. The smaller protein serving reflects the USDA recommendation of only five to six ounces of meat per day for most men and women.

2. Shop Clean. The perimeter of the grocery store is an ideal place to shop, where fresh food is typically displayed. Read ingredient labels and choose simpler foods rather than processed foods that often have unpronounceable additives. Make whole grains like brown rice your default choice, and only choose more refined grains like white rice as the exception.

3. Cook Clean. Learning how to cook not only enables more cooking at home, but the knowledge helps in controlling exactly what goes into each meal. Adapting recipes by adding more vegetables and whole grains and omitting extra fat, salt and sugar is a great way to start cleaner eating. Select whole, unrefined foods that are organic whenever possible to limit exposure to pesticides.

4. Keep Clean. Avoid food containing chemical preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, artificial sweeteners and harmful ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup or trans fats. Instead, choose naturally preserved fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi or pickled vegetables that contribute ‘good’ bacteria to the healthy population that lives in our large intestine.

5. Grow Clean. Eating home-grown vegetables straight from one’s kitchen garden is the best way to ensure food is free of chemical fertilizers and insecticides. There are a number of vegetables that can be easily grown, so your backyard, balcony or even the kitchen window sill can be transformed into a starter garden.

Getting Started in the Garden
In San Antonio, fall gardening means planting vegetables in time to mature for harvesting before the season’s first hard frost arrives, typically around Thanksgiving. While there are years when warm winters mean the occasional garden tomato graces the Christmas meal, it’s best to use the November 26 frost date as the outer limit for tender fall plants. Before choosing plants or seeds, always check for your area for what to plant for the season. Online resources and local nurseries can help in choosing the most appropriate plants to grow, no matter when you are starting your garden.

Now is the time to grow cool temperature-loving vegetables like peas, garlic and onions, lettuce and other leafy vegetables, and cole crops like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. If planting seeds, check the “days to harvest” on the seed packet to make sure the plant will mature by first frost. Some hardier leafy vegetables actually taste better after a light frost, so kale, broccoli, and other winter-hardy vegetables in South Central Texas will do just fine or perhaps benefit from a protective cloth covering anchored in the soil if temperatures dip to freezing.

Start with a small garden located where you can see it daily, making it easier to check on plants as you walk into the house or drive into your garage. Making it easy to garden means you will notice it’s time to water plants or harvest. Select a spot where plants will get at least six hours of sun. If it’s close to your water source (either your front or back door or the closest hose connection), that’s a bonus that will make watering easier. Avoid using chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Focus on organic gardening methods for the cleanest produce possible.

If your plants are under stress, their leaves and stems will show it. Leaves get yellow or black tips; stems may look shriveled or droop. Most “black thumb” gardeners don’t notice the signs of plant stress until it’s too late. If you examine plants regularly you can spot the beginning of insect infestations or plant disease and can treat these problems before they kill the plant. Online resources are great for using photos to show what problems in specific plants look like and how to address each problem.

Over time, the act of choosing food, slowly learning how to prepare tasty, healthy dishes and growing your own vegetables and herbs becomes an opportunity to learn more about the food you eat, getting you closer to cleaner eating on a daily basis.

By Iris Gonzalez

Online Resources
www.cookinglight.com/eating-smart/smart-choices/clean-eatingifoodreal.com/clean-eating-recipes-dinners/
www.foodmatters.com/article/top-10-food-additives-to-avoid
www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/beginners-guide-organic-gardening
www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/gardening/top-gardening-mistakes
www.gardenguides.com/78390-tell-plants-need-water.html