Home Homesteading 6 Reasons Growing and Cooking Your Own Food is Healthier

6 Reasons Growing and Cooking Your Own Food is Healthier

by Bay Sandoval
6 minutes read

I don’t really like to cook. But I do it because I’m a mom and that’s the best way to make sure my family is eating healthy food.

I’ve been a mom for over half a decade now. That’s not a long time compared to many of you guys, but really, those 5 and a half years represent the segment of my life in which I couldn’t just focus on eating healthy food for myself — I had to do the work for other people, as well.

I was suddenly in charge of feeding a baby and also making sure my husband had healthy food to eat. I nearly gave up on caring for myself. I compromised more than I want to admit. But last spring, I came very close to being diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

6 reasons to grow & cook your own food

From what we could see after a bunch of diet changes and four weeks of stabbing myself in the finger to take my blood glucose levels, it seems like it was a false alarm. However, that experience shook me awake to the absolute necessity of self-care when it comes to eating well.

It also made me realize that compromising on the nutritional quality of our food was no longer an option just because my kids were turning their noses up at the new veggies on their plates. I had to get really clear with every member of our household that I expected them to eat nutritious foods.

homegrown green beans - hand picking a green bean plant
Home-grown Green Beans | Summer 2021

This responsibility of providing healthy food for my family cuts deep to the heart of my sensitivity as a mother for several reasons: I want to provide healthy food for them because it’s good for their bodies, but I also want them to think it’s good.

I don’t want it to be a fight, and if it is a fight, I feel like I’ve failed as a mother because they’re refusing to eat something that is GOOD for them! If they’re not eating healthy food, I feel like that’s my fault and I’m a bad mom. And if they’re eating healthy food but hating every minute of it, I still feel like it’s my fault because I need to teach them to like it.

So there. Serving healthy food to the family can become a pain point for me and many other mamas. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. I don’t want to be the one mom who’s kid isn’t allowed to have ice cream and feels like a weirdo at birthday parties.

I can reason with the oldest, so he is able to understand what I say and act on it. The littler two, not so much. It’s bribery, folks. And sometimes bribery doesn’t even work with the little ones.

But I also don’t want my kids to refuse to eat things that are good for them. It was a struggle there for a while, trying to find balance. But as soon as my oldest, who is 5, was able to start eating food he didn’t like just because he knew he needed to because it was good for his body, that started to make a big difference!

Prickly Pear Jelly - in mason jar canning
Prickly Pear Jelly

But all this got me thinking about how important it is to me that the food we’re eating is good for us, and also delicious, and also EASY for Mama to make. Oh, and also inexpensive!

Well, it just so happens that growing and cooking your own food hits all these marks!

Here are some reasons that growing and cooking your own food is healthier (and cheaper!):

#1: FOUR-WING SALTBUSH

Four-wing saltbush is a very cool plant. The leaves produce a thin lather when rubbed together under running water and can be added to dishes as a sort of “spice.” It’s an overstatement to call the leaves a spice, though. I prefer to grind them up in a blender with the seeds and use them in breads.

I usually grind up mostly the seeds into a meal, sift it through a sieve, and add the powder to baked goods. The bulky portion of the powder becomes a tea. The tea is really good! I was actually surprised at how good it is.

Turning the plant into tea is probably my favorite way to use it! Four-wing saltbush can also be fed to animals like rabbits and chickens as a supplement to their diet and a way to save money on feed.

#2: SUNFLOWER STALKS

Did you know that the whole sunflower plant is edible? I learned this a couple years ago and am only now starting to use it.

Much like the four-wing saltbush, dry or cured sunflower stalks and leaves and flower heads can be ground up using a blender and put through a strainer to create a “meal” and a “tea-like” substance.

I like to mix a tablespoon or two into pretty much any bread recipe I make and it adds wonderful flavor and a unique twist to your baked goods. As good as it is in breads, though, it’s even better as a tea. Sunflower tea is the best foraged tea I’ve made so far. You need to try it as soon as you can harvest some old sunflower stalks! When you collect sunflower stalks, cut them up with garden pruners and make sure they don’t look big-infested on the inside.

#3: Yucca

 

The yucca is supposedly edible, or has edible parts, but I only harvested some to attempt to make baskets. If it is successful, I will show you guys how to do it!

Many yucca plants have blooms that are edible. They can be tossed in a salad or placed in a stir-fry. The roots of yucca plants also make a weak soap solution when rubbed together with water.

#4: Ground Cherries

I’ve been seeing ground cherries around here most of my life but I had no idea they were edible. It seems sketchy to just go trying plants when you have no point of reference or experience in knowing which ones are poisonous, so until I started really doing research, I stayed away from plants I didn’t know about. However, I’ve learned recently that ground cherries are similar to a tomato in texture and flavor and can be eaten in the same way. I’ve heard that they are often used in our part of the country to make salsa! Isn’t that fun? I’m looking forward to using them next year.

#5: Prickly Pears

Not only are the prickly pear fruits edible, but so are the “pads” of the cactus plant. Cactus is an all-around awesome plant if you can just get past the cactus needles! I do not recommend using gloves to handle prickly pear. If you rely on gloves to protect your fingers, the needles will just get stuck in the gloves and pierce right through into your hands.

Instead, take a pair of pliers and use those to sever the prickly pear fruits from the rest of the cactus. Then you can take the fruits, burn or brush off the needles and use them for jam or as a juice!

#6: Horehound

Horehound is one of those plants that is everywhere around our house. Before we knew it was a useful plant to use as a tea for coughs, we saw it as an obnoxious weed. I’m now trying to harvest it and get it dried so we can store it in mason jars over the winter.

You may have seen Horehound candy at Cracker Barrel. This plant is what is in that candy!

#7: Mallow

I don’t have a photo of mallow right now, but mallow is another plant that’s great for soothing sore throats. It’s very mild, and you can also put it in salads or use it as you would spinach or kale in soups and savory dishes.

If you want to learn more about New Mexico wild edibles, I highly recommend reading Charles Kane’s book! Be safe when you’re foraging and make sure you know what you’re gathering.

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