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Use your garden to save money and improve health with a plant-based diet

by Staci Gulbin | Contributor
July 9, 2020

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A plant-based diet has many benefits for the body from reducing inflammation to helping reduce risk of arthritis and heart disease to improving gut health. Even though eating mostly plants in your diet can improve your health for the better in many ways, you may wonder if such an eating plan costs a lot to maintain.

Produce in the market can be expensive sometimes, but with a few pots, soil and seeds you can grow your own at home. Read below to learn more about a plant-based diet, how to start a plant-based diet, and tips on how you can plant your own garden at home to enjoy the benefits of plant-based eating within your budget.

What is a plant-based diet?

When you think of a plant-based diet, you may think of a vegan diet. Although this is one form of plant-based diet, there are several ways to enjoy a plant-based diet and reap its health benefits.

According to Harvard Medical School experts, the major types of plant-based diets include:

  • Flexitarian: This semi-vegetarian diet is mostly plant-based foods, but also includes eggs, dairy foods, and occasionally meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Pescatarian: This plant-based diet includes eggs, dairy, fish, and seafood, along with mostly produce and other plant-based foods, but no meat or poultry.
  • Vegetarian: This well-known plant-based diet includes eggs and dairy products, but no meat, poultry, fish or seafood.
  • Vegan: This eating plan includes no animal products at all.

You don’t necessarily have to go vegetarian or vegan to reap the benefits of the plant-based diet. By simply adding more vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and seeds into your diet, you can increase your intake of antioxidants that can reduce inflammation in your body and in turn reduce risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Some easy tips to start eating more plant-based include:

  • Add an extra serving of vegetables to mealtime. This could include spinach and tomatoes in your morning omelet, a salad with lunch or steamed vegetables with dinner.
  • Have a meatless meal day once a week. If you’re not familiar with meatless meals, use resources online to help you discover meatless recipes that you can experiment with once a week. This will help you expand your palate and learn how to enjoy more vegetables in your diet every day.
  • Enjoy fruit for dessert instead of sweets. Not only will eating more fruit increase your daily fiber intake, but it will also help satisfy your sweet tooth while reducing your daily added sugar and calorie intake.
  • Consume whole grains instead of refined grains. Instead of sugary cereals, enjoy oatmeal or quinoa for breakfast with a bit of cinnamon. And for lunch, instead of refined white bread for your sandwich, use whole-grain, whole-wheat or sprouted breads. Finally, for dinner, if you’re having rice, use quinoa or brown rice for more fiber and nutrients.

How can I enjoy a plant-based diet on a budget?

Eating plant-based can be expensive sometimes, but there are tips to enjoy such foods on a budget.

  • Buy fresh staples that are less expensive like apples, bananas, oranges and sweet potatoes.
  • For greens like spinach and broccoli, buy flash frozen options that will stay fresh in the freezer for months up to a year until you’re ready to eat them.
  • Buy produce when it’s in season since it will be in harvest and in turn less expensive since there will be more of it around. You can find out what produce is in season throughout the year on the USDA produce guide.

Along with these tips, it can also save money to plant produce in your garden so you have it at your disposal for the price of soil and seeds. Read below for tips on maintaining a nutrient-dense garden.

How to get the most nutrition out of your personal garden

To start your own garden, all you need is a small piece of land or an area where you can set several large pots and where there is a lot of sun exposure. A flat piece of land is best to ensure that you don’t have to worry about pooling water on either end. Once you have designated an area for your garden, use the following tips to help you create the healthiest garden.

  • Have a soil test done to make sure the soil is healthy enough for a garden. It costs less than $20 and can tell you what types of fertilizer or additives you may need to enrich your soil.
  • Protect your garden from pests. Organic sprays or a garden fence can help you keep critters out of your garden that could eat or spoil your harvest.
  • Keep weeds out of your garden. It may help to rid of all weeds in the area you plan on gardening about a month or so before you plant any seeds so your produce can thrive. You will want to stay away from synthetic spray weed killers since they are not safe to consume. However, you can use garden tools like a hoe to dig up hard to pull weeds and pull the rest out of the ground manually. Then, till the soil and plant your seeds. Once your seeds have reached about three inches tall, then lay down a few inches thick layer of mulch around your plants to prevent weeds from growing in.
  • Plant produce you will eat plenty of. You can save lots of money from the grocery store by growing herbs and vegetables you eat a lot of and/or are versatile in many meals like tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, cucumbers, and carrots.

How do I harvest my produce?

If you’ve never had a garden before, it can be hard to tell when to harvest your produce for the best result. Experts suggest that you should look for certain signs that a vegetable or fruit is ready for harvest. These signs will differ depending on the type of produce. Some examples include:

  • Green beans: Pick when they are thinner than a pencil
  • Squash: Harvest when they are less than 6 inches long
  • Carrots: Wait to harvest about 75 days after planting and loosen the soil with fork before trying to pick carrots from your garden to avoid separating the leaves from the carrot.
  • Peppers: Allow peppers to ripen past the green color before picking peppers
  • Tomatoes: Wait to harvest when tomatoes have fully changed color and have a bit of softness

Final tips on starting a plant-based diet

A plant-based diet can seem overwhelming at first. But just like any new thing in life, just take one step at a time so you can turn your new behavior into a healthy new habit over time. And if you’re not sure where to start with your garden, don’t hesitate to ask an expert at your local garden center for assistance. They can guide you toward the supplies you’ll need to start your garden. Better yet, they may even know about classes in your community to help you learn more about gardening and plant-based living.

Furthermore, be sure to ask your health insurance company about any nutrition-related benefits they may offer. Some insurance companies may offer reduced rates on meeting with a registered dietitian, healthy food meal programs or food prescriptions or wellness programs that provide stipends to spend at farmers’ markets. Call your health insurance provider to find out more.

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