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Eating From Our Garden in January

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

Based on my experience of being immersed in the local food scene in our city for the last decade, it has become clear that the public enthusiasm around gardening rises and falls with the reading on our thermometers. In the summer months, food related festivals fill the calendar and there is plenty of talk and press about eating seasonally, but each time winter rolls back around, interest in homegrown food wains and it becomes clear that most folks revert back to a grocery store dependent lifestyle. Therefore, I am taking it upon myself this month to keep the subject of seasonal eating in the spotlight (albeit a small one) during the coldest time of year here on the Canadian prairies.


What does it mean to eat seasonally in Saskatchewan... in January? Contrary to what you might think, eating with the seasons in a cold climate doesn't require one to go hungry all winter long, and we're not just eating potatoes and onions either. Sure, we miss our fresh greens and cucumbers, but there are still a lot of winter meals in our menu that are bursting with the colours, flavours, and nutrients from our own summer soil. We figured the best way to communicate this would be to keep a detailed record book of the food we eat, so we will invite you into our dining room for a week to share a little more about what seasonal eating looks like for us in the middle of winter.


The Challenge


Eating our own vegetables in winter is standard practice around here these days, but one thing we have never done before is track the quantity of everything we consume. Even though it seemed like we ate a lot of vegetables, we didn't have any numbers to prove it, so the challenge we set for ourselves for one week this January was to measure and record every item of food that we used in the kitchen.


Rachel and I were both curious about what an average week was like for us so we made no effort to avoid bought items that we would normally use and the meal plan that we ended up with was was pretty typical. Most of our meals start with consideration of what we have in the cooler, on the shelf, or in the freezer. Then whoever is in charge of meal preparation that night will do their best to assemble the chosen ingredients into something tasty. The photo below shows some of the items we used in our meals this week: winter squash, potatoes, onions, garlic, parsnips, carrots, beets, tomato sauce, pickled beens, syrup, and frozen beens, raspberries, celery, kale, peppers, and tomatoes.


storage vegetables
Here are a few of the crops we pulled out of storage for our meals this week.

The Meal Plan


Let's start with a look at how the meals played out for the week. To give you an idea of our family's routine, we generally make a simple breakfast each morning, warm up some leftovers for lunch, and almost always make something from scratch for supper. As a rule, everyone always eats what is on the table, but we tend to be a bit more flexible with breakfast planning, by letting our 2 and 4 year old daughters have more say in what they desire to eat first thing in the morning. The same goes for snacks throughout the day.


Sunday

​Breakfast

Amaranth Crepes with Berries, Yogurt, and Sour Cherry Syrup

Lunch

Leftovers

Supper

Scalloped Potatoes and Leftover Tomato Soup

Monday

Breafkfast

Eggs and Latkes with Homemade Ketchup

Lunch

Leftovers

Supper

Potato Leek Soup and Shredded Beet Carrot Salad

Tuesday

Breakfast

Eggs and Popped Amaranth with Yogurt and Berries

Lunch

Leftovers

Supper

Homemade Gnocci and Tomato Sauce

Wednesday

Breakfast

​Eggs and Leftover Latkes with Homemade Ketchup

Lunch

Leftovers

Supper

Vegetarian Chili and Roasted Potato Wedges

Thursday

Breakfast

​Eggs, Scalloped Potatoes, and Yogurt and Berries

Lunch

Leftovers

Supper

Ultimate Winter Chickpeas and Amaranth

Friday

Breakfast

Eggs and Popped Amaranth with Yogurt and Berries

Lunch

Leftovers

Supper

Fresh Tomato Soup and Roasted Maple Delicata Squash

Saturday

​Breakfast

Quiche Cups

Lunch

Leftovers

Supper

Garden Vegetable Curry and Rice

Snacks, Sides, and Desserts

We also tracked the food we ate between and after meals. This week that list included winter squash spice crescent rolls, pickled beans, carrot sticks, apples, oranges, berries, yogurt, and chocolate beet cake.


meal tracking notebook
Everything we ate was measured and jotted down in this notebook.

The Food Totals


Now let's look at the types of foods and quantities that were included in all of the recipes we used throughout the week. In total, we prepared 30,542g of food this week and 71% of that food by weight was from our own garden. We know this because we measured every major ingredient we used for each meal. The only things we left out were tiny items like herbs and salt. The ingredients we used from our garden made up 21,644g of that total, and the ingredients we purchased made up the remaining 8,898g. In the pie chart below, you can see the homegrown and bought items represented in green and blue respectively.


Amount of food from our garden vs food from grocery store
Green items are from our garden. Blue items were purchased. Click on image to see a larger version.

How Did It Go?


Recording everything we ate for the week did prove to be a bit of a challenge, (especially when there is often a toddler perched on the counter for meal prep) but the result offered us some interesting insights and motivation for some new growing experiments for next season. We found that breakfast seemed to be the trickiest meal for us to work in a lot of our homegrown food. Our routine, especially with our young girls, includes a lot of eggs and yogurt, and there just aren't great replacements from our own garden for those things. We have been making an effort to use more potatoes in the morning though. One breakfast win this week were potato pancakes, which still included egg and were served with yogurt, but also worked in a significant proportion of potato. Though they took a bit more time to prepare, they quickly reheated well for a snack the following day. We found that amaranth grain made a pretty good oatmeal replacement (especially with pecans and a bit of brown sugar), and we also improved our breakfast game by puffing amaranth grain (fun and delicious) to eat with berries from the freezer. We even made our Sunday morning crepes a little more garden centred by grinding our amaranth grain into flour and combining that with the standard wheat flour.


We were also reminded this week that, for our kids, the process is as important as the product. They often eat as much while meals are being prepared, as they do when we sit down together at the table. While prepping a shredded beet salad, our four year old sat on the counter and chomped down a substantial chunk of plain boiled beet. It's not something that I would have imagined serving on her plate, but I was happy that she was learning to love these veggies in her own way. Sure, it takes more time for them to 'help' peel a parsnip, but the value makes the time delay worth while if we aren't in a rush. I value that for them, pulling root crops from the walk-in cooler, grinding grain in the blender to make flour, and recalling summer seeding and harvest while popping new pickle jars is standard practice.


Meal Preparation Tips


If this level of vegetable consumption seems extraordinary at all, I want to remind you that the meal preparation practices we use today weren't always normal for us either. We used to incorporate a lot more grocery store items in our diet, especially in the winter, and it has taken some practice to figure out the best strategies for infusing more vegetables into our meals. Rachel does most of our supper meal planning these days and she was kind enough to organize the following tips for getting more garden produce into your winter menu.

  1. Switch out bases. Often when we serve a meal it is served over a grain like rice, quinoa, or noodles. By switching out regular pasta noodles with gnocci we are able to work a lot more potato into dishes. Gnocci is also always a crowd pleaser in our house so it has become one of our go-to bases. We also often serve chilli over a base of roasted potatoes instead of with a bun.

  2. Make substitutions. This week we experimented with baking with a 50/50 blend of amaranth flour and normal wheat flour with some success. Another common substitution we make is gold nugget squash for sweet potato, especially in recipes that require the sweet potato to be puréed. For example, at the beginning of the week we made a batch of sweet potato crescent rolls, substituting squash, and enjoyed them as a snack for the rest of the week.

  3. Sneak it in. Another way we love to get Red Kuri squash off of the shelves and onto the table is by sneaking it into tomato sauce for pizza and pasta. Adding some puréed squash adds thickness, sweetness, and all around goodness.

  4. Plan ahead. Especially if you want to challenge yourself to get more of your winter storage crops into your menu, forethought is key. Some aspects of this weeks meal prep were made easier because we had a preplanned list of meals that we knew would work with what we had on hand. Things ended up switching around as the week unfolded, but having that master list was the key to success, especially as we shared the task of food prep between two people.

  5. Know your staples. Do you have a few of those recipes that you know really make the most of your storage crops? It is worth saving them, printing them off, writing them down, or doing whatever you need to do to keep them easily accessible. The simpler you make it to cook with your own food, the more likely you are going to be to do it. And the more you do it, the less that food that you worked so hard for goes to waste on the shelf.


simmered vegetable dish
Our "Ultimate Winter Chickpeas" dish includes a lot more vegetables than the name implies.

Dreams for the Future


This food tracking exercise has certainly given us some useful numbers to reflect on as we plan this year's garden. It reminded me that there are some stored foods that we are not using as fast as we imagined, and it has also motivated me to try producing more of the food we ARE eating, such as wheat flour, rolled oats, and ginger. I am always up for a challenge and we have got enough growing space to experiment so stay tuned to see how these new crops are incorporated this season.


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