IMG_7627After a long winter, spring has finally arrived and with the warmer weather it is the perfect time to start thinking about planting your very own family backyard garden!

There is a small upfront investment with this worthwhile endeavour – some good topsoil, gardening gloves, a trowel, seeds, and a few transplants. However, you will enjoy fresh produce all summer long, and in the fall, have plenty to preserve for the winter months. If you don’t have enough yard space, consider growing vegetables in pots or renting a community garden plot.

Nothing tastes better than home grown veggies, and gardening is a fun family activity that teaches kids an invaluable life skill of growing their own food. Gardening is also a great way to be physically active and enjoy the outdoors. Each year, my family and I try to grow a few new items in our garden. Of course, it depends on the summer, whether it is hot and dry, or rainy but we have found these 7 vegetables, regardless of the weather, are sure to be a foolproof success in any Canadian garden.

My Top 7 top Produce Picks and Their Nutritional Benefits:

IMG_1445Tomatoes:  There is nothing more delicious than the sweet juiciness of vine-ripened tomatoes.  Not only do they taste great, but tomatoes are also a fantastic source of the key antioxidant lycopene, that gives them their beautiful red colour.  More recent findings show that lycopene is associated with heart health because it reduces inflammation in the vessels.

Green beans: Are low in calories, just 40 calories per cup, and are loaded with nutrients. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, important for a healthy immune system, vitamin K for blood clotting, dietary fibre, potassium and magnesium. The combination of magnesium and potassium work together to help maintain healthy blood pressure.

Carrots: Maybe you’ve wondered, what exactly about the carrot is good for your eyes? It is the beta-carotene. In addition to giving the carrot its name and orange color, beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body which helps improve vision. Also, the beta-carotene in carrots is an anti-oxidant combating free radicals that can damage cells. Cooking carrots actually raises their nutritional benefits. The fibre in carrots can trap the beta carotene, making it difficult for your body to absorb. By cooking them slightly, you free the beta-carotene from the fibre, allowing your body to absorb it better. Eating only a half-cup serving per day will give you more than the recommended amount of beta-carotene. IMG_1447

Potatoes: Whoever coined the term “the lowly potato” was sorely mistaken, because these root vegetables are nutrient-dense. They contain both soluble and insoluble fibre, aiding with both regularity and cholesterol reduction. The fibre also helps slow digestion, helping you feel full longer. One medium potato contains loads of of potassium. Potassium is important for promoting normal blood-pressure and aids in muscle contraction.

Beets: Both beet greens and roots contain large amount of nutrients. The greens and roots are a rich source of iron for healthy red blood cells, calcium for bone health, and vitamins A and C.  Beet greens are a good source of folate, which is important for generating healthy cells. Beets are high in carbohydrate and fibre, providing the body with a good source of sustained energy.

IMG_0705Peppers: Brightly coloured peppers, whether green, red, orange or yellow, are rich sources of some of the best nutrients. Peppers are excellent sources of the antioxidant vitamin C. Did you know there is more vitamin C in a sweet pepper than an orange? Peppers also contain vitamin B6 and folate. These two nutrients are important for heart health because they help reduce inflammation.

thumbnail_IMG_0113Broccoli: Provides a high amount of vitamin C and iron. The vitamin C actually aids iron absorption in the body. Broccoli contains a large amount of calcium for bone health and sulfer compunds that are known to reduce your risk of cancer. In the world of healthy vegetables, broccoli occupies the special status of being one of the most nutritious.

Try planting my 7 favourites and some of your own.  Most importantly, have fun watching your garden grow, and eating your own nutrient-dense produce.  In the fall, when you have your bumper crop of vegetables, check out my blog post in August for tips on preserving your garden harvest to last through the winter months.