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Planning for a Healthy, Sustainable Spring

Spring is a great time for a fresh start, a perfect window for a reset as the season flips forward. This spring, take time to explore how to create healthy, sustainable changes, both inside and outside your home.

Whether this means planting garden seeds indoors, using your kitchen leftovers more efficiently, or being more resource-conscious at home, there are some easy ways to get started. 

Starting a garden

Lots of people love the idea of kicking-off spring with a little gardening. Some small plants like common kitchen herbs basil, thyme and cilantro can be grown in a sunny spot inside the home any time of the year. If you’re planning to plant seeds inside and then transfer them to an outside container garden or in-ground garden, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Cool-weather crops like peas, lettuces and onions can be sown directly in the ground outside a few weeks before the last-frost date. In Michigan, the last-frost date is typically mid-to-late May. 
  • Warm-weather vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and squash can be started inside in containers or vegetable flats. Start them by seed four to six weeks before the last frost date. They can be placed on a sunny table or windowsill, or under a grow light for maximum results.
  • When transplanting seedlings from inside to outside, leave them outside for increasing increments of time during the day a few days prior to help them adjust to the weather. 

Lots of household recyclables can be used for seed-starting when it’s time to start prepping your garden. Here are some containers that can be re-used:

  • Plastic milk jugs or paper milk cartons: Cut off the top third. Make drainage holes on the bottom. Fill half-way with potting soil. Use them to start growing heavier plants like mammoth sunflowers, blueberry or raspberry bushes, pumpkins or other squash.
  • Metal cans: Rinse them and cut off sharp lids. Drill drainage holes in the bottom. Fill half-way with potting soil. Depending on the can size, use them to grow sturdy plants like tomatoes, basil and any kind of flower.
  • Egg cartons: The tiny cups can be easily filled with potting soil and used to start small plants like herbs, lettuces and even onion sets. 

Using leftovers in the kitchen

In an efficient kitchen there is very little waste. Experienced cooks know to look for clever ways to use up extra ingredients. Here are some of the tastiest tips:

  • Buy sturdy storage containers with good-fitting lids. This will keep your leftovers from drying out and make them easy to take to work.
  • Don’t throw away the rinds from hard cheeses like parmesan, asiago or Romano. Store them in a bag in the freezer. When making soups or broth, drop in a rind. It will soften and add a depth of flavor to the whole pot.
  • Rotisserie chickens and veggie scraps can get new life as homemade broth for soups, rice, lentils and other recipes. Once most of the meat is gone, place the chicken carcass, skin and bits into a freezer bag and place in the freezer. After prepping veggies for a meal, add the scraps like carrot peels and tops, celery ends and onion skins to the bag. When you’re ready to make broth, put everything into a pot, cover with water, add some garlic cloves, herbs, salt and pepper and simmer for a couple hours.
  • Juicing a lemon or orange often leaves the outside of the fruit as a leftover. The leftover fruit rinds will keep a few days in the refrigerator and the fruit’s zest can be used to flavor cooked oatmeal, grilled meat or rice dishes. 

Resource-conscious at home

There are lots of little things you can do to get into a “waste-less” mindset, whether it’s saving energy, reducing trash or reusing items. Here are ways to conserve energy and resources around the house:

  • Turn off or unplug electronics. Lights, televisions, computers and other technology devices should be turned off or unplugged when you are done with them. Be sure to check that your light bulbs are energy-efficient.
  • Use energy-efficient settings for dishwashers, washing machines and dryers.
  • Turn down the heat or raise the air conditioning setting when leaving home for several hours. 
  • Keep a designated recycling area to make it easier to collect items.

Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan based in Detroit. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family. For more health tips and information, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.

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