Growing and raising your own produce is exciting and satisfying, but sometimes it can be a challenge to know what to do with the fresh vegetables, fruit, herbs, and eggs. Especially when you are blessed with a glut of something! You grow some of your food, because you want to make healthy and delicious meals using freshly harvested, seasonal ingredients. But you often need a way to deal with excess produce (besides leaving zucchini on your neighbours doorstep), family members who claim they don’t like vegetables, and times when the garden isn’t very productive! You also want to grow the right things and make the most of what you have grown, to have convenient, family friendly (and delicious) food.

So what can you do about this wonderful problem.

  • Grow the things your family regularly eat, but also learn to eat the things that grow well in your climate/ seasons
  • Embrace seasonal eating with recipes and substitutions
  • Meal plan in a way that is adaptable for harvests
  • Using your gluts to make meals cooked in advance, and preserve jars of sauces or relishes for quick meal starters
  • Learn how to love vegetables with clever recipes (yes, even your fussy children and partner will get on board!)
  • Learn how to preserve and store food to extend the seasons
  • Change your perspective about what you think you should be eating, to embrace more simple meals that are quick to put together from your own backyard

Sound good? This Beginner’s Guide to Cooking from the Garden can help you get started today. Don’t forget to check out Beginner’s Guide to Greening Your Kitchen, and the Beginner’s Guide to Meal Prep and Meal Planning.

Should I grow what I eat? Or eat what I grow?

Both! When planning your garden, and buying seeds or seedlings, think about growing fruit, vegetables and herbs that you, and your loved ones, consistently eat. Think about what your family eat at the moment, or more so, what they do not. It works both ways, grow what you eat, but also, don’t grow what you don’t eat.

If nobody likes to eat cucumbers, or only one family member or roommate is fond of them, limit how many cucumber plants you put in. Sometimes it is worthwhile trialling things that may not be the most popular with those you are feeding, because home grown produce can often be dramatically more delicious than what you are used to. Or you may find pickled dill cucumbers are great, even though you don’t really like fresh ones.

You can always share or swap produce you didn’t end up liking. The best thing about growing some of your own food is that you can experiment and if something wasn’t popular last season, don’t grow it next year. Or you may find something grew well, and everyone loved it, and you might plant more of them next year.

Some produce you commonly eat now, may not be so easy to grow yourself, depending on the climate you live in, and you may have to learn to enjoy what does grow well in your area instead. You may love mangoes, but do not live in a tropical region, but you can grow raspberries in your climate, which are equally delicious.

Unless you have the space and can do ‘succession planting’ then you may also find you can’t grow enough, or consistent amounts, of what you do eat. When you run out of carrots, maybe kohlrabi is your new best friend.

Learning to enjoy what grows in your area, and in the seasons in which it grows, can be done by learning how to transform what you’ve grown into something everyone likes. You may not love cauliflower, but it grows well in your climate, and you could try cauliflower in au gratin, roasted, in mash, soup, or even made into a pizza base! 

What is seasonal eating? How do I know what is in season?

You may have heard the terms ‘seasonal eating’ or ‘eating by the season’, which means you eat produce during the period when it is being harvested in your region, or your garden! Certain foods will grow ‘year round’ but many are only able to grow in the warmer seasons, whereas others are optimally grown during the cooler seasons.

Depending on the climate where you live and are growing your edible garden, you may find you are harvesting cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, green beans and basil in Summer, pumpkins and squash in Autumn, kale and swedes in Winter, and broad beans, kohlrabi, asparagus and broccoli in Spring.

You can make delicious meals using seasonal produce, by learning how to substitute in recipes for what is being harvested.

If you buy your fresh produce from the supermarket, many varieties are available all year, even those  that would not be growing or being harvested at that time of year. There is a good chance it has been shipped from far away (where it is being grown and harvested) or that it was grown in a heated greenhouse. It may have been grown using chemical to boost production, and harvested early to allow for distribution or storage. Or chemically treated and stored in cool rooms for long term storage. All of which have a negative impact on the environment (and you!)

Eating produce when it is ‘in season’ means it is at it’s peak, it tastes better, it may be more nutritious, and more readily available. You can embrace seasonal eating because the food tastes better, and you’ve been waiting months for the ‘asparagus season’ or the ‘corn season’ to start, so it means more when it does. By doing without for part of the year, you really appreciate when something does come into season!

HOW DO I KNOW WHAT IS IN SEASON?

Take a look at what is growing in your own garden, or available at the local farmers market, as that is a good way to tell if something is ‘in season’. 

You can find seasonal produce guides for your region or climate, like this from Sustainable Table or the Seasonal Food Guide Australia, or even in some gardening or cook books.

Look for cook books, blogs and websites specifically about seasonal cooking, like River Cottage, Jamie Oliver, Northwest Edible Life, A Year in Food, Brooklyn SupperLove and Lemons, and Ottolenghi. Learn how to make the most of what is in season with great recipes for vegetables, fruit and herbs, often using simple ways to bring the best out in the freshest produce.

How can I substitute homegrown + seasonal produce into my favourite recipes?

Transforming healthy ingredients into something everyone likes (and is good for them!) can be a challenge for many home cooks. You find ways to hide the vegetables, introduce different flavours, and make family favourites healthier. All the tricks in the book apply when you are growing your own vegetables, herbs and fruit too. You don’t have to give up your family favourites, you just might have to find a substitution that works.

VEGETABLE SUBSTITUTIONS

You can try substituting the following seasonal vegetables:

  • Add sweet potato or pumpkin into mashed potato – or be daring and use turnips or swede (AKA tatties and neeps)
  • Carrots, sweet potato and pumpkin can be interchangeable, but pumpkin and sweet potato cook more quickly than carrot, so allow for that in the cooking time, or cut them into bigger pieces – in some recipes, like a salad, you could use raw beetroot instead of carrot!
  • Broccoli stalk or kohlrabi can be used in place of zucchini, but will require more cooking time or being cut smaller – radish becomes mild when cooked, and resembles the texture of zucchini!
  • Kale can be substituted in for silverbeet and spinach, but try to use less bitter kales, like Red Russian or Dwarf Curly Blue – or swap out any greens with each other, like Asian greens, or mustard/ collard greens
  • Cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale can be interchanged in many recipes – like the popular kaleslaw, or fry either (or all) of them up with bacon and broth
  • Use green beans in summer, but peas and broad beans in cooler months, or asparagus in Spring!
  • Eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms can often be interchanged in recipes such as lasagna, moussaka, pizza toppings, stuffed vegetables.

HERB SUBSTITUTIONS

Herbs can be very strong and individual but some substitutions can include:

  • Thai basil for coriander, in Asian dishes, such as this Coriander Curry Paste or same recipe, different herb in this Thai Basil Curry Paste
  • Tarragon, thyme, savory and rosemary are strong in flavour, but can substituted, esp in lamb dishes
  • If you cannot find marjoram, use oregano or spicy basil
  • Flat leaf parsley and curly parsley easily swap, but celery leaf could be used if you don’t have parsley, or the green of carrot tops!
  • Anise and dill are similar, or tarragon, bronze fennel or fennel leaf also have a licorice flavour
  • Chives, garlic chives, spring onions and leek are similar in many ways, or use garlic scapes
  • Rocket can be a potential substitute for watercress or sorrel
  • Or change up the herbs you would usually use, for what you have an abundance of, so instead of Macadamia Basil Pesto, try making Coriander Pesto or Mint and Dill Pesto

OTHER IDEAS

Other ideas apply to techniques or recipes, including:

  • Certain meals are more welcoming to substitutions (and sneaking in veges) than others – we are talking risotto, lasagna, vege bake, fried rice, meatballs, soups and casseroles, even cheesy pasta sauce
  • Look for recipes that call for cups of vegetables, rather than specific vegetables, like these vege fritters or any type of herbs, like this Herb and Garlic Butter or Herb Ginger Lime Marinade
  • Many vegetables can be substituted when it comes to using pureed vegetables, but remember that zucchini and pumpkin often have more water in them (steam them before pureeing, rather than boiling them)
  • Add more sides, or make the sides the main dish! Instead of getting stuck in the ‘meat and three veg’ mentality, break out and have several vege options. 
  • Make sweet potato wedges, or zucchini fries, instead of potato chips/ wedges
  • Make vege noodles from spiralised vegetables, such as zucchini becomes zoodles (or use carrots, sweet potato) and use this in place of pasta (or spiralised cucumber in an Asian noodle salad)
  • Instead of carrots in Carrot Cake, try sweet potato. Instead of using zucchini in Zucchini Brownie, use purple carrots!
How can I cook homegrown, whilst having convenient and easy meals?

For some, the idea of growing their own food is great, but the time it takes to not only grow the food, but to then turn the harvests into meals seems impossible to fit into your busy schedule. We can make it work by finding (or creating) recipes that can be made in advance, or those that come together quickly. You can also start using an adaptable meal plan, that suits what you are harvesting from the garden (or buying locally) in a way that fits your weekly schedule. Learn more about meal prep and meal planning here.

IDEAS to save time + MAKE MEAL TIME EASIER

  • Cook once, serve twice – this means making a double (or triple) batch, and freezing portions for a quick meal another time. Meals that you can ‘cook in advance’ (to reheat the next evening, or to freeze) include risotto, lasagna or pasta bake, shepherd’s pie, quiche, vege bake, fried rice, casseroles and soups, all which lend themselves well to using any seasonal vegetables and produce.
  • Use leftovers to create dinner for the next night, like leftover chicken curry can be transformed into samosas, or leftover grilled beef can be used in rice paper rolls, or BBQ chicken pieces can be turned into a salad. Grab some fresh veges or herbs to enhance the meal!
  • Quick and convenient meals which use whatever produce you are growing (or can buy locally and in season), include omelettes, stir fry, quesadillas, salads, and vege fritters.
  • Meal prep your vegetables, or meals, for the week ahead. Harvest the veges, and cut up, put them in containers. Put the sauces/ flavourings, and the chopped meat, in separate containers from the veges. This works really well for slow cooker meals, as you just empty the containers of pre-prepared veges, meat and sauces into the slow cooker, put the lid on, and turn on for 6 to 8 hours.
  • You can also have the sides pre-cooked, and frozen, like rice, mash or polenta, ready to defrost as needed. I prefer not to freeze my vege sides, as I don’t like the texture once defrosted, but they easily last 5 days in containers in the fridge, ready to steam. Or prep salads in advance too, just pour the dressing on only at the last minute. (It’s so much easier to ‘eat healthy’ when it’s ready to go!)
  • Have the meat/ protein chopped, marinated and ready to defrost/ cook, to go with a big salad made from harvested veges. 
  • Make bulk batches of curry pastes and pesto, to freeze in individual portions, ready to defrost as needed. This is good for making the most of a glut of chillies, capsicum, coriander etc.
  • Roast vegetables when you have the oven on for a different meal, and then freezing them in portions, giving you a head start with a meal for another time, like roast pumpkin cubes to add to risotto. Or cook, then puree seasonal veges (and freeze) to use as bases for soup, casseroles, risotto, creamy pasta sauce!
  • A jar of homemade relish can be an instant flavour addition for a slow cooked casserole, which is ready when you get home from work.
  • If you make sauces from an abundance of apricots or plums in Summer, you have an easy marinade for chicken another time of year.
  • If you are into preserving, learn how to dehydrate meals, such as soups, or the ingredients for a casserole, or how to pressure can complete meals in jars.
  • Make good systems work for you, like how you harvest, wash and process your produce one day a week, to make it easier to use, or cooking bulk amounts on a Sunday for the week ahead.

Changing your perspective, not only your own, but your family, roommates or whoever you might be feeding, can make a huge difference. Instead of feeling like you need to serve a gourmet meal each night, consider that a quick omelette can be nutritious and delicious, as well as filling you up. You can fill it with home grown rocket and mushrooms, local cheese, anything. It doesn’t have to only be served at breakfast time!

TV shows and cook books have been wonderful for getting people back into cooking and creating in the kitchen, but sometimes they raise expectations that busy people just cannot meet every night. Let your taste buds, and your vege garden, guide you instead.

What if my family doesn’t like vegetables?

If your family are used to eating a certain way, it can be a challenge to start eating from the garden (or using local food) which may be ‘different’ to what they are used to. The vegetables and fruit may look different, and taste different. There may be times of abundance, where you have a lot of zucchini or squash to eat, which quickly gets boring, or just grosses them out. And let’s face it, fuss-pots will sometimes just find any ol’ reason to fuss, right.

Whilst you might adopt an ‘eat it or go hungry’ motto, an adjustment period is a good idea to ease your family into the new meals and way of eating. It gives them time to realise that meals made from home grown and local food can taste great, even if it isn’t what they (or you) are used to.

Your family, or those you are feeding, can get involved in the challenge, creating new favourites, like BBQ Zucchini Fritters, or adapting the old ones, such as adding roast vegetables into the layers of lasagna.

OTHER IDEAS TO TURN THOSE FROWNS UPSIDE DOWN

  • Incorporate (or you can call it ‘hide’) vegetables into family favourites, like finely grating vegetables into meatballs or bolognese sauce, or using pureed vegetables in cheesy pasta or risotto
  • Make ‘mixed mash’ instead of mashed potato, by adding home grown pumpkin, sweet potato and even turnip, to the potatoes (start with smaller amounts of other root vegetables until they get used to the difference).
  • Try homemade pizzas or baked potatoes, using home preserved sauce, and toppings from the garden, like grilled zucchini, eggplant, or capsicum, covered in cheese, with a home grown salad on the side.
  • Try making a recipe with the bulk of the meal being home grown vegetables, and a smaller amount of meat/ meat alternative, like Shepard’s Pie or Nacho Mince
  • You might get good results from things you wouldn’t expect them (or yourself) to like, such as kale chips, radish fries or stuffed mushrooms.
  • Make your own seasonings and flavourings, such curry paste using home grown chillies and herbs, or try smoking capsicums to make your own paprika.
  • Roasting or char grilling makes a boring vegetable into an exciting addition to meals.
  • Using recipes from vegetable cookbooks, like the River Cottage Veg recipes, or Hugh’s books Veg and Much More Veg, or Ottolenghi’s Plenty, The Vegetable Butcher, Tender by Nigel Slater (heaps more, just check out your local library) which can give you inspiration too, especially when an abundance coming from the garden needs creativity to transform them into family friendly meals.
What do I eat when the garden isn’t producing?

One option is to store and preserve food during the harvest or peak growing seasons, whether you use home grown or buy local produce.

Buy local, in season produce. Check out The Beginner’s Guide to Greening your Kitchen on how to shop and source local food. You may be able to buy your produce from local Farmers Markets, CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) and even direct from the farmer.

Another idea is to make do with what is available, such as in Winter, eating the leafy young tops off radishes, turnips, beetroot or swedes as ‘greens’, as well the vegetable part.

Lean times in the garden, or when there has been an incident with your crops, might be a good time to learn how to forage and identify edible weeds, with a good resource being The Weed Forager’s Handbook: A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland’.


If you want to chat with other people who are cooking from the garden, or are just getting started, join the Growing Home Community, a closed group hosted on Facebook.

OTHER DIRT TO DINNER GUIDES

GET YOUR FREE GUIDE TO URBAN HOMESTEADING

Sign up to our email list to receive your FREE 40-page eGuide (with Printable Worksheets, and Assessment + Design Tool) to help you start planning your vege gardens, chickens and more today, plus how to tackle those pesky challenges, like finding time, money and energy (or getting your family on board)! You will also receive fortnightly emails with garden + kitchen advice to help you find yourself in the dirt!

Thank you for signing up! Don't forget to check for the confirmation email...

Oops, something went wrong. Please try again, or contact Bec.