On the Table

On the Table: Tomatoes are a practical, easy-to-grow crop

CorrespondentApril 15, 2014 

It’s time to plant tomatoes. If that wasn’t on your to-do list, consider adding it.

It’s a practical, sensible springtime ritual and summertime pleasure.

Anyone can successfully grow tomatoes in just about any sunny space. In fact, planting and caring for tomato plants is a great first gardening experience for children.

Get a head start by picking out seedlings at a home and garden center. They’re inexpensive, even for plants several inches to a foot in height.

Space is typically not an issue. You just need a sunny spot to grow tomatoes.

If you have plenty of garden area in your background, that’s great. But if you don’t, you can still grow tomatoes in patio pots.

It makes sense to grow your own. For starters, you’ll save money. Tomatoes can be expensive to buy – especially when they’re organic.

Tomatoes are also highly nutritious. It’s to your advantage to eat generous servings often while they’re in season. They’re rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, low in calories and devoid of saturated fat and cholesterol.

For most of us, one cherry tomato plant and a couple of the larger varieties for slicing is plenty. Plant more if you want to be popular with your coworkers, friends and neighbors.

Plan to incorporate tomatoes into your daily diet for as long as they’re available. Here are some ways to use them:

•  Tomato sandwiches. Add chutney or mustard, lettuce or spinach leaves and a thin slice of cheese on toasted, heavy, whole grain bread.

•  Add them to salads or make them the primary ingredient. Tomatoes add color to green salads, but you can also swap them for greens as the main ingredient. Try marinated tomato and cucumber salad or tomato with red onion or basil and mozzarella cheese.

•  Make your own tomato sauce. Roma tomatoes work well, but you can use any tomatoes in your yard. If you typically use bottled pasta sauce, you’ll be surprised by how delicious homemade can be on pasta, spaghetti squash, or as a base for chili or soup.

•  Stuffed tomatoes. Filling with tuna or egg salad is classic, but try tabbouleh or hummus for a healthy change of pace.

This year, try growing your own summertime staples.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a registered dietitian and clinical associate professor of health policy and management at UNC-Chapel Hill. Reach her at suzanne@onthetable.net; follow her on Twitter, @suzannehobbs.

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