The headlines read: "Swine flu strain with human pandemic potential increasingly found in pigs in China". Plants from your own garden can provide safe and healthy alternatives. Many of these plants can be used in meatless dishes without sacrificing flavor or variety.

veggie burgers

China has the largest swine population in the world. Pigs in China are more frequently becoming infected with a strain of influenza that has the potential to transfer to humans. No one knows if this strain will mutate and transmit between humans. So far, it hasn't. However, scientists don't know there's going to be a pandemic until they actually see it.1

When multiple strains of influenza viruses infect a pig, they can easily swap genes through a biological process called reassortment. One current strain is a unique blend of three lineages. Another is similar to strains found in European and Asian birds, the H1N1 strain that caused the 2009 pandemic. And the third is a North American H1N1 that has genes from avian, human, and pig influenza viruses.1

A variant called the G-4 is extremely concerning because it derives from an avian flu virus to which humans have no immunity. Bits of mammalian strains are also mixed in. This appears to be a swine influenza virus ready to emerge in humans.1

To Protect Yourself And Your Family Grow Plant-based Alternatives

Whole foods are unprocessed and unrefined plant foods or those that have been processed and refined as little as possible before being consumed. Generally, a plant-based diet emphasizes foods such as whole grains like brown rice, oats, and barley, vegetables like kale, squash, cauliflower, and tomatoes, as well as nuts and seeds, and legumes such as chickpeas, beans, and lentils.

veggie slider sandwiches

Plant Proteins Can Pack a Punch

Protein is important for maintaining muscle mass to help us stay active, avoid injury, and support a healthy immune system as we age. Complete proteins are protein sources that provide the most nutrition for the money. They contain all the essential amino acids in the right amounts the body needs for good health.

Meats are complete proteins, but many plant-based proteins are not. Some that are easiest for home production are eggs (click to see egg substitutes you can grow), quinoa, and soybeans/edamame. Soybean plants are fairly easy to grow in the same manner you would grow bush beans. They will grow when soil temperatures are around 50° F. (10° C.), but the ideal temperature is around 77° F.

Incomplete proteins can be paired with another food source to make a complete protein. Many traditional side dishes, such as beans and rice or tortillas and beans, make a complete protein.

boiled soybeans

(Edamame photo: Tammy Green (aka Zesmerelda) from Chicago Upscale Dining + Lounge Republic Pan-Asian Restaurant [ in Ontario & Rush Street, Chicago, Illinois 60611] / CC BY-SA (

Foods To Fuel You

It’s best to eat protein in small, regular portions throughout the day rather than a single big meal. Loading up on protein doesn't give your body the steady supply of nutrients it needs throughout the day. Space out protein consumption.

Eggs are nearly perfect proteins that have almost the exact amounts of all the essential nutritional building blocks, and they're only 70 calories per egg. Additionally, they are easy to make ahead to add to salads, sandwiches and other dishes. A frittata or omelet makes an easy dinner option.

Powerful Quinoa

quinoa casserole

quinoa patties

quinoa loaf

Quinoa is a complete protein that has all nine essential amino acids. Using it in place of rice or couscous gives a dish an automatic protein boost.

This seed or pseudo-cereal grain is also relatively easy to grow in a wide range of climates and makes a good addition to a home garden. The plant is related to chard and beetroot and produces a sizeable quantity per plant in less space than required by many other grains.

Quinoa can be cooked like rice and is one of the few sources of complete protein suitable for vegans or as a component of an eco-friendly diet.

Other seeds like chia and flax are small enough to add to yogurt, cereal, smoothies, or oatmeal without changing the flavor.

Versatile Peppers

roasted stuffed peppers

bell peppers with vegetable and cheese stuffing

All fruits contain some protein and peppers are actually fruits. As with most fruit, the protein content is relatively low compared to meat. However, they still have enough to be a fairly significant source. Peppers contain more protein than a variety of other vegetables including spinach and watercress, which are often considered to be protein-rich. Stuff, bake, roast, slice, dice, enjoy!

Grow Your Own Greens

types of green vegetables

Veggies such as spinach and kale are easy to grow at home and an easy way to get a big boost of nutrients, including protein. Besides a side dish or salad, use greens in soups, omelettes, fresh pasta dough, pizza, egg rolls, dips, breadsticks, and homemade meatless lasagna.

Beans And Peas

white beans in stockpot

green beans

Beans contain protein plus numerous other benefits, such as fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins. Beans will add a protein punch to soups, chili, curries, salads, and main dishes. Chickpeas can be made into healthy, nutritious dips and spreads such as hummus.

healthy bean and vegetable soup

Beans and peas are dependable and easy to grow. They produce plentiful crops everywhere in the country. They grow best in full sun in well-drained, warm soil. Pole beans and climbing peas need trellising. Bush beans and peas can grow unsupported.

green peas in a colandar


roasted, stuffed eggplant

Bake eggplant in a 350°F oven for 50-60 minutes or until very tender. Remove and let stand until cool enough to slice. Use as a main dish or even as a bread substitute for sandwiches.

eggplant used as a sandwich bun

eggplant enchiladas

Protein-packed Nuts

Nuts are versatile and can be used in place of meat in a nut loaf, nut butter, or nut cheese. Walnuts substitute for meat in this taco recipe.

various types of nuts

nut loaf/vegan meatloaf

nut loaf and vegetables

(Photo: Ewan Munro from London, UK / CC BY-SA (

How to Grow Peanuts

Peanuts are an excellent addition to a home garden. They provide large yields with minimal work.

There are four main types of peanuts. Virginia peanuts have the largest seeds, are usually roasted in the shell, and are considered gourmet quality. Runner peanuts usually have a uniform size and are the preferred choice for peanut butter. Spanish peanuts, often found in mixed nut snacks, have the smallest seeds and highest oil content. Valencia peanuts have bright red skins and are the sweetest.

Peanuts generally require a long growing season and do best in relatively sandy soil. Tennessee Red Valencia will grow in clay soil. Add ample organic matter by hilling or planting in raised beds and most peanut plants will grow in heavier soil.

Growing peanuts requires 130-140 frost-free days from sowing until harvest. If your growing season is shorter, start your peanuts indoors or in a greenhouse until the danger of frost passes and transplant them into the garden.

Plant peanuts 1-2 inches deep and about six inches apart. Add a thick layer of compost and a layer of mulch.

parts of a peanut plant

Peanuts need shallow weeding but can be damaged by digging too deeply around them as they mature. When the plant begins to flower, pegs will drop to the ground under the flower and produce peanuts. Hand-weeding is the only option after a peanut plant pegs.

Once plants start flowering, don't let them dry out or the crop will be smaller.

When frost is forecast or plant stems begin to turn yellow, harvest the peanuts. Try to avoid harvesting while the soil is wet. However, don’t wait too long or the peanuts will start sprouting in the ground. Dig around the perimeter of the sprawling leaves. Lift the plant out of the ground and flip it so that the leaves are on the ground. If rain is forecast, put the plants in a protected location.

After a few days, pull the peanuts off the plant. Most of them will be in a clump at the center of the roots, but some will also be attached to the lower branches. Spread the peanuts out to dry for a month somewhere animals can't find them. Store in a closed container.

A properly grown peanut plant can yield 50-100 peanuts, and peanuts in the shells can stay fresh for years.

Growing peanuts is fun, and they're easy to use in recipes or for snacking. Roast them, grind them into a fresh peanut butter, or boil the raw, green peanuts.

To roast, spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally so they roast evenly. If desired, sprinkle with salt.

nut butter with sliced strawberries

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