With less disposable time and money, many families find putting enough fresh vegetables and herbs on the table to be a struggle.
However, the surprising solution may actually be closer to home than they expect.
"I find that very few [people] realize that they can grow garlic, onions, leeks, brassicas and most of the vegetables for their table if they put just a little more time into growing," says Roger Marshall, Jamestown, R.I., author of "How to Build Your Own Greenhouse" (Storey Publishing, 2006).
Planning is the first step to growing vegetables and herbs for cooking, experts say. Make a list of the dishes you and your family enjoy that contain vegetables and herbs: noodles, rice, salads, pot pies, casseroles, stews, soups, etc.
"Families who like Italian foods, for example, might grow a 'spaghetti' garden, with basil, tomatoes and garlic. I also see a lot of people growing hot peppers, cilantro and Yucca for Latin American dishes," says Barbara Barker, Live Oak, Fla., author of "Container Gardening for Health: The 12 Most Important Fruits & Vegetables for Your Organic Garden" (Prairie Oak Publishing, 2009).
Then create a separate list of favorite vegetables and herbs, even if you only have a few recipes for them. Keep in mind that an abundance of new recipes appear every year.
"This year, gardeners will be focused on how to find creative methods and recipes for their fruits and vegetables, as well as how to preserve the excess for future use," says Jean Ann Van Krevelen, Portland, Ore., author of "Grocery Gardening: Planting, Preparing and Preserving Fresh Food" (Cool Springs Press, 2010). Once you've got a list of vegetables to grow, do your research. Tips on when to plant, best soils to use, planting in containers versus ground, fertilizers, composting and harvesting can be found at a local nursery, at online gardening sites and through a variety of gardening books.
Gardener Ellen Ecker Ogden, Manchester Village, Vt., suggests starting small. "Focus on growing the foods that you truly love to eat," says Ogden, author of "From the Cook's Garden" (Morrow Cookbooks, 2003)."For me this includes fresh basil and other herbs, lettuce and salad greens, sugar snap peas and heirloom cherry tomatoes. I avoid growing space hogs such as zucchini and corn, that are easily available elsewhere."
If home is an apartment or condo with limited space for gardening, Ogden says that there are plenty of excellent varieties that are ornamental as well as culinary and are easy to grow in pots.
"Lettuce and salad greens, miniature eggplants, patio tomatoes and annual herbs such as basil, dill and cilantro are tops on my list for containers," Ogden says.
What's the top food to grow for your table? Marshall, Barker, Van Krevelen and Ogden all recommend tomatoes.
"Homegrown tomatoes add extraordinary life to summer pasta sauces with basil and olive oil," Barker says. "There is just no comparison in flavor or texture between store-bought and homegrown tomatoes. Growing a variety of sizes, colors and flavors of tomatoes adds pizzazz to ordinary dishes."
Tomatoes find their way into Barker's Mediterranean dishes, for which she also grows Fin de Bagnols (stringless green beans that are crisp, tender and full of flavor), carrots and greens such as chard, escarole, arugula and mesclun.
"It's wonderful to have a variety of greens available for quick stir-fries and salads," Barker says. "They are easy to grow and, because I can harvest them on demand, I don't have issues with spoilage."
Barker also grows her own garlic. "I like mild varieties, such as Inchelium Red. Garlic pairs well with tomatoes and basil in many pasta dishes," she says.
"As a cook and a gardener, all my recipes include fresh herbs, so I plant lots of sweet basil, along with the classic herbs used in French cooking," Ogden says.
"And I always grow about two dozen different types of lettuce, including cutting lettuce, mesclun and loose-leaf head lettuce because it is so stunning and adds color to the garden, but also because I love to make salads at every meal."
Basil is also a favorite for Van Krevelen, who calls it, "A great partner for tomatoes, and almost any other dish. Fresh basil tastes completely different than dried. I add it to recipes at the last minute. The fragrance alone is worth it."
Van Krevelen also recommends growing peppers, both sweet and hot, which she says are "easy to grow and nutritious."
Marshall, who found his home buried under 22 inches of snow this past winter, grows produce that he can freeze as soups to keep him warm, including potatoes, leeks and herbs. But nothing is better than picking fresh food from your garden and cooking it up right away.
"Fresh herbs get used for just about everything - in omelets, pizza, pie, soup, stew, breads and sauces," Marshall says. "Being able to pick herbs fresh is priceless. I use a lot of leeks in everything - vichyssoise, soups, pies and stews."
And if you think we've forgotten broccoli, zucchini, onions or any other vegetables that grace your table, try out the recipes below.
They will give you a taste of what a grocery garden can provide.