We're always looking for new and exciting ways to get more fruits and vegetables into our diets — and our children's diets, which can be a challenge in and of itself, but buying off-season produce means you're shelling out a ton of extra money for peaches from Chile, or avocados from Mexico.
Eating local, seasonal produce can be a great way to improve your diet without breaking the bank, but if you're like most of us, you've probably got no idea where to start. What fruits and vegetables are in season at any given time? What grows locally? How can I find all this information?
Don't worry — we're here to help. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you embrace seasonal produce as part of your daily food intake.
Photo by Kate Trysh on Unsplash
Join a CSA
CSA, or community-supported agriculture, programs put you in direct contact with local farms. For a fee, you can get all your produce delivered either weekly or biweekly from local farmers. This way, you never have to worry about what's in season at any given time. All you have to do is pick up your delivery, and you've got enough fresh seasonal produce for the week.
What appears in your CSA bundle will depend greatly on where you live, and what season it is. Most CSAs deliver between June and October, but you may have local farms that handle winter crops as well, so your CSA may continue through the fall and winter months as well.
Learn Your Seasons
Yes, we all know the four seasons — spring, summer, fall, winter. The trick here is to learn when your favorite fruits and vegetables are in season. Strawberries, for example, are only in season during spring and early summer, while arugula gets harvested in either the spring or the fall.
Thankfully, that's why we have the Internet, and the wonderful tool that is Google. Just pull up your search bar and type "Is (insert produce name here) in season?" to get all the answers you could ever need.
Reduce Your Weekly Food Budget
You know the law of supply and demand, right? How when the demand for a product is high and the supply is low, the price will go up, and vice versa? The same thing applies to seasonal produce. When a fruit or vegetable is in season, it is available in abundance, which means it's cheaper to purchase. If you preserve your leftover vegetables, or make jam with the fruits, when a plant is in season is the best time to stock up so you can enjoy fresh, canned, or frozen produce for the rest of the year.
It's Better for You: Part One
Studies have shown fresh fruits and vegetables are better for you, containing more of their respective nutrients than canned or frozen produce, and even more nutrients than fresh fruit you're purchasing from the supermarket. This is because supermarket produce gets harvested before it is fully ripe. This allows the produce to ripen during transport, but it also doesn't allow the fruits and vegetables to collect all their nutrients from the parent plant before they get harvested.
Supermarket produce can work in a pinch, but the best way to get the most out of your fruit and vegetable intake is to get it straight from the farm or your local farmers’ market.
It's Better for You: Part Two
You can't turn on the news today without seeing at least one article about food recalls due to various types of contamination. You can't eat a Caesar salad without worrying if your romaine lettuce is going to kill you, and don't even get us started on the hundreds of millions of eggs that were recalled earlier this year — and that's just in the United States. In Australia, in 2017, they even had a problem with frozen berries coming from China that were contaminated with hepatitis A because overseas agriculture isn't regulated as strictly as it is here.
By sticking with local seasonal produce, you always know where your food is coming from and how it was handled, and if you have any questions about harvesting, processing, or farming techniques, you can just ask the farmer.
It Makes You More Creative
One of the big perks of buying seasonally is that it makes you more creative in the kitchen. You won't always know what you're going to get, especially if you enroll with a CSA group, where you're guaranteed to get a big box of random seasonal veggies and fruits every week, so it's up to you to come up with something to do with all that tasty produce to keep it from going to waste.
This is a fantastic opportunity to get creative — add spinach or kale to your chili or spaghetti sauce for a nutritional boost that won't change the flavor of your sauce. Greens, which you’ll receive in abundance from a CSA, are good for salads, savory sides, or for adding to your scrambled eggs, quiches, or other foods. Take a good look at your tasty produce, and once you've figured out what you have, start experimenting. If you're not confident in your cooking skills, don't worry — again, Google is your friend. A quick search will have you Martha Stewart-ing it up in the kitchen in no time.
If it's available in your area, seasonal produce is easily the best way to make sure you're getting your daily fruit and vegetable servings. Not only is it kinder to your wallet, it's better for you in the long run. Start by Google searching local farmers’ markets in your area to see what options you have close to home. It's not always possible or feasible to eat all seasonal produce all the time, but when it is available, you should absolutely take advantage of it.