Seasonal Eating — Because Everything Tastes Better!
In the spring, people generally want to feel lighter after the heaviness of winter weather. Spring brings foods that detoxify our livers from the fats and heavier foods we ate all winter, also making us feel lighter.
In the summer, we are generally more active, spend more time outdoors, and enjoy an extra hour or two of daylight, so our bodies require the added energy we get from the natural carbohydrates and sugars found in summer fruits and vegetables such as greens, eggplant, peaches, cantaloupe and strawberries. We also need more water when the temperatures rises, so liquid-rich foods such as watermelon and cucumbers sustain us. Proteins from vegetable sources are more appealing.
As the cool/cold air of fall and winter take over, our bodies start to crave fewer raw salads and more cooked, warming foods such as soups, stews, and avocados. The fall harvest begins with an abundance of apples, which are high in fiber and pectin to help cleanse the intestines and support digestion, specifically the digestion of fat.
The cold winter air and wind dries out our bodies, a sensation we feel in our throats and sinuses. To counteract the drying effects of winter, we draw on nature’s moisture-preserving foods such as bananas, avocados, beets, winter squash, nuts, beans and legumes to help keep our bodies warm, moist and nourished. (1, 2).
Our bodies really do change with the seasons and our diet benefits when it changes with the seasons as well.
TIP #1: Buy what is in season where you live. There are multiple reasons for this. (1)
Your carbon footprint is minimized. When you eat foods that are not in season, they are being transported to you from potentially large distances. This has a high cost, both from a $ standpoint and an environmental standpoint. Foods being shipped from long distances require larger amounts of water, transportation and packaging costs, as well as pesticides/herbicides. Much of the east coast produce sold in the winter comes from Mexico, South America and Central America. It is estimated that 15 percent of the U.S. food supply is imported, including 50 percent of fresh fruits, 20 percent of fresh vegetables and 80 percent of seafood (3).
How do you know what produce is in season?
- Pay attention to the price. If you normally pay 50 cents for an ear of corn in the summer at a farmer’s market and in the winter it costs $1.00 or more per ear, it most likely means that the cost to market is higher since it is not in season in your area.
- Pay attention to the color and look of the food. It should be vibrant and look fresh, not wilted and spotted. If you buy local seasonal food, it will most likely last longer.
- Read Labels — Foods must display their originating source. The further away the source, the more costly the item and the longer it takes to reach your table, decreasing the wonderful taste and nutritional benefits of locally grown food. For example, in PA, strawberries are locally grown in a very short season — May and June. Without a doubt, they are the most delicious during this time when purchased by a local grower and picked recently. After that period, Strawberries may not be available in PA but they may be in Virginia or Fla. so buying them from that source would be second best. As we get further into the colder weather, they may only come from CA or even more distant locations such as South America. Although you can still buy them, they will be more costly, less tasty, less nutritious, and have a larger carbon footprint.
- Review packaging for ‘sell by’ dates, and ‘expiration’ dates and try to buy the product with the most recent date. If all are close to or at expiration, consider foregoing the purchase.
- Farmers’ Markets are open all year around, even in winter. By checking them out during each season you can observe exactly what they are growing, even if you live in a cold climate. Talk to the farmers to get more information about the source of their produce. Some indoor farmers’ markets display where there products are sourced.
- Check out common winter recipes from any of the multitude of sites, esp for soups, stews etc. By noting the ingredients used you can often get an idea of foods that might be in season.
- Forecasting and other social media sites provide a wealth of information, (e.g., pininterest).
- Consider sources of non-produce items as well. This includes meats, poultry, fish, and whole grains.
Below are some examples of fruits and vegetables and their growth seasons in the US only. These may vary with location within the US. This is not a comprehensive list and there may be some crossover between seasons (4).
· Mustard Greens*
*Kale, Mustard Greens and Collards are listed here but many of the leafy greens are available all year round in most climates, for example Swiss Chard, and are some of the healthiest vegetables you can buy. Try them in salads in addition to or to replace lettuce.
· Plums and other stone fruits
· Green Beans
· Butternut Squash and other winter squashes such as Acorn and Spaghetti, pumpkin and all of the seeds in these squashes.
· Sweet Potatoes
· Swiss Chard
- There are some fruits and veggies that do not grow or grow well in the US and most are imported. Keep this in mind when purchasing. This includes Avocados, Coffee, and Pineapples.
- If you do choose to buy produce sourced in another country it is advantageous to investigate growing practices in that country — what chemicals are used on the plants and in the soil? Is the source local farms or large conglomerates etc. ?
TIP #2 Preserve Your Own
- Buy lots of extra produce and perishable or seasonal items when they are in season. Although this is more costly at the time it will pay off in the long run Can or freeze the items for use throughout the year. I freeze strawberries, blueberries, rhubarb, tomatoes, corn, peppers etc. (2) (3). You will then have a source of those yummy products all year. This includes herbs such as oregano, basil, thyme etc. They are simple to grow, dry, and grind yourself (4).
TIP #3 Grow your own.
- This can be a lot of fun and very fulfilling. Picking your produce and throwing it right into a salad or dish you are cooking is so rewarding. It is also a great way to be outside in nice weather and get some exercise. Start with easy to grow veggies such as zucchini and tomatoes. You do not need a lot of space to start (5). Plant enough so that you can have extra to store for the winter.
TIP #4 Go for frozen options
- Check the package for country of origin. Buy only from the USA to minimize your environmental footprint, reduce costs of delivering those products to the store, and to avoid unknown pesticides and herbicides that may not be used in the US. Chances are that a produce item that is out of season in your area but available in a frozen version in your store, will have been picked during peak season.
Spring and Summer are the times to experiment. There is a bounty of fresh foods grown in warm climates. Try the following if you have never followed the tips in this article before. Obviously warmer climates do not have as many seasonal restrictions, however each climate has local growing benefits and constraints. As a small example, Florida grows great citrus, Georgia is known for its peaches, and California for grapes.
- Grow one vegetable on your deck or in your yard. Pick an easy one that returns a lot, such as zucchini or tomatoes. Each time you pick some, prepare and freeze half of them for use when no longer in season.
- Start visiting Farmers’/local farm Markets. You can smell the produce it is so fresh. Most of these farmers use little or no pesticides. They just taste so much better than anything bought in a store. You are supporting local farmers. They also do not wrap all of their produce in plastic which minimizes our environmental footprint. Take your own reusable bags and try not to use the plastic ones they provide. If you buy eggs or get produce in paper containers, return them to the market and they will reuse them.
- Try a seasonal recipe. Make more than you need and freeze it for off-season consumption. Farmers’ Markets and stores that sell locally grown produce often display recipes as do many online recipe sites and blogs.
- Experiment with salads. Always use a dark leafy lettuce and add any fruit, vegetable or nut. Try different combinations for unique flavors each time.