Eating more fruits and veggies that are grown seasonally and locally is optimal. Conventional or out of season produce can be bland and lacking the best nutrients compared to produce that has been vine or tree ripened and picked during peak season. (1)
The best place to start your seasonal procurement is by checking out your local farmer’s market. Most people who are growing the food that they are selling are more than happy to share information about the flavors and benefits that eating seasonally can have on not only your taste buds but the environment and your local community.
What is Seasonal Eating?
Eating seasonally means that you are eating fruits and veggies at the same time of year that they are grown. When growing food organically and without pesticides, the health of the soil, as well as the climate, will dictate what grows.
Seasonal eating is not just a vogue or trendy concept. It is the way things used to be done before mega-markets carried anything and everything year-round. Eating what grows in season is as sustainable as it gets as a consumer. Creating more demand for seasonal food fare supports sustainable growing and harvest practices as well.
3 Benefits of Seasonal Eating
Seasonal eating is a new concept for some, but it is rooted in simplicity and sustainability.
1. Buying local is good for the environment
When you choose your fruits and veggies while they are in season, you have more options of purchasing from local producers. Seasonal eating is tastier, and more sustainable than eating foods out of season. (2) Try eating what your local farmers are growing.
Because roughage is more readily available locally, it doesn’t need to travel as far to get to your local grocer or farmer’s market which cuts down on your contribution to the carbon-footprint. Less motor travel equals less pollution.
2. Seasonal eating is tastier
When you eat seasonally, your fruits and veggies are at their peak freshness and flavor. The weather and the soil want to start fruiting apples in the late summer so that they are ripe and ready to eat in the fall. It’s natural.
When your food has to travel far distances, it is usually being picked before it has ripened. When the food arrives at its destination, it typically needs to be artificially ripened in a hot house, which leads to fibrous, bland, and often rotten fruits and vegetables. (3)
3. Seasonal eating doesn’t have to be all or nothing
Having fresh, and not frozen, berries on the shelf of your local grocery store in the middle of winter is more of a luxury than a natural occurrence. Because of importing and exporting as well as pesticides, monoculture, and conventional farming practices, we can virtually shop for any vegetable or fruit any time of year that we want! We are absolutely a convenience nation.
If you were to only eat what is in season, this would throw a wrench in your current lifestyle and become a full-time job to procure only seasonal items for every single meal. The idea is not to make our lives more difficult, but to make better choices. You can add in bits of seasonal eating with normal grocery shopping habits to find a happy balance. You don’t need to stop eating avocados, for example, because they don’t grow locally. Just try incorporating more local produce into your day-to-day diet when it is actually growing.
What’s Growing & When
Vegetables are classed as either ‘warm’ or ‘cool’ season vegetables. (4) Depending on the climate of where you live, fruits and veggies may come into your farmer’s market scene at slightly different times. This seasonal eating guide will help you keep a look out for what is coming into peak season during the autumn, winter, spring, and summer!
Fall Produce: September, October, November
The beginning of the cozy season comes with the fall. Lots of sturdier squash start to show themselves as well as more roots and tree fruits. Time to start in on the soups and roasts for your meal preparations with these amazing ingredients:
- Kabocha squash
- Delicata squash
- Broccoli rabe
- Brussels sprouts
- Celery root
- Sweet potatoes
Winter: December, January, February
Depending on where you live, if the colder months do not have deep frosts you may still be able to buy fresh locally-grown food. Hearty varieties of greens, roots, and sturdy squash can often face the cold naturally. Cold frames and greenhouses may offer your veggies a little more protection against the cold.
Now is the time to break into your jams, pickles, ferments, and frozen berry supply! Roasting, soups, stews, casseroles, and other warming dishes really make this cold season something to look forward to. The foods most commonly in season during this time are:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Horseradish (sweetest in the winter months!)
- Pomegranate (grown in Arizona and California)
- Citrus (grown in Florida, Texas, and Arizona and sweetest in the winter)
Spring: March, April, May
Spring produce is a welcomed celebration after the cold season! Many foraged items come into play like dandelion greens and mushrooms, as well as special short-season items like ramps, or wild leeks. Reintroducing cooking methods like blanching, steaming, and light sauté is very spring appropriate. Spring seasonal foods include:
- Salad greens
- Dandelion greens
Summer Produce: June, July, August
Summer is like hitting the motherlode of fresh fruits, berries, melons, and vegetables! Summer climates can certainly vary depending on where you live, but wherever you are, this is your peak season.
Fresh and raw preparations are the best way to go for these warm months. Think lots of whole fruits and vegetables for on the go, leafy and fresh salads, thinly sliced raw vegetables, and lightly sautéed or marinated dishes! Summer seasonal foods include:
- Chili peppers
- Sweet peppers
- Stone fruits
- Summer squash
- Winter squash (actually a warm season squash but gets its name because they store well through the cold season)
- Salad greens
4 Ways to Prep Your Food for Winter
As the weather changes, so does what’s growing. Part of eating seasonally is learning how to properly store your foods for the winter! Provisioning up by learning some tried and true storing methods while in the blooming and producing seasons will make for a tasty winter when you can reap your storing rewards and will keep you entertained with variety during the cold seasons.
1. Dry herbs
Drying fresh herbs is easy! Gather herbs into bundles and tie with string, invert, and hang until fully dry. My favorite herbs to dry are oregano, marjoram, and lavender. You can use the dried oregano and marjoram in savory coconut-cream sauces, or a more traditional tomato and garlic ragout sauce for zucchini noodles.
Lavender is delicious when mixed into grass-fed butter or ghee and used as a compound butter on your protein pancakes and muffins. Dried lavender is also delicious when pulsed together with other dried herbs to create spice rubs for lamb, chicken, and fish. Try pulsing dried lavender, oregano, thyme, white pepper, and a little Himalayan salt together and sprinkle over salmon or your fish of choice.
2. Freeze fruits
Freezing berries and cherries is the best way to enjoy your Paleo breakfast and pre- or post-workout shakes throughout the non-berry-bearing season.
My favorite smoothie to enjoy after a workout, and even for dessert, is dark sweet frozen cherries, half a banana, raw cacao powder, Brazil nuts, a handful of fresh or dried mint leaves, and a touch of grade B maple syrup. Add the ingredients to a high powered blender along with your favorite nut milk and protein powder, and you have yourself a delicious superfood shake or dessert!
3. Pickle veggies
My favorite pickles are a mix of cauliflower, fennel, and beet! Simmer two parts apple cider vinegar to one part water and honey/maple syrup, and add lots of fresh garlic, herbs, peppercorns, and hot peppers. Pour over your veggies and proceed to ‘jar.’ Your pickles will turn pink from the beet, and you may not be able to wait until winter to enjoy them.
4. Ferment just about anything
Sauerkraut is one of the most recognizable ferments on the market. There are lots of trendy varieties and brands on the shelves of your local grocer these days, but go ahead and try your hand at making your own. My favorite combo to whip up is Napa cabbage, red cabbage, dill, horseradish, and garlic. Shred ingredients, salt, and massage well to release the natural juices from your cabbage. Pack tightly into a jar, pressing down so the natural liquid line is well above the veggies. Cover with a cheesecloth and a rubber band and continue to press and pack down every day. Taste as you go. It is ready to jar, can, or eat when the taste is right for you.
Storing Your Foods for the Cold Season
There are many ways to stow away your harvest bounty for the winter, as well as kitchen methods to help you preserve the warm season abundance properly. Here are some ways to help you turn your kitchen, cellar, freezer, and pantry into a seasonal eater’s dream, and the best produce for the job.
Only store produce that is in the best shape in a root cellar, or any dry and cool storage space. When fruits and vegetables are bruised, cut into, or damaged, they will spoil quicker. (5)
Longer storage life:
- Winter squash
- Sweet potatoes
Shorter storage life:
- Brussel sprouts
When freezing items for storage it is best to lay out clean, dry, and chopped (if necessary) items out on a parchment or freezer paper-lined sheet pan. Be sure that your berries, peaches, etc. are not touching. Freeze 4-8 hours, or overnight, then simply transfer your now-frozen items into freezer bags. Better yet, use a vacuum packer.
Best items to freeze:
- Stone fruits
- Chanterelle (cooked first)
- Morels (cooked first)
By dehydrating your fruits and veggies, you are removing the water content from the item, therefore extending its shelf life. (6) You can make crunchy snacks by slicing and seasoning produce first before dehydrating, or simply dehydrate items to reconstitute later for a recipe!
Best foods to dehydrate:
Jarring & Canning
There are a number of ways to jar and can your foods. A popular at-home method is a water bath. The more fresh and tasty the food is when it’s picked, the more delicious the jarred or canned product. You can essentially jar/can anything, but when preserving alkaline and acidic foods together you must use a high pressure canning method to ensure safe storage and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. (7)
When jarring most fruits without adding sugar, be aware that your fruit may turn a little mushy or lose color, but also, know that you reap the benefits of not adding unnecessary sugar. (8)
Pickling is a tasty way of preserving savory goods before storing. Salt and vinegar added to items like carrots and asparagus make for great snacks or wintery salad toppers during the cooler season.
Best foods for pickling:
- Chard stems
- Sweet potatoes
In the days prior to refrigerators, mankind used to heavily rely on fermentation to store their food through the winter. (9) This method of food storage nurtures the healthy bacteria growth of your veggies. Incorporating ferments into your diet may also be beneficial for optimal gut health. (10)
Fermented foods often taste of vinegar, but there is no vinegar actually added in the process. Popular fermented dishes include kimchis and krauts.
Best foods to ferment:
- Daikon radish
- Vegetable and fruit juices
- Coconut milk, for a probiotic kefir drink
Eating seasonally is not only delicious, it’s fun! Try new and unique varieties of fruits and vegetables and experiment with different, tried and true sustainable cooking and preserving methods, so that you may feed your health year round.