An oldie but a goodie: this post was originally published on March 24th, 2016.
As you walk through the produce aisles of your favorite grocery store, you may notice different fruits and vegetables on display sporting messages like “At Seasons Peak!” or “Now In Season!” throughout the year. If you’ve never thought about grabbing those veggies while they’re hot, maybe you should! As National Nutrition Month slowly comes to a close, take a moment to introduce yourself to the concept of Seasonal Eating, and the benefits of adopting this nutritious habit.
What is Seasonal Eating?
Seasonal eating means planning your meals around fruits and veggies that are in season; that is to say they have been grown and harvested in their natural growing season. Seems simple enough, but why should you do so? There are a few reasons:
1. Generally, your wallet will thank you
One benefit of buying produce that is in season is that it also means you’re buying it at a good price. Because the produce has been harvested when it is most bountiful and available, it costs less for farmers and distributors to get to your grocery store, which translates into a cost-savings at the register for you. For instance, if you were to compare the price of apples now to the price of apples in August, you would likely see a difference due to the fact that apples are not considered “in season” in March (especially not in Florida). Simple supply and demand.
Along those same lines….
2. In-season food can be more tasty and healthy than out of season food
Out of season food is more difficult for those same farmers to get to you, as they’re not so readily available. They may have to come from locations that are not so close, which means sacrificing optimum growing or maturing time and increasing the manipulation necessary to make sure the produce can survive a potentially long trip (waxing, refrigeration, etc.). On the other hand, in season food has ideally had the time to grow into its healthiest and tastiest self. It doesn’t need to be picked early, so it’s had the chance to ripen and develop effectively in its natural environment and reach its peak taste without any intervention. It’s also less likely to have been sitting around off the branch for a while losing flavor and health benefits as it waits to be shipped. It should be noted though that some produce is just as good in season as it is out of season.
3. Eating seasonally brings some variety to your diet
Switching up the types of fruits and vegetables you eat throughout the year ensures you get a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in your diet that you may miss if you just ate the same produce all year. Your body might also need to adjust to certain seasonal changes, and the foods you eat can help with that. Need to stay hydrated and protected from the sun in the summer? Water-rich foods like cantaloupe and vitamin E rich foods like avocado are a great addition to your summer meals.
4. Often, you’re supporting the efforts of local farmers
Especially if you hit up a local farmers market every once in a while, the small and midsize farmers are working hard each season to bring the best produce their farms have to offer to your table. Eating local also means the fruits and veggies have a shorter distance to travel, which translates to increased tastiness and, as some studies suggest, the possibility of decreased negative effects on the environment (pollution from shipping and trucking foods, greenhouse gases, etc.). If organic produce is your thing, you may also find a lot more options from your local farmer than in your everyday grocery store.
5. The cycle of seasonal eating is nostalgic and mood-boosting
We’re creatures of habit, so when thinking about meals during specific times of the year we often come back to the same ones that make us feel good and remind us of good times. Who doesn’t have fun memories of watermelon in the hot summer months? Remember that one friend who goes crazy for pumpkin-everything in the fall? If you think about it, you’re probably eating a little seasonally already! It’s almost as though nature planned it.
All that said, you certainly don’t have to ignore foods out of season. If you enjoy peaches and they can be found in your grocery store year round, definitely eat them whenever you feel like having a peach! We certainly won’t fault you for it. Fruits and vegetables are always a good item to keep in your diet; be sure to reap the benefits of consuming them whenever you can. It’s always better to eat some produce than none at all.
So what’s on the shortlist of produce in season right now in Florida? According to Sustainable Table, vegetables like asparagus, spinach, and zucchini are just right, while fruits like strawberries, papaya, and bananas are begging to be munched on. There are plenty more available now, too. If you’d prefer to build your grocery list at home instead of wandering around the produce aisle and picking up everything that looks tasty, you can check out this nifty Seasonal Food Guide to see a full list of in-season foods. What delicious dishes will you cook up?