Meal Planning Week 16 is all about farm fresh recipes. Whether it’s the beginning of farmer’s market season or the end, there are recipes for all types of fresh produce.
Meal Planning Week 16 is about farm fresh ingredients. It’s always a great idea to eat what’s in season no matter the season. Spring has bright and vibrant vegetables. Summer has fruits that are sweet and juicy. Fall brings apples, squash, and sprouts. Winter has citrus and greens like kale and chard.
Why should you eat what is in season?
Most of us know what is supposed to be at peak when. At least for the more common fruits and vegetables. Watermelon isn’t in season right now. But cabbage and carrots are. Peaches are not in season, but radishes and sweet potatoes are. So, if you’re buying watermelon right now where do you think that comes from?
The produce that is out of season but in stock come from somewhere else. That means they are picked before peak flavor because they must travel a considerable amount of time to get to your store. This leaves produce lacking in the nutritional department. It’s not they aren’t nutritional. But they’re picked before peak, can’t ripen naturally, and probably travel in cold storage. This means they’re not as nutritious as produce picked in your state at the very least, but in your local area is best.
Foods grown out of season don’t get the full benefit they would during regular seasons. Take daylight savings. During summer, there are more daylight hours than in the middle of December. All that sunshine really does make a difference in the ripening process. A shorter daylight cycle usually makes for produce that is less nutritionally dense than in season.
Eating what is in season means eating locally. This means helping local farmers. And it also costs less because it doesn’t have to travel as far to get to your store. So, it’s a win win for both you and the farmers. And technically it’s a win win win because traveling fewer miles means less fossil fuels used to get to the store.
How do you know what is in season in your area?
I’m sure you can Google it and there’s a plethora of sites that come up. For me, I usually head to the USDA website for SNAP-ED. Of course, I am biased because my father and stepmother both retired from USDA. They have a great list of mainstream produce that is in season for most of the US.
Since it’s December, we have mostly citrus fruits, and root veggies like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and beets. There’s a slew of greens like chard, collard, and kale. It’s a wonder the comfort foods involve most of these. During the cold winter months, these foods keep as warm and fed. And, well, for me comfort food is essential during those cold winter days.
Apples are also in season. And pears will be in season soon. While this might seem like a surprise to some, they are hardy in storage. Fall is their normal harvesting season, but apples last in cold storage for several weeks. This allows their flavors to ripen and get more delicious. The same with pears. Pears, but the way, are my FAVORITE fruit. Of all time.
Check out your local farmer’s market! I know most aren’t year-round, but the grocery stores are starting to highlight local produce and I think it’s great! I always look for those local “stands” in the grocery store. It not only helps me learn what is in season, but helps me support local farmer’s, too.
Is in season produce healthier?
Yes. Once harvested a fruit or vegetable the timer starts. The vitamins and nutrients that are at peak when picked start to deteriorate. Vitamins like A, B, C, and E start to deteriorate. Then when you factor in artificial light or ripening enhancers it just decreases the nutritional value of the food.
Eating fresh fruits and vegetables are full of fiber and water. Yes, there’s fiber in processed fruits and vegetables. But fresh fruits and vegetables are low in sodium and sugar. Commercially processed fruits and vegetables sometimes have additives for flavor. They have some additives to maintain color and freshness. Well, when you eat fresh produce from the market you don’t have those additives.
Yes, I know there’s bacon on there, but just look at those colorful squash! And squash is always very prolific. You could easily grow a vine or two and have your own squash. They even grow in pots on balconies, too. Summer squash is very fertile.
And they’re full of nutrients! They’re high in vitamins A, B6 (for healthy amino acid levels), and C. There’s folate for red blood cell formation, magnesium for muscle and nerve function, fiber which helps regular our body’s use of sugar, riboflavin that helps convert carbs to fuel, phosphorus helps build strong bones, and potassium helps nerve and muscle functions. That’s a lot for one veggie to do!
What produce is easy to grow?
Peppers. I know this one for a fact. I had a great pepper garden at the condo a couple of years running. There was even a praying mantis in my balcony garden. They eat the bugs that aren’t good for your plants, from what I understand. Peppers come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and Scoville units.
Strawberries and tomatoes. Sometimes you can find a strawberry kit with that special pot with all the holes in it. Tomatoes you can easily grown in pots. They even have what’s called patio tomatoes. And there’s special pots that make them grow upside down. I’ve not tried those. I just grow mine in pots and they’re delicious.
Of course, we already talked about squash. But did you know you can grow green onions, celery, and lettuce from the stem end? We all chop the little root end off the green onions, but if you chopped just a little more of that end off you can pop it into some water to root. Once new roots grow, you can put it in soil and grow new ones. Same thing with celery and lettuce like iceberg and romaine.
Onions and garlic are the same. You can pop a clove of garlic in some soil, and it will grow. Ginger root is the same, too! And those things that grow on your potatoes when they’ve sat in the pantry too long? Those are eyes. Basically, the roots of a potato. If you see a lot of those, put that potato in some dirt. It will grow and sprout other potatoes.
We won’t even get into the herb discussion. Almost any of those grown easily in pots on a windowsill or in a garden. I’ve wintered rosemary and thyme successfully. The more rootbound they are the heartier they become. Of course, if it’s unseasonable cold in winter it could use a little shelter. If it’s in a pot, put it near the house. If it’s in the ground, maybe get one of those greenhouse tarps to put over it. And, well, there’s no question that they taste better home grown that from the grocery.
I hope I have inspired you to head to your local farmer’s market. If you don’t have one in season right now, try a CSA box. Community Supported Agriculture is a great way to get to know what farms are in your area and what’s in season. It’s also a great way to learn about produce you didn’t know about. I had one that sent me kohlrabi. I’d never had it before. Once I tasted it, I knew it was perfect for a crunchy slaw!