Shopping and preparing meals within local growing seasons is a creative experience that has a positive impact on our health and our environment. Explore the many ways of preparing seasonal foods can enrich you and your family’s lives.
Benefits of Seasonal Food Choices
- Flavor: Vegetables and fruits will taste fresher and more flavorful if eaten during the peak growing season. For most of us, the taste of the food we buy is every bit as important as the cost, if not more so. When food is not in season locally, it’s either grown in a hothouse or shipped in from other parts of the world, and both affect the taste. Compare a dark red, vine-ripened tomato still warm from the summer sun with a winter hothouse tomato that’s barely red, somewhat mealy, and lacking in flavor. When transporting crops, they must be harvested early and refrigerated so they don’t rot during transportation. They may not ripen as effectively as they would in their natural environment and as a result, they don’t develop their full flavor.
- Environment: Plants grown in their ideal season are naturally stronger, more resistant to pests and diseases and require fewer pesticides and fertilizers. Also, there is less risk of food contamination when there are not long complicated transportation and storage times.
- Nutrition: When buying fruits or vegetables out of season, you are purchasing items that were picked weeks or even months earlier. Since produce loses nutrients after being picked, out of season options may have lower nutrient levels.
- Support Local Farmers or Farms in the Nearby States: When purchasing fresh, seasonal produce, it will be more likely to come from local farmers and will support your community. Because of limited growing seasons in most regions, it’s impossible to eat locally and in season 100% of the time. If possible, grow it and pick it yourself - you’ll know exactly what went into growing those vegetables and you can enjoy them at their peak the day they are harvested. If gardening isn’t your thing, visit a local farmers’ market weekly or join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, some of whom even deliver the weekly harvest to convenient distribution locations.
- Lower Food Costs: Produce purchased in a season will be at the most economical price and there is less fuel cost involved with locally grown seasonal foods. It’s the basic law of supply and demand, and when crops are in season you’ll be rewarded financially by purchasing what’s growing now.
- Variety All Year Long: Many people are surprised to find that a wide variety of crops are harvested in the fall (squash, apples, endive, garlic, grapes, figs, mushrooms) and winter (citrus, kale, radishes, turnips, leeks) in addition to products that we readily associate with the summer like sweet peas, corn, peaches, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and green beans.
Here are some books available at the Omaha Public Library for ideas to get you thinking creatively about what to cook with seasonal food.
- Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source with more than 200 recipes for a Healthy and Sustainable You by Terry Walters
- Keep it Seasonal by Annie Wayte
- Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by America’s Farmers by Janet Fletcher
Or check out the seasonal recipes section on Food Network or Eating Well to help get you started.
Here is a quick rundown of the most commonly available seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- Spring: Apricots, Artichokes, Arugula, Asparagus, Beets, Carrots, Chard, Fava beans, Fennel, Fiddleheads, Garlic (green), Grapefruit, Green onions, Greens, Kiwis, Kumquats, Leeks, Lemons, Lettuce, Mint, Nettles, Navel Oranges, Parsley, Pea Greens, Peas, Radishes, Rhubarb, Scallions, Spinach, Spring onions, Strawberries, Sweet onions, Turnips
- Summer: Apples, Apricots, Avocados, Basil, Bell peppers, Blackberries, Blueberries, Boysenberries, Cantaloupes, Carrots, Chard, Cherries, Chickpeas, Chiles, Cilantro, Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Figs, Garlic, Gooseberries, Grapes, Green Beans, Green onions, Herbs, Lettuce, Limes, Mangoes, Melons, Nectarines, Okra, Onions, Peaches, Peas, Plums, Radicchio, Radishes, Raspberries, Rhubarb, Shallots, Spinach, Spring Onions, Strawberries, Summer squashes, Sweet Onions, Tomatillos, Tomatoes, Watermelons, Zucchini and Blossoms
- Fall: Apples, Artichokes, Arugula, Beets, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery and Celery Root, Chard, Chicories, Chiles, Cranberries, Edamame, Eggplant, Endive, Escarole, Fennel, Figs, Garlic, Grapes, Green Beans, Green onions, Herbs, Horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lemongrass, Lettuce, Limes, Mushrooms, Okra, Onions, Parsnips, Pears, Peppers, Persimmons, Pomegranates, Potatoes, Pumpkins, Radicchio, Radishes, Rutabagas, Spinach, Sweet potatoes, Tomatillos, Turnips, Winter Squash, Zucchini
- Winter: Beets, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Cardoons, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chicories, Clementines, Endive, Escarole, Fennel, Grapefruit, Herbs, Horseradish, Kale, Kiwis, Kumquats, Leeks, Lemons, Mandarins, Oranges, Parsnips, Pears, Persimmons, Pomelos, Radicchio, Rutabagas, Satsumas, Sweet Potatoes, Tangerines, Turnips, Winter Squash
To determine what’s in season right now and dig in. You’ll be rewarded with high-quality produce, packed with nutrition, at a lower cost. Your taste buds will definitely thank you for it!