In Season Fruit And Vegetable Guide
There's a lot to be said for eating fresh produce while it’s in season. It's typically less expensive and more nutritionally rich. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are more likely to have been grown locally too, which means a smaller carbon footprint is left behind after delivering them to your table. This is good news for the environment as well as for your local and regional economy.
To take advantage of seasonal produce options, it really pays to develop a taste for lots of different varieties of fruits and vegetables. You'll probably find luscious peaches in June or watermelons in August, but in October, being able to switch from strawberries to apples or from zucchini to acorn squash will make it easier to set a varied table and take advantage of the benefits each season has to offer.
Spring season fruits and veggies are usually the first out of the ground after the last bout of harsh winter weather. They're often fragile because whole crops can be lost to a late frost. Although you may start getting excited over huge, early strawberries, they aren't the only fruits to consider. Why not try:
If you do opt for strawberries, wait until later in spring, you'll be able to take advantage of a large harvest and save money at the market. Here's another strawberry tip: Pass on the jumbo varieties and look for smaller, bright red strawberries with red (not white) shoulders and deep green caps. They'll be the sweetest berries for your money.
When it comes to spring vegetables, nothing beats those first asparagus spears. They're often a bargain, too. Don't be fooled into spending more for the white varieties. They're just regular asparagus grown under a cover of mulch to keep the light out. They taste much the same as green asparagus. Like strawberries, asparagus is a spring favorite that gets more attention than some other great choices. Try these spring vegetables to round out your table. They're tasty when steamed or in stir fry. A few make lively additions to a spring salad or homemade soup, too.
- Collard greens
- English peas
- Green beans
- Morel mushrooms
- Mustard greens
- Snow peas
- Baby lettuce
- Sweet corn
- Sweet onion (like Vidalia onions)
- Sugar snap peas
- Swiss chard
As summer begins to unfold, you'll begin to see the full bounty available in the produce department. This is by far the most productive time for fruits and vegetables. You probably look forward to the latest crop of vine ripened tomatoes, but do take the time to explore some of the berry offerings in the market this summer season. The dye that makes them that rich red or purple color also contains antioxidant compounds that contribute to hearth health and may boost brain function. Specialty berries, like blackberries and fresh raspberries, are becoming more abundant, so the prices for mixed berries are typically in line with more common summer fruits like nectarines, apricots and cherries. Beyond being good for you, berries are delicious for breakfast, in salads and eaten as simple snacks.
Look for these popular summer produce items too:
- Bell peppers
- Green beans
- Hot peppers
- Lima beans
- Sweet corn
- Summer squash
- Zucchini squash
- Crenshaw melon
- Honeydew melons
- Persian Melons
We love the idea of being able to rummage through the produce department to find the right snack item, but fruits can get pricey, even during the summer. One good rule of thumb is that most fruits will drop in price during harvest time for that particular variety. That's the time when they're most abundant. For the best value, watch the grocery store adds in your weekly paper. The best time to buy those figs or honeydew melons may only last a week or two.
You'll start to see a change in the look of your local produce department in early fall. The bright colors of summer fruit will begin to give way to russets and deep oranges in potatoes, pumpkins and persimmons. This is harvest time for late summer crops and early root vegetables. It's a good time to take a look at your cooking references for hearty stew and soup recipes. You're likely to find sturdy leafy greens like kale on sale with other cabbage family vegetables like Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Look for these vegetables as well:
- Acorn squash
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Butternut squash
- Button Mushrooms
- Sweet potatoes
- Swish chard
- Winter squash
Although there are fewer fruit options, fall is apple and pear season. There are lots of reasonably priced varieties available, too. If you're into canning or want to learn, this is a great time to buy a bushel of apples and make apple butter. For instructions on how to can fruits and vegetables, see How To Can Fruits & Vegetables. You'll find these fruits in abundance during autumn:
If you live in an area that experiences a hard frost and harsh winter weather, most of the fruits and vegetables you'll see on grocery store shelves will be either imported or grown in large commercial greenhouses. This means they're more expensive than most seasonal produce . . . with one big exception. Around the Christmas holidays, you'll begin to see the price for produce items like green beans, yams, asparagus, lettuce, parsley and other holiday favorites start to drop.
Historically, high demand for these fruits and vegetables, even though they are more expensive to produce and bring to market, drives the price down. Grocery outlets also use them as loss leader items, keeping the prices low to entice customers into the store to buy other grocery items, too. If you watch the ads, you can buy green beans at a big discount for your traditional green bean casserole. Take advantage of the limited bounty by purchasing in large quantities and freezing prepared recipes. You'll save and also make mealtime a little easier for a month or so.
Even though winter is the least likely time to find abundant and varied produce offerings at the market, there are still some old standbys that are reasonably priced throughout the winter months. Be on the lookout for these winter produce items:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Sweet Potatoes
- Winter Squash
Great Deals and Fresh Food Favorites
Although fruits and vegetables are typically seasonal for a specific region, you can find many seasonal items in your market all year long. When they're imported fresh, you pay a premium for them, but when they're flash-frozen, you may be able to get them at a bargain price. Frozen foods have come a long way in the last 30 years. Today, a fresh frozen vegetable will retain up to 90 percent of its nutritional value through the freezing process. If defrosted and consumed within a couple of weeks of purchase, those peas or baby carrots will taste almost as good as their fresh counterparts, retain many of their vitamins and be available at discounts of up to 20 percent. Watch the ads. Frozen foods need to be rotated off of grocery shelves regularly. That means you may have an opportunity to save big when you buy bargain frozen vegetables. The only thing wrong with frozen produce is the assumption that it's inferior to fresh options.
While you're looking around the store, stop a moment on your juice aisle, too. Many juices your kids will think are sweet fruits are actually fortified with vitamins and minerals and created using a vegetable base. If you can't encourage your children to eat healthy, supplement their diets with some sneaky vegetables parading around as fruity drinks. You don't have to do it all the time, but knowing the option is out there will make meal planning a little easier at your house.