By: Shannon Herbert, Dietetic Intern JJPVAMC Class of 2019
With the warm weather approaching, a variety of summer fruits and vegetables will be reappearing in supermarkets and farmers markets. Now is the perfect time to prioritize seasonal produce to not only benefit your health but also positively impact the planet and your wallet. Eating seasonally is important for our health, for the environment, and is a great way to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables while saving money.
Although our advances in agriculture have made it possible to have access to a variety of fruits and vegetables year round, it can be hard to remember that food availability actually changes with the seasons. Just because these advancements allow us to buy tomatoes in the middle of winter, does not necessarily mean that these winter tomatoes are the best option for our health, the environment, or our wallets.
So what is eating seasonally? The concept of seasonality, as straightforward as it sounds, can still be confusing to understand, especially with many fruits and vegetables being available year round. Seasonal produce includes fruits and vegetables that are planted, grown and harvested at the time of the crops natural growing cycle. Eating seasonally includes foods in your diet that are grown at the same time of the year as when you eat them.
For example, that means consuming berries in the summer, asparagus in the spring, brussels sprouts in the fall and root vegetables in the winter. Eating seasonally involves eating foods when they are in season and at their peak freshness, making them better tasting as well as full of beneficial nutrients. This practice allows your body to be in tune with nature’s natural growing cycle of crops.
Throughout the year, our body’s needs change; for example, during the warm summer months when we are out in the sun, our bodies need to stay hydrated. Fresh summer produce such as berries, watermelon, and cucumbers are full of water to help us stay cool and hydrated during the warmest months of the year. Seasonal produce meets our body’s unique seasonal needs and is fresher and more nutritious than food consumed out of season.
An easy way to ensure you are purchasing seasonal produce is to focus on consuming local produce. Seasonal fruits and vegetables tend to be produced closer to where they are being purchased and are fresher, due to the shorter distances that they need to be transported. On the other hand, out of season produce tends to be harvested early, before peak ripeness, in order to be shipped long distances, and is thus not picked at the peak of ripeness causing produce to lose some of its natural nutrient value.
The longer the produce travels and spends time sitting on the shelf, the more nutritional value is lost. Not only will seasonal produce have much more flavor and nutrients, due to harvesting practices and the shorter distance traveled, but it will also last longer and save you money!
Perhaps the biggest tangible benefit of eating seasonally is that you'll save money on food. When you buy what's in season, you buy food that's at the peak of its supply.
Increased supply will lead to lower prices to satisfy demand, leading to sales and discounts. Additionally, due to seasonal produce being grown in areas closer to where you live or in neighboring states the transport and food distribution costs are lowered; in turn you will find lower price tags at stores and farmers markets. It may seem like common sense, but it's one of those things many of us ignore when we're shopping. For example, according to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the price for organic strawberries in the winter months, January-March, can be upwards of $5.99/pound, while in the summer months June-August, when strawberries are in season, the price per pound of organic strawberries can be as low as $1.50-$2.00.
Not only are the prices cheaper in the supermarkets, but NYC Farmers Markets have great price saving incentives to encourage you to purchase more seasonal, local produce. For every $5 spent at farmers markets using SNAP on an EBT card, participants receive a FREE $2 Health Bucks Coupon. These Health Bucks coupons can be used at all NYC Farmers Markets to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Planning meals around seasonal produce is a fantastic way to increase the nutritional value of your diet without going over your budget!
Below is a list of some summer fruits and vegetables to keep an eye out for as well as recipe ideas to inspire seasonal eating this summer!
For a full list of seasonal produce please visit Grow NYC: https://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket/whatsavailable
USDA Reference: https://www.marketnews.usda.gov/mnp/fv-report-retail?®ion=NATIONAL&repDate=01%2F01%2F2018&repType=&portal=fv&class=FRUITS&endDate=05%2F10%2F2019&run=&type=retail&locChoose=&compareLy=No&organic=ALL&commodity=STRAWBERRIES&commodityClass=&startIndex=51