Seasonal Eating: Start This Summer!

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Seasonal eating means building your meals around what is fresh at the moment. Fruits and vegetables consumed in season have more vitamins and minerals than their off-season counterparts. Plus, they often have more flavor and richer color. When you choose to eat in season, you will also see lower prices which mean a lower overall grocery bill. Not surprisingly our bodies are even hardwired to eat seasonally, with a craving for lighter, greener meals in spring and summer followed by a need for dense, protein-rich foods in fall and winter.

Summer is a great time to start eating seasonally because you skip the challenge of limited selection of winter. Seasonal eating means changing the way you prepare your grocery list. You need to switch from thinking about what your taste buds say they want to what has recently been harvested. This approach to meal planning often means that you shop first and develop a meal plan from your purchases.

What can you expect to be fresh each season? Spring and early summer will bring a variety of greens and herbs, which mean salads and light soups would make a natural addition to your menu. As summer progresses, you’ll find more tender vegetables come into season like delicate summer squashes, tomatoes, and broccoli. Fall and winter bring root vegetables and squashes, with a few greens and herbs, too.

Can you imagine seeing an empty shelf and a sign that says “Bacon Out of Season” at the store? It might be hard to believe, but meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products also experience seasonality. Traditionally, animals spend the summer plumping up before being slaughtered in the fall. This means bacon and steak really should only be on your autumn and winter menu (unless, of course, you either freeze the meat or are a vegetarian). Eggs too are seasonal, with the bulk of laying occurring naturally in the spring and summer. Farmers use supplemental light to convince the birds to lay in the off season. Milk (both cow and goat) generally also becomes more plentiful and sweeter in the spring and summer because cows rely on fresh grass, rather than hay, for feed.

Start your hunt for seasonal foods at your local farmer’s market. While some areas enjoy markets year ‘round, many northern farmers start their selling season in June and continue through October. After market or on non-market days, stop by the Co-op to fill in the rest of your grocery list. This will be your opportunity to grab staples like oil, vinegar, and spices to complement your fresh produce and meats. Consult the seasonal ingredient map at Epicurious to see what’s fresh each month and give you a jumping off point for menu making.