By Brittany Demezier, Food Systems Program Coordinator ISU Extension and Outreach- Dubuque
Watermelon in February and asparagus in December. Most of us have grown accustomed to having access to nearly every type of fresh fruit and vegetable any time of year. Admittedly, until I entered the greenhouse industry, I never paid much attention to when the natural seasons were, and even then, I was trying to extend them beyond the normal range. But the more I started cooking for myself, and the more local produce that I tasted, the more I knew I had to take a deeper dive into seasonal eating! Returning to seasonal eating means returning to eating foods that are naturally ready to harvest at the same time of year that you are eating them. While it can be challenging to adopt this new mindset, there are several benefits to eating with the seasons.
Why eat seasonally?
My favorite benefit for eating with the seasons is the freshness and tastiness of seasonal foods. There is something special about picking a strawberry at the peak of ripeness or choosing a tomato that is perfectly ripened on the vine hours before eating. Most varieties of produce you find in the grocery store were selected because they travel well, not because they taste the best. In addition, they were likely picked a little early to allow for ripening in transit to their final destination, so they could be ready by the time they arrived in your grocery cart. While this can work for some produce items (like sweet potatoes), for most foods, quality and taste tend to suffer the longer they spend in transportation or on the store shelf.
Eating what is ‘in season’ can also add some variety to your family’s diet. The rhythm and rotation of available produce items make it harder to be stuck in a rut with menu planning. Fresh, seasonal produce can transition into fresh, new dinner ideas, or simply expanding your comfort level by preparing a variety of fresh items quickly.
So how can you get started?
How to get started eating with the seasons
Typically eating seasonally, means eating locally as well. Learn where you can find fresh, local foods in your area. It may be a farmers market, CSA, local farm stand, or your own home garden. Once you identify where you can get fresh, in-season items, the easier it will be to incorporate them into your diet. Some grocery stores make an effort to purchase locally available fruits and vegetables during certain times of year, so watch the signage in your local store.
Next, find out what is in season right now. With the constant availability of almost everything, that can be difficult to know! The Iowa Department of Ag and Land Stewardship has a great visual guide I like to use to see what is generally available in Iowa each month of the year. Seasons may be a week or two earlier in the Southern part of the state, or later in the Northern part of the state, but overall this is a great guide.
Outside of the typical growing season, it is still possible to find fresh fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, squash, carrots, onions, and apples that can be stored for a longer period of time, allowing you to enjoy them during the winter. Food preservation can be part of the joy of seasonal eating as well.
Ultimately, the best way to get started with seasonal eating is to try it! Now is a great time to start with so much in season. Challenge yourself to try seasonal eating for a month. I guarantee you will have a new appreciation for food, and enjoy some deliciously good meals and snacks along the way. Happy eating everyone!
To learn more on how HACAP is helping the community to eat seasonally visit.