Falling into Seasonal Produce
Fall. Autumn. The change of seasons is marked by changing leaves and Pumpkin Spice flavored…..everything? This year, don’t let pumpkin spice flavored oreos be your only seasonal food experience. There are many seasonal vegetables and fruits that can help welcome the feeling of the cooler temperatures into our homes.
There are benefits to eating produce when it’s in season beyond helping to usher in a new season. When we choose in season produce we get the maximum nutritional benefits of those foods. When foods are picked at the peak of ripeness, they contain their peak content of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Some phytonutrients in foods decline when stored for long periods of time. Phytonutrient is just a fancy word for the naturally produced chemicals from plants that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Antioxidants prevent or delay cell damage. This means that they keep us healthy for longer and also looking vibrant. They reduce inflammation which contributes to chronic illness. Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant. Many of us know that Vitamin C can also be important in reducing the length of a cold or other winter illnesses. Vitamin C is jam packed into many of our Fall grown produce. All plants contain phytonutrients. This includes whole grains, nuts, beans and vegetables and fruit. Examples of seasonal vegetables and fruits are below, but including a variety of plant foods daily is good for overall health and wellness.
Fruits and vegetables are less expensive when purchased in season. It takes less time and money for them to get to the store and that savings is passed onto the consumer. Eating seasonally is one of the best things you can do to reduce your grocery budget while bulking up your nutrition.
When trying to eat healthier, the most valuable thing we can do is make sure that our food is delicious! Eating delicious food every day helps us to sustain our healthier habits. Eating produce in season is a way to ensure that your fruits and veggies taste their very best. Lastly, eating in season also provides the opportunity to support local producers. Supporting local farmers allows for more sustainable food production and also reduces fossil fuels used to transport items from across the world. Below are some options for including seasonal produce that are usually available locally. Enjoy the season this year by trying something new or by having a familiar food prepared in a way that is new to you.
One serving of Acorn Squash is an excellent source of Vitamin C. The easiest way to prepare all your winter squash is to halve, scoop out seeds and then bake in the oven until soft. The tender flesh can be scooped out of the shell and used as a side dish as is. The shape of the acorn squash also provides the perfect bowl shape for stuffing with goodies such as a combo of Italian sausage and wild rice. Winter squash is also wonderful for roasting. Acorn squash can be sliced in strips and roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and seasonings to taste.
Another delicious and slightly sweet winter squash, one cup has more than 100% of the daily value of Vitamin A along with being another excellent source of Vitamin C. After baking, butternut squash makes a delicious, creamy soup. It’s also wonderful roasted or topped with cheese and whole wheat breadcrumbs in a casserole.
Swapping a baked potato for a baked sweet potato is an easy way to increase your Vitamin A and Vitamin C intake for the day. If you’re looking for more ways to include this versatile vegetable into every day eating, try slicing them thin and using as “toast” substitute or dicing and making a sweet potato hash.
Brussels sprouts often get a bad reputation for being a least favorite food. However, when not over-cooked, most people are able to change their opinion of this notorious vegetable. If you’ve tried Brussels Sprouts before and found them mushy, try a dry heat for cooking. Slice in halves and roast with olive oil. You can also try parboiling (boiling for 1-2 minutes and then immersing in cold water to stop the cooking process) and then sautéing. They can also be steamed, but careful not to overcook. Nuts are a perfect addition to Brussels Sprout. Try toasted walnuts or almonds on top.
Parsnips look like a white (possibly more boring) carrot and are often overlooked. Despite their similar shape, they are not from the same family of vegetables. Parsnips have a lightly sweet flavor but with more of a spiced taste than their orange counterpart. When paired with carrots in a rich beef stew they can add depth of flavor. They are also delicious when roasted with other fall/winter vegetables.
Cool weather Greens (Kale, Chard, Spinach, etc)
Many dark greens such as kale and spinach get an improved, sweeter flavor when exposed to frost. This makes them a perfect fall, winter and early spring vegetable. We all have heard of the benefits of brightly colored greens and now is a perfect time to add them to the rotation. A more hearty, winter salad can be assembled by starting with kale and adding toasted walnuts, goat cheese, dried cranberries, topped with sliced steak. Add Kale or Spinach to smoothies or toss greens into soups for a nutrition boost.
Pears are an excellent source of fiber with a good mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Getting enough of both fiber types can help regulate blood sugar, increase satiety, improve bowel regularity and keep Cholesterol in a healthy range. Pears make for a perfect snack on their own anytime but also can be added to smoothies, as a topping for oatmeal or as a salad topping. And don’t forget pear desserts such as crisps or carmelized pears as a topping for ice cream.
It would not be the Fall season without trips to the pumpkin patch and apple picking. The Northwest is home to many apple varieties. Apple cider simmering on the stove immediately makes the home feel like Autumn. This year, try apple chips baked in the oven at a low temperature until they dry and crisp.
Cranberries are always featured on the Thanksgiving table but not given much thought the rest of the year. Washington and Oregon are two of only about five states that grown cranberries in the U.S. Fresh cranberries can be added to baked goods and in crisps. Dried cranberries are wonderful in fall-themed salads and as a topper for oatmeal. They can also be tossed into savory dishes such as stuffed squash to add a hint of sweetness. Cranberries are a phytonutrient rich berry in the same family as blueberries. Their bright red color signals hidden nutrition benefits.
Aren’t we glad to live in a world with fall and all the bountiful produce that it delivers to our tables?
by Heather Blazier, RD, CDE