Eat in Season: Fall Produce

Onions in a basket for sale

If you walked into a grocery store, would you be able to identify which foods are in season? Would your kids be able to? In today’s world, it may be odd to think of eating seasonally, or it may not be apparent why you would consider doing so. Access to any food you want at any time of the year can be fun for the culinary-minded, but what if you focused on a gentle shift in eating that coincides with the seasons?

Why Eat Seasonally?

1. More Cost Effective

There are many benefits to eating seasonally, including cost savings. That tropical fruit you see on the shelf likely had to travel long distances to get to you, and is often picked before the peak of ripeness in order to make it durable for shipping. That shipping cost is always passed on to the consumer – Not to mention the environmental impact of shipping items long distances. Additionally, economic principles tell us that when the supply is high, the price is low. This explains why you’ll see an abundance of squash or potatoes in the fall at bargain prices – harvest time for a crop means supermarkets are flush with items they need to get rid of, resulting in low prices for you.

Long distance shipping can also diminish flavor. If you haven’t compared the taste of carrots purchased from a farmer’s market or from your garden to the taste of supermarket carrots, you’re missing out! The difference in the taste of local, recently harvested produce compared to imported items can be significant.

2. Higher in Nutrients

Seasonal foods are almost always higher in nutrients. Since vitamins and minerals are highest at the peak of ripeness and diminish after picking, the longer an item sits after harvest or the farther it is shipped, the less nutrients you get. One study showed green beans had 15.1 mg/100g of vitamin C out of the garden, but only 7.6 mg/100g from the supermarket.

Eating seasonally also affords you access to local options, especially at the farmer’s market. However, many supermarkets are supporting local growers too. Either way, your dollars stay in the community and benefit local growers. If you can, choose organic and non-GMO items. If you are at the farmer’s market and items aren’t labeled organic, ask the vendor about their growing practices. They may be farming organically but can’t afford the fees associated with getting organically certified. Apple orchards are another fun option for shopping locally, and you’ll often find other fall items for sale alongside apples, like pumpkins, squash, and more.

3. Variety

Most of us tend to get stuck in “food ruts” every now and then, and seasonal eating can break you out of your routine. See some parsnips at the market? Pick some up to roast in the oven with Brussels sprouts and carrots and you’ve got an easy-to-prepare, nutrient-dense, and colorful side dish. If there is a vegetable you are unfamiliar with, don’t let that stop you! Grab it and figure out what to do with it at home, or ask an employee at the store or farmer’s market for some ideas. No need to fear the unknown when it comes to veggies! Challenge yourself to pick up one new item a week to try. This can be a fun way to get the kids involved and expand their palates too – if they know you haven’t tried it either, it can be a fun experiment for the whole family!

Identifying Seasonal Foods

What is in season depends on where you live. Here in Minnesota, like much of the northern US, fall seasonal favorites include:

  • Squash
  • Apples
  • Cranberries
  • Pears
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Parsnips & carrots
  • Radish
  • Rutabaga
  • Pomegranate
  • End of season greens: kale, broccoli, cabbage, beets, bok choy, arugula

Cooking techniques also tend to shift with the seasons. Instead of grilling, roasting is a great option for fall. You might also shift to soups and stews to get you through the cold weather instead of a lighter fare.

  • Here is an easy recipe for a roasted bird that smells wonderful as it cooks, and is perfect for a family meal or even to impress guests. Whole birds tend to be less expensive and as a bonus, you can save the bones for making chicken stock.
  • And for those of you who are intimidated by squash, here is a step-by-step to get you started.
  • If you struggle to identify which foods are in season in your area, here is a guide you can use.