Spring is a great time to reintroduce fresh local produce. For the last few months, many of us have relied on warmer areas of the world to provide fresh produce, which can limit our options. As spring arrives and the weather begins to get warmer, we are given an opportunity to explore new types of produce as they become more available again at local farms and in home gardens.
Spring is the perfect time for plant-based eating. Commit to enjoying more fresh vegetables and fruits in place of highly processed foods. You will discover the full flavors of these whole foods without the additives, saturated fat, artificial sweeteners, and extra calories found in highly processed foods. The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise incorporating more fruits and vegetables into U.S. residents' diets as part of healthy dietary patterns. Adults should consume 1.5–2 cup-equivalents of fruits and 2–3 cup-equivalents of vegetables daily. Emerging research suggests eating more fruits and vegetables can help improve happiness, satisfaction, and emotional well-being. Here are some ideas to enjoy the fresh local produce this spring.
Know What’s in Season
The first step to selecting the freshest spring produce is to know what’s in season. Some of the most common spring produce items include asparagus, broccoli, green beans, arugula, spinach, kale, cabbage, carrots, strawberries, rhubarb, radishes, artichokes, peas, and more. Eating foods that are in season provides more benefits than great taste. Seasonal foods provide better nutrition as well. Over time fruits and vegetables lose their nutritional value if not eaten soon after harvest or if not correctly preserved or frozen. Seasonal foods can also be budget friendly. Produce that is in season is often more affordable because it’s more widely available.
Shop for foods grown close to home. Explore your local farmers markets and produce stands.
Food grown in your geographical area is usually sold at peak freshness because it doesn’t have to travel across the country or world. Local food also needs fewer preservatives since it will be sold quickly after harvest instead of being shipped long distances.
By shopping locally, you also support the local economy and farm families in your community.
Check for Freshness
Spring is here, and it’s the perfect time to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables. However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell if the produce you’re buying is truly fresh. To make sure you’re getting the best quality produce here are some tips for checking the freshness of different spring fruits and vegetables.
For fruits, start by looking for a vibrant color and smooth texture. Fruits should appear vibrant and firm depending on the type. If you’re examining berries or cherries, make sure they’re brightly colored and free of any mold. For melons make sure they’re heavy for their size and have a pleasant aroma.
For vegetables look for bright colors, firm textures, and no discoloration. For greens like lettuce and spinach check for crispness and make sure there are no signs of wilting or yellowing. When buying vegetables such as peas, beans, or carrots, make sure they aren’t limp and discolored. As for tomatoes, look for a deep red color and firmness.
Remember, freshness is key when it comes to making meals with spring produce. By knowing what to look for in each type of fruit and vegetable you can make sure you’re getting the freshest produce around.
Grow your Own Garden
Can produce be more local than growing it in your own backyard? If you want to grow your own vegetables, fruits, or herbs start planning your garden now. If you don’t have the backyard
space for a garden you can use planters to grow some items like tomatoes on your deck, porch, or balcony. You can also grow herbs in small pots near a window.
Be Open to Trying New Things
Spring is a time to experiment with new flavors and recipes, so don’t be afraid to try something new. Look for unique varieties of fruits and vegetables that you may not have tried before such as purple asparagus or yellow tomatoes. Experiment with different cooking methods and seasonings to bring out the best flavors in your spring produce.
Selecting the freshest spring produce is easy if you know what to look for. By focusing on what’s in season, checking for freshness, choosing local produce, and being open to trying new things you’ll be able to enjoy the best flavors that spring has to offer.
Here are some meal and snack ideas to try:
· Bran flakes with berries and low-fat milk
· Whole-grain English muffin “pizzas” with tomato sauce, sliced vegetables, and freshly shredded mozzarella cheese
· Whole grain wrap with fresh greens, chopped tomatoes, shredded carrots, onion, sliced avocado, and a lean protein (e.g., turkey slices, tuna, tofu, hummus, or black bean spread)
· Vegetable stir-fry with colorful peppers, mushrooms, and garlic with a side of quinoa and grilled chicken or fish
· Fruit kabobs with berries, melon, banana slices and grapes served with a side of low-fat vanilla yogurt.
· Grill colorful vegetable kabobs packed with tomatoes, green and red peppers, mushrooms, and onions.
· Add color to salads with baby carrots, grape tomatoes, spinach leaves or strawberries.
· Keep cut vegetables handy for mid-afternoon snacks, side dishes, lunch box additions or while waiting for dinner. Ready-to-eat favorites: red, green, or yellow peppers, broccoli or cauliflower florets, carrots, celery sticks, cucumbers, snap peas, or whole radishes.
· Place colorful fruit where everyone can easily grab something for a snack-on-the-run. Keep a bowl of fresh, just ripe whole fruit in the center of your kitchen or dining table.
· Keep seasonal foods in front of the refrigerator or on the kitchen counter so you see them first.
Take advantage of all that spring has to offer in your food choices. Plan your vegetable and herb garden, visit your local farmers markets, and collect new recipes that feature seasonal foods full of powerful, immune-boosting nutrients.
Would you like more information on how to include more fruits and vegetables in a healthy meal plan? Please reach out to me through Kim Leonard East Area YMCA Health and Wellness Director at 315-637-2025 X220 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a nutrition consult.
Traci McIntosh, MA, RD
East Area YMCA Dietitian
Roasted Spring Asparagus
Eatright.org March 11, 2016
Although you can grill, steam or broil asparagus, you'll love it roasted! This tasty and simple dish goes well with chicken, lamb, or fish.
And asparagus, a member of the lily family, is a great source of folate, iron, and potassium. It also is high in vitamins A and C.
1 pound thin asparagus spears 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil ½ teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 425ºF (218ºC).
2. Clean and trim asparagus. Peel the ends if the spears are thick.
3. Drizzle a roasting pan with the olive oil and lay the asparagus evenly in the pan. Turn to coat with the oil. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Roast the asparagus for approximately 20 minutes, or until the stalks are tender yet crisp. Remove from the pan and transfer to a serving dish.
· Whether you bring home stalks from the farmers market or from your local grocery, make sure the spears are firm and fresh-looking and the tips are tightly closed.
Asparagus should be eaten within a few days for the best flavor. The best way to store asparagus in the refrigerator is to cut off an inch from the stalk and stand the spears upright in an inch or two of water, covered with a plastic bag.
· In addition to the common green color, asparagus also comes in purple and white varieties. The purple asparagus turns green when cooked. The prized white variety is cultivated by covering the stalks with mounds of earth to prevent the development of chlorophyll, which creates the green hue.
Serving size: 6 spears Serves 8
Calories: 30; Total Fat: 2g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 150mg; Total Carbohydrate: 3g; Dietary Fiber: 1g; Protein: 1g