Your Guide to Seasonal Eating

Strawberry picking in July. Apple picking in September. Carving pumpkins in October. These are just a few common seasonal traditions surrounding food. Apart from participating in annual activities, you can also leverage the peak seasons of fruits and vegetables to support your health and local economy. Seasonal eating has been a growing trend in the health world, and in this blog, we’re unpacking the benefits it has for you. 

Seasonal eating refers to harvesting and consuming foods grown in their correct season in your local area. This is also called local seasonality, as it specifically highlights eating locally-sourced, in-season foods.

A broader definition of seasonal eating is global seasonality, where the food is produced, harvested, and eaten in its correct season; however, it’s not necessarily sold and consumed in the area it was grown. In this way, it doesn’t meet the local criterion purported by many seasonal eating enthusiasts, but can still provide a step towards consuming fresher, peak produce.

Eating seasonally has a variety of benefits, particularly when considering your health, the local economy, and the environment!

What are the benefits of seasonal eating on health?

Seasonal eating may provide more nutrient-dense foods (that also taste better!).Think about the juiciness of a perfectly ripe summer peach, or the crisp crunch of an apple picked at its fall peak.  Because local foods are sourced from nearby regions, they don’t spend as long in transportation and storage. Some research has shown even small shifts in the growth period can lead to different nutrient compositions; eating foods in season can help you get the most out of your fruits and vegetables.

For those with allergies, it is believed that eating local produce – especially local honey – can help your body regulate a negative reaction to the season’s pollen. The research on this has been mixed, but some study participants saw less allergy symptoms after consuming local honey. More research is needed to confirm honey and local produce as a method to manage allergies, but it is a natural remedy to consider if you suffer from seasonal allergies.

It is important to note that when it comes to health, getting proper servings of fruits and vegetables is more important than eating seasonally. In other words, if you aren’t able to get enough locally-sourced foods due to price or availability, you should still eat non-local or out of season foods to get enough fruits and vegetables in your diet. Keep taking advantage of our ability to buy all sorts of fruits and vegetables, but opt for local veggies when you can!

What are the benefits of seasonal eating on the environment?

Both local and global seasonal eating have benefits on the environment. When crops are grown out of season, it can require high-energy facilities, extra irrigation and water usage, and longer transport requirements. All of these aspects of harvesting food out of season negatively impact the environment; for instance, the extra transportation across regions releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Choosing locally harvested food reduces these environmental impacts. Even if you choose a global seasonality approach (i.e., purchasing foods grown in another region, but in the correct season), you are still helping the environment. Though they would have required more transport than locally-sourced foods, they did not require the high-energy, controlled environments of foods harvested out of season.

What are the benefits of seasonal eating on the economy?

Seasonal eating is also beneficial to the economy. Local farmers are a key part of many local economies; when you opt for produce at your local farmers’ market, you are putting that money directly into your community and supporting local jobs. Typically, local foods are also cheaper, particularly if you have a food co-op or subscription options around you.

Some areas also have Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs set up. In these programs, people essentially purchase “shares” in a farm prior to the harvest, and then receive a portion of that season’s harvest once ready. The cost can vary depending on the region and amount of share purchased, but this can be a great option if you’re feeding a family and need more produce. This may not work for small families – I stopped my CSA delivery after kids left the house as we had trouble eating all the produce for that week.

What foods grow in which seasons

If you take a global seasonality approach to seasonal eating, below are common fruits and veggies and the peak seasons to buy them. Please note, many of these foods can get harvested in multiple seasons depending on the region they’re grown in!

Spring Foods:

Fruits: Apricots, Avocado, Mango, Pineapple, Rhubarb, Strawberries

Vegetables: Asparagus, Arugula, Artichokes, Carrots, Collards, Fennel, Radishes, Broccoli, Cauliflower

Summer Foods:

Fruits: Berries (Raspberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cherries), Stone Fruit (Peaches, Plums, Nectarines), Watermelon

Vegetables: Tomatoes, Broccoli, Cucumber, Green Beans, Zucchini, Bell Peppers, Corn, Lima Beans, Beets

Fall Foods:

Fruits: Apples, Cranberries, Figs, Grapes, Pears, Pomegranate

Vegetables: Butternut Squash, Cauliflower, Garlic, Mushrooms, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Sweet Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts, Eggplant, Onions, Pumpkins

Winter Foods:

Fruits: Citrus Fruit (Grapefruit, Lemons, Oranges, Tangerines)

Vegetables: Kale, Leeks, Radishes, Turnips, Winter Squash

Be sure to check what’s in season in your specific region, too. This is where you can maximize the positive effects on your economy, health, and environment. The Seasonal Food Guide provides a region-specific guide to foods available each month in the US. Explore the Seasonal Food Guide here!

After checking out the Seasonal Food Guide above, you can go to your local farmers’ market with more confidence, knowing which foods are going to be the healthiest and tastiest in your area. You can use the Local Food Directories site from the USDA to find farmers’ markets in your area: Find a local farmers’ market here.

If farmers’ markets aren’t an option for you, you can also look for a locally-sourced section or label on produce in your grocery store. Many stores have partnerships with regional farmers to bring in local produce.

With spring in full swing and summer right around the corner, see if you can block out time to visit your local farmers’ market over the weekend, or even join a CSA program! It’s a fantastic way to support your health, local economy, and the environment.

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