There’s definitely a love-hate relationship when it comes to menu planning.
It’s a fun little game trying to figure out what I’m going to want a week from now.
My dad always says that I’m a girl so I have the freedom to change my mind, and we (the rest of my ladies out there) do so often.
It’s not that easy to change your mind when you’re buying all the groceries for a specific menu…
Most often when it comes to menu planning, I look for a recipe that sounds “tasty” (two S/O’s in one blog dad, you better be reading this and not just ‘liking’ on social media), is easy to prepare, and most importantly, meets my intake goals for the week.
I send my husband with a list to the store, and MOST of the ingredients come back.
There are times where he forgets something, spinach is on recall, the berries are bad, or the store doesn’t carry those darn Ezekiel English muffins.
We never really think about WHY there’s no spinach or berries, we just get frustrated at our local grocer and move on to the next one hoping they have “better” customer service.
It’s not the grocer’s fault!
They just put the food on the shelves, and they don’t really have any control over whether or not food gets delivered to them.
So who should we blame?
Who can we write an angry email to? Where do we direct our dissatisfied Google review?
Or tag in our frustrated social media post?
Good luck finding her on Facebook.
During grad school, I was awakened to this concept of seasonal eating, and it taught me so much about the food I purchase and why the grocery store may or may not have what I need.
You see, in Minnesota we spend so much time talking (complaining?) about what the weather does to us, that we forget what it does to our food!
Our food LIVES outside. It can’t bundle up when it’s cold, grab an umbrella when it rains, or sit in the AC during the sweltering heat.
Our food just has to deal with it and respond as best it can, and if the conditions aren’t great when it’s trying to grow, don’t expect the product it yields to be great either….
Every food has requirements for growth; therefore, it’s grown in a season that matches those requirements.
During or just following that season is when that food is at it’s best and when those shelves at the grocery store are stocked full.
In order to avoid those frustrating trips to the store where we can’t find what we need, it’s recommended we follow a similar pattern through something called seasonal eating.
What Is seasonal eating?
Now, when we first started talking about seasonal eating, it was clear it was not a recent ground breaking discovery. In fact, I quickly realized this is something that has been done for more than just generations; it has been done since the beginning of time!
From what I have learned, cavemen and women didn’t have a giant Hy-Vee loaded up with all their favorite fruits and veggies.
They didn’t have a refrigerator and freezer to store and preserve their favorite produce.
If there was only a small amount, that’s all they got because there’s only one person from that long ago who has ever been said to multiply and provide abundance for all, but I’m not touching on that topic.
If they couldn’t find it around their habitat, they weren’t eating it. Plain and simple.
They were doing it before it had a name and well before it was all the rage.
They were eating seasonally.
This means purchasing and consuming produce around the time that it is harvested.
Produce around the world responds to changes in weather just as we do; therefore, just as we have a favorite season, so too does our produce.
Each season yields a variety of beautiful produce, and seasonal eating encourages us to eat in accordance with that schedule.
Why is it beneficial?
Now if you’re like me, the concept of seasonal eating strongly points to change, giving up some of produce I enjoy, and trying new things.
I like what I know, so how could this possibly be beneficial.
Researchers, scientists, and doctors all suggest the importance of eating in accordance with the seasons.
Environmentally, seasonal eating encourages the natural balance between its resources and life forms. There is less strain on the soil and plant for rapid production, and allows for natural restoration of nutrients in the earth.
For health purposes, seasonal eating improves your chances of fulfilling your micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) needs. The biggest variation of produce across the seasons is its micronutrient content. When produce nears its time for harvest, it is at its highest micronutrient content, but as we move away from this point, the micronutrient content either drops or is maintained via preservatives.
What it can do for you?
Research suggests seasonal eating is beneficial for you, but if you’re at all like me, you might be asking “What can this ACTUALLY do for me?”
Here are the top five things:
1. Improved Nutritional Value
Seasonal eating is a great way for you reduce your chances as being one of the many undernourished individuals in society. As I mentioned before, harvest season is when produce has it’s highest nutritional value. Eating fresh, in-season produce not only increases your fruit and vegetable intake, but your overall nutrient intake. Certain vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin C and folate (B9), rapidly decline once they are picked and placed on the shelves.
2. Taste Better
You know the feeling of biting into a juicy strawberry on a hot summer day? How about a crisp apple in the fall? The reason these fruits taste so good is because they are right in the middle of their growing season! Refrigeration and cooling of fruits and vegetables has been found to reduce the flavor; however, that is exactly what takes place when produce is transported across the country. Then once foods arrive in stores, they sit on shelves until purchase, but the longer they sit there, picked from their tree or vine, the more nutrients and flavor it loses.
3. Know Where Your Food is Made/Grown
Seasonal eating generally translates to the purchase and consumption of locally grown produce. These foods are typically labeled in stores as “locally grown,” and often identify the specific farm or place of purchase. These products spend much less time away from the tree or vine and in transportation because they are taken from or near your community. Aside from the labeled in-store products, venturing to a farmers market or purchasing from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) allows you to talk with farmers to better understand where and how your produce was grown.
One of my favorite images circling social media right now is the price comparison of a fast food burger to a fresh salad. Eating healthy has come to be known as EXPENSIVE, but seasonal eating is a method for eating healthy without breaking the bank. When produce is in abundance, prices go down because there is more to go around. Additionally, because these foods are more likely to be grown locally, the prices are lowered because there is minimal to no cost for production, transportation, and storage. Who isn’t trying to save a buck here or there?
5. Try New Things
Ten years ago, trying new things was out of the question for me; however, the focus on in-season produce today encourages the expansion of my palate. Prioritization of seasonal foods requires that you try new foods and recipes sometimes outside of your comfort zone. You may find something you never dreamed you would like, but if that’s not the case on your first try, don’t get discouraged! There are so many ways to prepare fruits and vegetables, that it may take a bit more exploration so be open to change and don’t give up after your first try!
How do I know what’s in season?
So you’re sold on eating seasonally?
But where do you even start?
How do you know what’s ACTUALLY in-season?
First, take a look at these images to know what’s in-season when.
If not, go to these links to connect with some of your local farmers or CSA’s.
Take a look at farmers markets close to you, by providing a bit more information on where you currently live!
Eat Locally Grown helps you to identify farms, farmers markets, co-ops, restaurants, and artisans near you!
CSA’s are a great way to find locally grown produce and meat products, head over to either of these sites to find one close to you!