As the seasons change we tend to also change what foods we eat. Eating in season has become a common topic of interest. Let’s look at what eating in season means and what the benefits are.
What Does “Eating In Season” Mean?
Fruits and vegetables that are in season are those that are picked fresh, at their peak of being ripe, close to where you live. Eating in season can also be applied to meats. For this post I will focus on seasonal fruits and vegetables.
When you intentionally eat in season, you choose to eat as many foods as you can that are being grown in the region you live in.
Benefits of Eating in Season
Firstly, fruits and vegetables will have higher nutrition values when they are in season. This makes sense because fruits and vegetables have the most nutrition when they are ripe and freshly picked. Foods transported to destinations far from where they are grown are often picked before they are ripe. This is done so that the produce does not over-ripen prior to being purchased. Additionally, when food sits during transportation, and also on our countertops, it slowly loses some of its nutrient value over time.
Eating in season also encourages you to eat more variety. While less foods may be in season during the winter months, you may find yourself eating foods you might otherwise not think to eat. For example, rapini or shallots are currently in season by me. I may not think to eat these in the summer when there are so many more options for seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables. In the winter we have more opportunities to eat different foods when we prioritize eating seasonally.
Even though your favorite go-to produce may be available in the summer time, look at what new-to-you foods are in season too. I encourage you to try new foods that are considered in season in the spring, summer and fall months. For example, I live in Illinois and I’m inspired to try ground cherries and tomatillos this coming summer, foods I have not purchased fresh before. In the fall I’d love to try using bok choy and chives in more dishes. I’ve also wanted to try paw paw fruit for a long time now!
Foods picked at their peak have more flavor. Have you ever purchased strawberries in December only to be disappointed by their sour flavor and lack of color? Strawberries never taste better than when they are picked fresh in June.
It can be helpful to freeze fruits and vegetables when they are in season so they can be enjoyed at their peak flavor later in the year. Of course the way you will use frozen fruits and vegetables will be different than eating them fresh. Frozen fruits can be put into smoothies, baked into quick breads, or made into jams/preserves. Frozen vegetables can be added to soups or stews, they can be put into casseroles or mixed dishes, or heated up on the stove to serve on the side.
Less impact on the environment
When you eat more seasonally, you are choosing to eat fruits and vegetables grown close to where you live. This means that there are less food miles, or less transportation needed to get the food to you. Additionally, when foods are grown out of season, this requires more energy to provide heat and light to the crops. In summary, eating in season requires less fuel and produces less pollution.
Lastly, producing foods years round and out of season requires more land use. This contributes to loss of biodiversity and diminished health of the soil, and it decreases crop diversity.
When food requires less transportation and less resources to grow, they are going to cost less. Choosing to purchase more foods that are in season will be more affordable for you.
Eating in Season Differs by Location
First, it is important to understand that eating seasonally depends on the location you live in. For example, if you live somewhere much warmer during the winter months, like California or Florida, you will have a lot more options for foods that are in season.
I live in Illinois and there are only 8 vegetables (and zero fruits) that are considered in season during late December. For those in the Midwest, eating seasonally means you will choose to incorporate seasonal foods regularly, but many of your fruits and vegetables will also be out of season when purchased fresh. That is the reality of living in a colder climate!
However, for those in colder climates, don’t forget about your option to freeze foods ahead of time, when they are in season. And for individuals or families that are well versed in food preservation, using home canned foods and root cellars can be a great way to store in season foods to be used during the winter months.
What Food are in Season for You?
For those in the USA, you can look up a list of foods that are in season by you at The Seasonal Food Guide.
To see a general list of foods that are in season check out The Seasonal Produce Guide.
The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society: “Seasonality and dietary requirements: will eating seasonal food contribute to health and environmental sustainability?”