The Beginner's Guide to Seasonal Produce

The Beginner’s Guide to Seasonal Produce

If you are a beginner and just getting started with the “know-how’ of Seasonal Produce, its many benefits, what is available during different seasons, months and year long, how to save on Seasonal produce and everything in between, here is a step- by-step Beginner’s Guide to Seasonal Produce, I have put together for you. Hope it helpful and fun!

What does Seasonal Produce mean?

Seasonal produce refers to the times of year when the harvest or the flavor of a given type of food is at its peak. This is usually the time when the item is harvested, with some exceptions; an example being sweet potatoes which are best eaten quite a while after harvest.

How did seasonal produce become part of my meal planning strategy?

Until a decade ago the concept of seasonal produce was totally new to me.Being born and raised in a country with abundant sunshine, I pretty much was used to fresh produce all through the year.I had never experienced the four seasons until I arrived on this soil.

I embraced it with as much curiosity and excitement, as a child watching the rainbow for the first time. I slowly learnt that, with the different colors of the season came the different flavors.Gradually I incorporated these flavors into my food, to suit my palate to make delicious and healthy homemade recipes in the land, I now call home.It is certainly a smart nutritional and budget friendly choice to make.

Our modern global markets offer us, year round accessibility to produce.It is not unusual, that at times we lose sight of associating certain foods with certain seasons. Owing to its multitude of health benefits, it is important, that we not forget to shop for seasonal produce while at the store.

Importance of seasonal produce and some common misconceptions

Why is seasonal produce important?

  • It is a healthy choice : Seasonal eating includes eating fresh fruits and vegetables  which retains more nutrients than their counterparts.They haven’t been processed or transported long distances. Processing foods which includes things such as tinning, blanching and dehydrating foods (to enhance their life span) makes their nutrient value questionable.Hence Seasonal produce is a healthy and nutrient dense choice to make.
  • Eating Seasonal also introduces a bit of variety in our diet each season.
  • Eating seasonal is less expensive.Produce that are in season cost less, owing to the increased supply and lesser cost incurred in transport and storage.
  • Buying Seasonal Produce supports the economy of the local farming community and the local farmer’s markets .
  • Eating seasonally not only supports the local growers, but it also benefits the environment. It decreases the carbon print which is involved in transporting produce from distant places , the energy used to refrigerate them, the chemicals used in the fertilizers to preserve them for the long haul etc . Produce which is in season tends to also be local food, which means much lower greenhouse gas emissions.

What are some common misconceptions about seasonal produce?

  • Organic produce is more nutritious – As a general rule, we know that Organic produce is more expensive than its traditional counterpart in any season.But does that equate to better health benefits or safer food?Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Why so ?Whether you buy organic or traditional , it is important to be aware of the fact that some fruits and vegetables get hit with a lot more pesticides than others. Check out the“Clean 15”(the least pesticide residue) and “Dirty Dozen“(the most pesticide residue) list here. The “guide” is based on analysis of the 2019 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) report, which is published annually
  • Fruits and vegetables are expensive – Careful meal planning and grocery shopping allows one to incorporate vegetables and fruits in our daily diet.Americans still can meet fruit and vegetable Dietary Guidelines for $2.10-$2.60 per day as per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 Eighth Edition.
  • Vegetarian diets are not complete diets – The key is to provide your body with a balanced amount of nutrients, carbohydrates, protein, and fat, be it vegan, vegetarian or otherwise. There is enough research and long term studies out there that to prove that populations that follow vegetarian diets and lifestyles maintain optimal health and have longer life expectancies.
  • Supplements are necessary – Apart from the multiple health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, the antioxidant qualities provided by the phyto- chemicals found in fruits and vegetables are best acquired through whole food consumption, not as a pill or an extract.
  • The more colorful the fruit or vegetable, the more nutritious it is – It is true in some cases but not all.Cauliflower is full of antioxidants, vitamin C, and folate. Mushrooms provide vitamin D, unlike other produce items. Cabbage is chock-full of vitamins A, B, C, and K, as well as calcium, iron and fiber.Eating a variety of fruits and veggies, each with their unique nutrient profile, is what is most important.
  • Sugar in fruits is bad for you – The sugar in fruits provide multiple health benefits through their phenols, fiber, vitamins, and minerals content, which is totally lacking in added sugars.
  • Potatoes and other starchy vegetables are fattening A medium potato apart from having only 110 calories, is also an excellent source for vitamins C and B6,  fiber and manganese.It is one of the best sources of potassium in the diet, making it a great choice for maintaining healthy weight, unless it is dripping in butter being deep fried or drenched in high fat cheeses.
  • Frozen food is bad– Frozen produce is not a bad idea. Frozen food is often flash frozen right at the time of harvest, preserving the nutrients.Hence it is not a bad choice, even when consumed out of season.


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    Seasonal Produce Round-up by Seasons

    What fruits and vegetables are in season?

    The growing season varies in each region and state, so what is readily available in warmer states may not be available in colder ones like ours. Still, if we are able follow the basic seasons and learn about what is at it’s peak, we can make smart choices while grocery shopping for produce.We can offer our family, produce that is less expensive, easier to find and more nutritious.

    What seasonal produce is available in….

    Winter

    You guessed it ! Winter can be sparse when it comes to choices in produce, but that is no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy a nutritious meal. Beets, Brussel sprouts and cabbages are still available along with carrots and mushrooms too. Those potatoes, cauliflower and pumpkins are begging to be made into delicious warm bowls of soups or spicy curries/kurmas. No, you need not rely only on frozen food in winter.There is plenty of fresh produce for you to choose from.When it comes to fruits, it’s all citrus! Who doesn’t remember getting the orange in your Christmas stocking?

    Spring

    Just like everything Spring, the produce in this season is light, refreshing and crisp. Just as the world awakens from its winter slumber, so does our palate to fresh, crispy bright flavors.Green is in plenty, so its a great time for salads & introducing greens like spinach, bok choy and mint in your routine cooking. When it comes to fruits, strawberries are a plenty and the choices you have with them are countless be it a smoothie, a dessert, in a sherbet or cookies!

    Summer

    Summer walks in with her bright, vibrant colors and flavors.Your menu can have all the rainbow colors in them, be it the purple of eggplants, blue of blueberries, yellow of mangoes, red of tomatoes or green of zucchini, you name it they are all in. They can be eaten fresh, or in salads, cold soups, stir fries or in seasonal curries. The summer veggies and fruits are packed with nutrition and delicious to taste. Enjoy them from as early as May to late September.

    Fall

    The warm rich colors and flavors of Fall/Autumn are not only comforting, they are spicy and sweet too. Think apples, pumpkins,Bell Peppers and cinnamon. Heartier greens like Kale and spinach are sweet from the first kiss of frost and the cold weather.After growing all summer, some of the root vegetables are reaching their peak harvest time. Think beets, carrots, onion, garlic, celery, ginger, turmeric.They flavor and spice up our food in amazing ways be it for a Fall soup or a spicy curry. Crispy cool weather, warm bright colors, back to school and harvest season, comfort foods and sweaters…..what’s not to like about Fall ? While among the fruits we add thicker-skinned produce like nectarines, pears and pomegranates.

    Here is my Table containing the list of Fruits and Vegetables available each season of the year+ recipes included! ( to make it easy for you to remember) :

    WinterSpringSummerFall
    FruitsChestnuts
    Grapefruit
    Kiwi
    Lemon
    Nectarines
    Oranges
    Pear
    Persimmons
    Tangerines
    Apricots
    Bananas
    Blueberries
    Cherries
    Clementine
    Orange
    Grapefruit
    Lemon
    Pear
    Pineapple
    Strawberries

    Apricots
    Bananas
    Blackberries
    Blood Oranges
    Blueberries
    Cantaloupe
    Cherries
    Mango
    Nectarines
    Peaches
    Pineapple
    Plums
    Raspberries
    Watermelon
    Apples
    Blackberries
    Clementines
    Cranberries
    Custard Apples
    Dates
    Figs
    Grapes
    Nectarines
    Peaches
    Pears
    Plum
    Pomegranates
    VegetablesBeets
    Brussel- sprouts
    Cabbage
    Carrots
    Cauliflower
    Kale
    Mushrooms
    Spinach
    Sweet Potato
    Avocado
    Basil
    Beans
    Bok Choy
    Broccoli
    Brussel Sprouts
    Carrots
    Mint
    Okra
    Peas
    Radish
    Spring Onions
    Beans
    Beets
    Bell Peppers
    Bok Choy
    Basil
    Cauliflower
    Cucumber
    Eggplant
    Mint
    Okra
    Tomato
    Zucchini
    Beans
    Beets
    Bell Pepper
    Cauliflower
    Celery
    Corn
    Cucumber Eggplant
    Kale
    Pumpkin
    Savoy Cabbage
    Spinach
    Turnip
    Zucchini

    Why is it good to buy fruits and vegetables in season?

    Just as the weather changes across the globe, so does the fresh produce that is available. Each season offers us an array of fresh produce to experiment with new recipes and impress our palate with new flavors & tastes.

    Listed below are some of the benefits of buying and consuming seasonal produce :

    • Fresher and more nutritious : Apart from being more vibrant and brighter produce that is consumed closer to harvest time is fresher and more nutritious.Some anti-oxidants like Vitamin-c, folate and carotene rapidly decline when stored for longer periods of time. Their phyto -nutrient content is reduced during long periods of transportation.
    • Tastes better : Fruits and vegetables that are naturally ripened when picked for consumption tastes better. They have freshly picked after they are ripe right off the vine or tree or harvested at the right time. This kind of produce not only is fresh, but it flavorful , sweet and more nutritious.
    • Supports our body’s natural nutritional needs : Nature provides us with all things citrusy in winter, to boost our immune system.Citrus fruits are particularly high in Vitamin C ,which plays an important role in preventing infections such as colds and flu’s. Winter vegetables offer comfort and are perfect for hot meals, healthy stews, soups, casseroles and other warming meals.Summer foods, such as stone fruits provide us with extra beta-carotenes and other carotenoids that help protect us against sun damage. They also provide more sweetness for an energetic summer, as well as salad vegetables for those tasty cool summer salads.
    • Less expensive : Due to the abundance of harvest and the almost nil or very minimal transport & storage expenses related to local produce, the cost to the consumer is very less. When it is sourced from outer area locations, during out of season the cost to transport, store & ripen them , all adds up to what the consumer pays for the produce.
    • Avoids overseas contamination : When produce is sourced from overseas, we do not know the laws governing soil quantity, use of chemicals, pesticides , industrial waste or toxic contaminants etc of that country. Many countries may have relaxed laws about chemicals and pesticides that might be banned in yours. Hence it is smarter to buy seasonal produce in bulk, preserve, pickle , ferment, freeze and store your own food at home. Check out my post on storing Mint leaves, that I grow in my garden, for winter here.
    • Benefits the Environment : Consuming seasonal produce helps our local farming community economically, helps in decreasing the carbon print involved in storing, transporting & gas emissions related to ripening fruits on need basis.

    Seasonal Produce Round-up by Months

    What fruits and vegetables are in season by month?

    January Seasonal Produce Guide

    Check out my new E-book : The 12 Monthly Seasonal Produce Guide, here.

    Why should you have it ? I have compiled a complete list of fruits and vegetables available during each month of the year to ……

    • Makes your shopping for groceries a breeze.
    • Help you plan your seasonal menu ahead.
    • Save you dollars.
    • Motivate you to eat healthy & nutritious.
    • Take the stress out of meal planning.

    You can try out the recipes I share here on the blog each month throughout the year, with the seasonal produce for that month.

    My E-Book : The 12 Monthly Seasonal Produce Guide

    The 12 Monthly Seasonal Produce Guide for the Year

    Seasonal Produce Round-up all through the year

    What fruits and vegetables are in season all year round?

    In North America, certain fruits and vegetables aren’t in season yearround.These days unless we are a regular to the Farmer’s market it is hard to remember which fruits and vegetables are in season currently .Reaching out for fresher, nutritionally dense produce is always a wise choice. Just as it is fun to focus on seasonal produce and plan one’s menu, it is also comforting to know there are some produce that are available all through the year.Check the list below, to find them.

    List of All Year Round Seasonal Produce

    Do bananas have a season?

    Bananas are available all year round. The banana plant is a perennial plant, which replaces itself. Bananas do not grow from a seed, but from a bulb or a rhizome. It takes nearly 9-12 months from sowing a banana bulb to harvesting the fruit. Unlike other fruits, bananas are available all through the year.

    Is there a season for coconuts?

    One of the most iconic and treasured tree in the world is the coconut palm(Cocus nucifera). Thanks to its most useful fruit the coconut.Unlike most fruiting trees mature coconut palms produce their fruits year round, rather than one specific season, making them a versatile produce of all seasons.

    What will happen if you eat only fruits and vegetables in your diet?

    Apart from essential macronutrients, fruits and vegetables lack other important nutrients like calcium, zinc, and omega-3 and omega-6 fats. A well balanced diet with whole foods, balancing all the essential components is what is recommended by most dietician’s and nutritionist’s.

    Budgeting and healthy lifestyle

    How to shop smart for seasonal produce and stay on a budget ?

    • Eat the seasons – Shop seasonal and eat seasonal because they are nutritionally a healthier choice and are economical. Your local Farmers Market is your best source!
    • Cut food costs -Hunt for online & store coupons from your local newspapers. Local large groceries always send coupons by mail, use them wisely.
    • Don’t shop hungry -Stick to your list & stop adding junk food into your shopping cart (Which often happens when you are hungry!).
    • Shop small amounts fortnightly – Some fruits and veggies don’t last long & begin to rot after a week or two. So buying in small amounts & frequently, helps prevent wastage.
    • Buy in Bulk when items are on sale– Canned & frozen food can be bought in large quantities, when they are on sale, since they last much longer.
    • Try canned or frozen food once in a while– They are less expensive, compare prices before buying. Buy fruits that are in 100% fruit juice and veggies that are “low sodium” or no salt added on the label.
    • Buy whole fruits and vegetables – Precut, pre -washed, processed, ready to eat foods though convenient are more expensive compared to simple whole veggies and fruits in their natural form.
    • Buy Store Brands Apply for membership in your local grocers store and buy store brands, they are less expensive, thus saving you more!
    • Meal plan and cook smart When you bring home veggies, cut , clean & freeze them if not using immediately. If using immediately, cook in bulk, soups and curries then freeze them. This saves time & money.Overripe fruits are good in making snacks or smoothies.Use leftovers to recreate dishes.
    • Pack your lunch – Eating out can get expensive if done regularly. Cook nutritious homemade meals and pack your lunch to bring with you.Meal planning and cooking in bulk not only makes it easy but adds variety to your meal each day.
    • Plant your own There is no joy like planting your own garden be it your yard, patio or container. Learn the info on how to garden from online sources and grow your own herbs and veggies like tomatoes and peppers.
    Smart Budget Friendly Tips for using Seasonal Produce effectively

    Is it cheaper to cook or eat out?

    Cooking at home is certainly a cheaper and healthier option than eating out, always, and by a wide margin. You can save around $16 per meal by cooking at home. That means if you cook just one meal at home a week that you would normally buy from a restaurant, you could save $832 a year( according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics) Do the math!

    What are the cheapest fruits & vegetables in the market?

    Eat Well, spend less

    How much does it cost for 1 person to eat a month?

    According to reports from U.S today, it costs $3,000 per year, or almost $250 per month for one person to eat on a moderate budget. It costs a family of four between $712 and $1,106 per month for groceries.

    How much should a couple spend on food a month?

    The average couple spends an average of $625 per month on groceries. This totals $7,500 per year. These figures are according to the USDA’s moderate-cost plan. Unless you live an extremely frugal or lavish life, you’ll likely be around this amount.

    How much should you budget for food a month?

    For an average American consumption , food budget  is calculated to be 11% of one’s overall income( 6% for groceries each month and 5% for dining out) according to Personal Finance and Budgeting reports on USA today.

    What should you eat to save money?

    • Canned Beans and Rice
    • Use your slow cooker
    • Whole Roasted Chicken
    • Buy big cuts or packages of meat and stretch it out over multiple meals
    • Divide and freeze any meat you won’t use within the week
    • Eggs- if you love them

    In summary…

    Watch your farmers markets, produce stands and local grocers for great deals on organics or consider joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). During harvest time expect to get a bushel or so of fresh organic produce weekly.A great & fun way to introduce your family to different flavors of the season.

    Buy my 12 Monthly Guide to Seasonal Produce here, to take the stress out of meal planning and make your grocery shopping a breeze for the entire year. What’s more, not only will you be eating healthy nutritious seasonal food, you will also save dollars while at it. So a win win situation!

    Grilling and oven roasting both veggies & fruits is a great option if you have not tried it earlier.They taste sweeter & delicious on the grill.Connect with local farmers & growers, learn about the produce, the origin of food and the role they play in our diet.

    It is always a smart choice to choose seasonal produce grown locally, that way you are more connected to nature, environment and the cycles of the yearly calendar!

    If you enjoyed this post, then please subscribe to our Free Weekly Newsletter for our latest posts on food and lifestyle topics. You can also find us on FacebookPinterestTwitter and Instagram. Don’t forget to share with #stirringmyspicysoul

    Here are some of my previously published blog posts on how to choose, store and organize your seasonal produce after making a smart choice in buying seasonally, for your interest :

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    Tim
    2 years ago

    That is a lot of good information. I did not know how much I did not know about seasonal produce.

    Maya Shetty
    2 years ago
    Reply to  Tim

    Thank you, so appreciate your kind words & glad to know you found the information helpful. Please do not forget to share with friends & family who could benefit from the info. If you share please #stirringmyspicysoul in your links . Do subscribe to get more such helpful info, tips & recipes right into your inbox.

    Emily
    Emily
    2 years ago

    Very informative. I try to stay seasonal

    Maya Shetty
    2 years ago
    Reply to  Emily

    Thank you, for your kind words. Yes, staying seasonal with produce is definitely a smart & healthy way to be .

    Cindy
    Cindy
    2 years ago

    I love using produce in season and my local farmer’s market and farm stand help me do that as well as help me with ideas to use them. Also, other shoppers give you great ideas sometimes.

    Maya Shetty
    2 years ago
    Reply to  Cindy

    Thank you, Cindy, I totally agree with you. the local farmers market and farm stand are the perfect places to learn more about finding the right produce in season & they have definitely enlightened me in what to pick at its right sason

    Stephanie
    2 years ago

    This was very helpful and informative to read. Thanks for all the great info about seasonal produce. 🙂

    Maya Shetty
    2 years ago
    Reply to  Stephanie

    You are most welcome, so glad it was helpful. Do not forget to subscribe to get more such info right into your inbox & share it with friends & family! Thank you 🙂

    Diane Kurzava
    2 years ago

    Wow! What a lot of really great information. We shop our city market (farmers market) every week for fresh fruits and vegetables and find that your information is spot on!

    Maya Shetty
    2 years ago
    Reply to  Diane Kurzava

    Thank you, Diane that is so encouraging to hear. I am so glad to know you found this post helpful. Please do subscribe to receive regular updates & weekly newsletters on similar posts right in your inbox

    Debbi
    2 years ago

    Very informative article. So much helpful information! I appreciate the info about what to buy when, as I always forget.

    Maya Shetty
    2 years ago
    Reply to  Debbi

    Thank you, Debbi for stopping by & sharing your thoughts, so glad to know you found this helpful. My E-book , The 12 monthly Seasonal Guide has a list of all the veggies & fruits available for each month of the year. You can get it when you click on the picture in the blogpost.It makes grocery shopping , meal planning a breeze 🙂

    Cindy Pruitt
    2 years ago

    I’ve struggled with picking fresh vegetables/fruit my whole life. Thank you for this helpful seasonal list.

    Maya Shetty
    2 years ago
    Reply to  Cindy Pruitt

    Thank you, Cindy, for letting me know my Beginner’s Guide was helpful. You can get my 12 Monthly Seasonal produce guide ,by clicking on the link on my blog post, it will help you greatly with your grocery shopping, meal planning & budgeting each month. If you want to get similar helpful posts, please subscribe to my blog to receive weekly updates & newsletters right into your inbox. Happy to share & even happier to know it was helpful to you 🙂