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How to Plan Menus with Seasonal Food

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Local, in-season produce can change the way you think about food.

In-season food just tastes better. Chances are, there is some vegetable you grew up loathing. But eat that same asparagus or tomato fresh and in season to taste a world of difference. That difference means your family is more likely to eat the healthful produce you serve up. And their enthusiastic response means you can take more pleasure in cooking a well-loved meal.

Practically speaking, in-season food is less-costly. Foods that are easier to produce cost less. If a grocer has to stock out-of-season produce from far away, you’re the one who has to shoulder the extra cost.  In-season food is less costly to the environment, too. When you only eat food that is in season, you prevent the environmental damage associated with growing vegetables year round. When you eat local, in-season food, you also avoid the pollution from transporting food from far-away places with a different climate.

Learning to eat in season can be a little challenging, especially when you first decide to make such a radical change in the way you eat. But ultimately, you only need to find out what’s in season near you, buy or grow in-season food, and plan to cook with new and exciting ingredients.

Find Out What’s In Season Near You

Which foods are in season varies widely by region. Find out about in-season foods in the US and the UK. In general, you can expect certain patterns of what will grow in certain kinds of weather.

Spring Greens like lettuce and spinach
Early Summer Greens like lettuce and spinach, some root vegetables like carrots or radishes, and some fruits like strawberries
High Summer Fruits like peaches and melons, vegetables like tomatoes and eggplant, squashes like summer squash and cucumber, and some root vegetables like carrots and beets
Late Summer Some fruits like berries and apples, root vegetables like potatoes and turnips, some squashes like pumpkin and winter squash
Winter Nuts and mushrooms

When the weather prevents farmers from growing fresh food, look for items that can be stored for long periods such as apples, root vegetables, and dried beans.

Buy or Grow In-Season Food

The very easiest way to know what is in season is to grow it yourself. If keeping a garden isn’t an option, consider shopping local for food. Produce that is grown and sold nearby is almost always seasonally appropriate. Check out nearby farmers’ markets or grocery store chains like Whole Foods that stock and label food from your region. Consider subscribing to a crop share (CSA) to have local, in-season food delivered right to your door.

Plan to Cook New and Exciting Foods

If you want to eat in-season food, you have to rethink the way you plan meals and menus. The learning-curve is the highest in the first year, when you’ll have to find new recipes for ingredients you aren’t used to cooking.

I find it easiest to plan meals month-to-month. I focus on non-seasonal ingredients for main dishes. I leave room for variation in recipes and side dishes based on what is in season week-to-week. I know well in advance what 70-80% of our menu will look like. Having a planned but flexible menu helps me keep the pantry stocked and allows me to look for sales on non-perishable or freezable ingredients.

For example, one box from our CSA included mushrooms, asparagus, beets, lettuce, leeks, potatoes, and a turnip-like vegetable I’d never heard of called kohlrabi. This is how I put my unexpected, in-season produce to use:

Sunday Beef Corned beef with potatoes and kohlrabi
Monday Beans Falafel and hummus with beet salad
Tuesday Pasta Linguine with mushrooms
Wednesday Soup or Stew Tortilla soup with a green salad
Thursday Picnic foods Sandwiches with braised asparagus
Friday Fish Salmon and mashed potatoes with sautéed leeks
Saturday Date Night

With a little prior planning and last minute improvisation, I was able to serve fresh, in-season produce without breaking the bank or going back to the grocery store.

Get Started

If you’d like to add more fresh, in-season produce to your family’s diet, try joining a crop share near you. And be sure to have on hand a comprehensive cookbook, such as How to Cook Everything, for advice on how to cook unusual vegetables and fruits.

What are your favorite dishes for in-season vegetables?

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