If you want to help change the world, a good place to start is your local farmers market. Fresh, locally grown produce does more than a body good—it also helps support your community and minimize the carbon footprint of your food supply. Get the most from every trip to the market with these expert tips.
You’re about to head to the market and stock up on the freshest produce. What should you bring with you?
A cloth bag for greener shopping. Sure, the stalls will have bags. But bringing your own is one more way you can help support a sustainable green diet.
Cash, preferably small bills. It’s the best way to go, but it’s definitely not the only way to go. Some markets can process credit cards, and many markets accept SNAP payments (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs), and other payment assistance programs. For more information, visit farmersmarketcoalition.org
Your curiosity. Walk around and browse before you buy. The selection constantly changes and farmers always have fresh surprises, some of which may be in season—or in their stalls—for only a blink.
Have a snack—and have fun browsing. Arrive on the early side, and you’ll get first dibs on the best selections.
Before you start shopping, treat yourself.
With so many tantalizing foods on display, you’ll want to avoid shopping when you’re stomach’s growling. Hawaii-based registered dietitian Jennifer McGuire keeps it simple by going with a local beverage. “I always get a cup of Hawaiian-grown coffee and sip it as I slowly peruse the booths.” You might also pick up a piece of fruit or a fresh-baked scone. Sometimes there are samples ready and waiting, so you can try before you buy.
Soak up the atmosphere.
Whether you come with friends or prefer to do your veggie shopping solo, allow time to walk around and take it all in. Says Jennifer, “I always keep in mind that part of what I’m paying for is the experience of being at a vibrant, entertaining event with top-notch people watching.” Some markets have arts and crafts vendors, live music and children’s entertainment.
Try fresh, organic versions of your produce staples.
“If you’ve never had a fresh egg from a small farm that lets the chickens wander about, then put fresh eggs on your must-have list,” suggests Stephanie Clarke and Willow Jarosh of C&J Nutrition. “The yolks are dark orange and the flavor is incredible.” And that mouthwatering experience is just the beginning. Fresh-picked carrots, tomatoes, onions, peaches, plums, strawberries, even lettuce—you’ll be amazed at how they burst with flavor. Keep in mind that small farmers don’t have the luxury of aesthetic selection (choosing the best-looking picks of the crop) like larger farmers do, so the produce may not have the same uniform look you’re used to. That imperfection is often what makes farmers market produce more appealing, because you know it was homegrown.
Be adventurous—try something new.
There are so many unusual treasures you may find—purple carrots, fiddlehead ferns, Mexican Sour Gherkins and Turkish eggplants, to name a few. If something intrigues you, be adventurous and try it. For C&J Nutrition, new discoveries are what make the farmers market experience so rewarding. “When you find something you haven’t seen or eaten before, you get to learn about its history and how it was traditionally cooked—and then create a delicious new dish! We love any chance to add to our food repertoire.”
Look for organic—with one caveat.
Buying organic is an individual choice. If it’s important to you, you’ll generally find an abundance of certified organic foods at farmers markets. That organic stamp of approval means the farmers grew the food without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, but if you don’t see a “certified organic” sign at a booth, don’t consider that vendor off-limits. The farmer may still be growing crops according to organic requirements. “Many farmers can’t afford the hefty price tag to get the organic certification,” reports The Nutrition Twins. Look for booths that are run by the farmers themselves and talk to them about their use of pesticides.
Talk to farmers.
A friendly conversation can yield fascinating gems for foodies and cooks. You may learn unusual origins of foods—did you know that purple carrots were once more common that orange?—or a creative new recipe. You can also ask about a particular fruit or vegetable you love—how it looks this year and when it will be available at the market. That’s another wonderful benefit of the farmers market: it connects you to your food sources in a much more personal way.
Ripe or not? Be smart about choosing.
Selecting produce is as much a sensory experience as it is an intellectual one. Look closely to make sure it’s not bruised, moldy, overripe, or on the verge of being inedible. Pick it up in your hand—how does it feel? Soft and mushy or fresh and firm? And don’t forget the scent—it should smell as good as you’d like it to taste.
For specific guidelines on selecting fruits and vegetables, go to www.health-actually.com/tools/how-to-choose-fresh-in-season-fruit-and-produce-and-store-them-properly
Is it in season? Get to know what’s in, what’s out.
Most of us have gotten so accustomed to year-round availability of so many varieties of fruits and vegetables that the seasons have blurred on our plates. The basic are pretty simple: citrus fruits in winter; asparagus and beets in spring; corn, tomatoes, strawberries, peaches and watermelon in summer; apples, pears and root vegetables in fall. But others—Is broccoli a summer or fall vegetable? Does lettuce really have a season?—may have us a bit perplexed. To find out what’s in season in your state, go to www.sustainabletable.org/shop/seasonal/
Can’t buy local? Opt for “low-mileage” foods.
Sustainable eating and nutrition means being smart about buying locally grown fruits and vegetables in season. This can be challenging if you live in a region with a short growing season (Alaska), or simply can’t imagine going without a few favorites that aren’t available locally. If you make the choice to supplement your diet with non-local fruits and vegetables, choose the ones that have the least mileage—meaning they’re grown as close to your location as possible so they leave a light carbon footprint with shipping and transportation. And make these foods a smaller portion of your diet so you’re not eating them as frequently.
You’ve shopped the market, now it’s a jungle of fruits of vegetables in your kitchen. This moment is a crucial crossroads for anyone committed—or newly converted—to an eat-healthy lifestyle. At the end of the week, will you be looking back happily on a week’s worth of veggie-rich meals? Or will you be gazing sadly at a refrigerator full of unidentifiable bags of greens and mushy vegetables? To make sure it’s the former, here are some expert tips for prepping produce so it’s ready in a snap.
Take a veggie inventory.
“Take a quick inventory of the veggies you picked up and decide what days or nights you’ll be preparing each one,” advises C&J Nutrition. This simple step will help make sure your farmers market treasures have a happy ending. “There’s nothing sadder than discovering a wilted bunch of kale you forgot about in the crisper drawer…or soggy beets in a bag at the back of the fridge!”
If you see it, you’re more likely to eat it.
In Jennifer McGuire’s kitchen, fresh produce is the first thing you’ll see. “I keep all of our room-temperature fresh produce (apples, pears, avocados, tomatoes) on a big tray in the middle of the kitchen table,” says this registered dietitian. “This reminds us to eat it, plus we know when it’s time to buy more.”
Chop now, have veggies at the ready all week.
Freezing is one way The Nutrition Twins pack in the vegetables. “In order to save time on hectic work days, we usually wash and cut veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage as soon as we get home from the farmers market, then put them in storage containers. Some go in the fridge, some go in the freezer to use later in the week.” That way, they always have chopped vegetables on hand to steam, stir-fry or to mix with marinara sauce or other dishes.
Roast a batch for easy eating.
This is a favorite eat-your-veggies technique from C&J Nutrition. “Roast a giant batch of veggies on Sunday and store them in the fridge—you’ll be pleasantly surprised how much more inclined you and your entire family are to eat vegetables.” Use them for sandwiches, soups, omelets, pizza and salads. They also make excellent side dishes. For a delicious snack, sprinkle them with cheese—even kids find them hard to resist when they’re served this way.
Courtesy of Jennifer McGuire of the National Fisheries Institute, The Nutrition Twins, and C&J Nutrition.
A Complete-Meal Salad: Lettuce, lots of fresh veggies, a whole grain (like quinoa or brown rice), a protein (tuna, chicken, beans, tofu, etc.), chopped fruit, and a sprinkle of nuts or seeds.
Stuffed Squash: Cut a butternut squash in half, seed it, and oven roast at 350 degrees until soft and slightly browned. Scoop out part of the squash meat (to make room for stuffing) and mix it with canned tuna, peas and spices. Stuff squash with tuna-squash salad mixture.
Tuna-Avocado Salad: Cut an avocado in half and scoop out the inside. Chop or mash for a healthy mix-in with tuna salad.
Spinach in Minutes: Stir-fry fresh spinach in olive oil and garnish with fresh lemon juice and almonds.
Kale Chips: Rinse and thoroughly dry a bunch of kale. Remove the leaves from the stems and tear the leaves into bite-size pieces. Spread the leaves on a cookie sheet or glass baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix to lightly coat all the leaves. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, turning and moving them around as they cook so they get crispy evenly. Bake until edges are slightly browned.
Give your favorite dishes a nutritional boost by loading them up with vegetables, or adding veggie accents.
Smoothie: Here’s a surprising way to incorporate veggies: add sweet red peppers and spinach to a strawberry-banana smoothie.
Egg Sandwich: Top an egg sandwich with sautéed vegetables—a colorful way to start your day.
Sandwiches: From tuna salad sandwiches to hummus in a pita—stack these lunchtime staples with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers or cabbage from the farmers market.
Pizza: Just toss cooked veggies right on top of the pizza. Even kids are more likely to eat them this way.
Whole Wheat Pasta: Mix veggies into marinara sauce, or mix pasta and cooked veggies first, then top with sauce. Some ideas to get you started: broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, peas, and carrots.
Stir-Fries: Pick a protein like chicken breast, shrimp or tofu, and add lots of veggies. Take your pick: snow peas, asparagus, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, red peppers. Punch up the flavor with a little white wine and minced garlic or a touch of low-sodium teriyaki sauce.
[callout title=Fun Fitness Fact]The power of tuna salad.
A recent study linked poor mental performance with low blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Want to boost your brain volume and increase your visual and abstract memory? Have a tuna salad sandwich a few times a week— a 3-ounce serving delivers 100-200% of your daily omega-3 requirements.
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