The season has just changed over from summer to fall. Gone are the days of fruit salads, slices of watermelon, and dipping cucumber to keep cool. And here comes the onslaught of pumpkin this and pumpkin that. Apple picking. Winter squashes. Cranberries.
Aside from staying cool and warming up, there’s a reason we eat certain foods with certain seasons. It’s more than just the marketing ploy of “PSL is back!!” and “We always have sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving!” Those traditions are in place because of which foods are in season.
What does it mean for a food to be “in season” or to “shop seasonally”?
Fruits and vegetables are plants. Plants grow according to the calendar. Some bulbs are planted in fall, hang out dormant all winter, and then sprout and flower in spring. Some are planted in spring and grow all summer. If you’re a gardener, you know a lot more about that than I do – I have a black thumb . . .
A plant is considered “in season” when it’s ripe for the picking. Fruits and vegetables might still be growing throughout summer, but won’t be in season until they’re ready to be harvested, cleaned, processed, and consumed, like apples in fall. To shop seasonally means that you are aware of which fruits and vegetables are in season, and mostly purchase those kinds during that season.
What are the benefits of shopping in season?
The produce will taste better
Eating an apple when it’s in season will mean nature has done it’s job and that fruit is in its prime. The best tasting fruits and vegetables will be freshly harvested. Shopping locally (apple picking, anyone?) also reduces the amount of time that has passed from harvest to your shopping bag, which means fresher, tastier food!
The produce will have more nutritional value
Produce, and its nutrients, begins to break down as soon as it’s harvested. The longer a fruit or vegetable sits (like, in transportation across the country, in storage houses, in the back of the grocery store, in the produce section…) the more it breaks down and loses its nutritional value. The most nutritious produce will be fresh from the tree/stalk/earth/whatever.
We’ll stick with apples for the sake of the season. Apples are harvested in fall, but can be kept in climate-controlled warehouses to keep them relatively fresh for months. That’s why you’ll find apples at your grocery store all year – they’ve been sitting in a warehouse waiting for the truck to pick them up and take them to a store. However, from the moment apples are plucked from the tree, they start to lose nutrients. The tree can’t provide it anymore, and time breaks down all things. Compounded over several months, by the time you’re munching an apple in May, there’s probably not a whole lot of nutrients left in it. There will be some, but not much, and certainly not as much as when it was picked in September. If that same apple had been chosen by you from a local apple orchard in September, it would have been able to provide you with so much more of the good stuff.
You’ll save money
It doesn’t take a whole lot of manpower or resources to pluck a ready squash and bring it to a farmer’s market. But it takes a heck of a lot more to pluck the squash, transport it to a warehouse, store it in the warehouse with controlled climate, transport it back to a store when they order it, and put it out in the produce section. All of that costs money. And the more money food costs to store or process, the more cost is being passed down to you, the consumer.
Plus, here’s an economics lesson: Supply and demand. If there’s a high supply of something, there isn’t a whole lot of demand. No one will be trampling each other for fresh watermelon in the summer. There’s enough to go around! This means that prices drop. However, if there’s only a handful of watermelons by the end of summer, but a crowd of people who want watermelons, prices will rise – some people will be willing to pay the extra cost for that watermelon, and others won’t. Shopping in season means there’s an abundance of that produce and low demand, and therefore low prices.
Produce will be at its cheapest when it’s in season, since there’s no need to store it and there’s plenty to go around. Shopping locally also supports small farms and businesses, who like to keep their costs low for their neighbors.
Saving money seems to be a common theme with following a healthy lifestyle, doesn’t it?
Should I always shop in season?
Here’s the thing . . . I love apples. I know that apples are the best in the fall, and I can taste that they’re the tastiest then, too. But I’m not going to only eat apples in fall because apples in spring are inferior. They’re a pretty staple part of my lunches and snacks all year round.
Use seasonal shopping as a guide for the majority of your shopping. Save money and get those extra tasty and extra nutritious fruits and veggies while you can, until next year comes around. Fill in any gaps in your shopping list with produce that’s not necessarily in season – you’ll pay a bit of a premium for them, but it’s only a few items, and you know you’re saving money on the in season stuff anyway, so it evens out.
Don’t skip eating fruits and veggies just because they’re not at their peak or their cheapest. Some fruits and veggies are still better than none! Plus, if you’ve got a craving for something, but it’s a dollar more than it usually is – indulge! You deserve it.
When is ____________ in season?
“Okay, okay, I get it.” You say. “I should shop in season. But, how do I know what’s in season right now? How can I possibly memorize every fruit and veggie and when it’s best to buy them?”
The good news is, you don’t have to. You have the internet (check below for some resources)! You have me!
I’ll list some common fruits and veggies here, and group them by our calendar seasons – but it’s not as clean-cut as that in the real world. A plant doesn’t look at the calendar and say “Oh, hey, it’s fall. Time to be in season!”. So these are general guidelines.
If you would like a comprehensive, printable guide to what’s in season, opt-in for S&S Digest – a weekly newsletter in your inbox!
Apples, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cranberries, cherries, diakon radish, garlic, ginger, grapes, guava, jalapeno peppers, key limes, mushrooms, passion fruit, pear, pineapple, pomegranate, winter squashes, sweet potatoes, turnips
Brussels sprouts, chestnuts, collard greens, clementines, dates, endive, grapefruit, kale, kiwifruit, leeks, oranges, pear, red banana, sweet potatoes, tangerines, turnips
Apricots, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, chives, cherries, collard greens/mustard greens/lettuces, corn, endive, honeydew, jackfruit, limes, mango, oranges, peas, pineapple, rhubarb, spinach, strawberries, sweet onions (vidalia), watercress
Apricots, asian pear, beans, beets, corn, cucumber, cherries, berries (all varieties), melon (all varieties), citrus fruits (all varieties), edamame, eggplant, garlic, butter lettuce, okra, peas, peppers, figs, grapes, jackfruit, passion fruit, plums, potatoes, radishes, summer squashes, tomatoes
Apples, avocado, bananas, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, lemons, mushrooms, onions, oranges, potatoes, scallions, shallots, and spinach. These fruits and veggies may have peak times of harvest, but are generally available all year. Some may lose a bit of nutritional value or taste due to being in storage (looking at you, apples), but for the most part, they’re good to go, no matter what time of year!
Different produce may be available depending on where you live, especially if you’re shopping locally. Here are some websites that you can search by state:
Seasonal Food Guide (US Only)
Field to Plate (US Only)
Pick Your Own (International, Plus guides to canning and freezing)
(If you find a resource that you’d like to see added to this page, drop it in the comments or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Shop smart – shop seasonally! Let me know in the comments if you have ever shopped seasonally or would like to start. Do you go to local markets to get the freshest produce?