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Eating well

September 15, 2017

7 ways to eat seasonally on a budget

The end of summer doesn’t mean the end of affordable seasonal produce. With some planning and flexibility, you can eat seasonally for months to come.

Strawberries, peaches, cherries . . . It often seems as if everything is in season during the summer. Fall and winter, on the other hand, can present a greater challenge, especially if cold weather shows up early in your part of Canada. The good news? With a little advance planning and some gustatory flexibility, eating healthy, delicious seasonal produce year-round on a modest budget is a completely achievable goal for you and your family.

What does it mean to eat seasonally?

Seasonal eating means eating fruits and vegetables when they are in season locally – buying Canadian corn and field tomatoes in August rather than imported corn and tomatoes in January, for example. It means creating a smaller carbon footprint, as seasonal produce doesn’t have to be shipped as far. It means better taste and better nutrition, as produce doesn’t have to be picked long before it ripens so it can withstand the long journey to market, and doesn’t lose nutrients along the way. It means supporting local farmers. And it can mean spending less, as you’re not paying to ship the ingredients in your salad hundreds or thousands of kilometres.

Eat seasonally this fall – and be kind to your wallet – with these tips:

1. Choose organic wisely

Contrary to popular belief, eating certified organic produce isn’t necessarily better for your health. “Ultimately, the current research suggests there are no nutritional difference between organic versus conventionally grown produce,” says Toronto-based registered dietitian Abbey Sharp. So while organic farming might have environmental benefits, picking up conventional produce is just as good for you from a nutritional standpoint. 

If you want the benefits of organic without the added cost, however, hit up the farmers’ market and ask the vendors about their produce, recommends Sharp. Securing organic certification can be pricey. Many farmers may follow organic guidelines without pursuing the credential and sell their produce at a lower price point than certified produce. 

2. Gravitate toward root vegetables

Root veggies come into season during the late summer, fall, and early winter, which can help keep you eating seasonally into the cooler months.

Look for sweet potatoes and squash – both of which are packed with vitamin A for immunity – as well as fibre-rich root veggies such as beets. Root vegetables tend to be inexpensive and have a long shelf life, allowing you to save money upfront and avoid the cost of wasting food because of spoilage.

3. Pick hearty greens

Hardier greens such as kale, cabbage and collard greens not only grow during the fall, but also just happen to be some of the healthiest veggies you can eat, period, says Sharp. Take advantage of the low seasonal prices to enjoy these veggies raw, roasted, steamed or braised. And freeze batches to add to soups, casseroles and smoothies throughout the year. 

4. Try fermented and pickled foods

Pickling and preserving is back and on-trend. Preserving in-season produce is a great way to eat “seasonally” and affordably all winter. Fermented, pickled foods are filled with probiotics – that is, friendly bacteria that naturally colonize your gut – which is great for your health, too. Make your own pickles, sauces, salsas and jellies with the last bumper crops of the late summer and fall so you can enjoy them all winter long.

5. Join a winter CSA

Do you enjoy getting creative in the kitchen? Is your family adventurous in its eating habits? Are you looking for a way to change things up at the dinner table? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may want to consider joining a winter community-supported agriculture (CSA) organization. A CSA will provide you a share of the crop at a local farm that you’ll pick up each week. It takes the guesswork out of eating seasonally and creates splendid opportunities to try out new vegetables you wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. One caveat: Avoid a CSA share if your family members are picky eaters, says Sharp, or you may find yourself wasting food and money. 

6. Fill up on pulses

Fruits and veggies get all the attention when it comes to seasonal eating, but beans and lentils – a.k.a. “pulses” – grow seasonally, too. Pulses can be a fantastic source of fibre and are filled with healthy plant-based protein. “I’m always trying to incorporate more meatless meals into my routine and it’s a great low-cost way to make dinner,” says Sharp. Try transforming chickpeas into a delectable hummus, puréeing black beans into earthy brownies or using white beans to make wintery stews, like French cassoulet.

7. Don’t forget frozen produce

Though not technically seasonal, frozen offerings are one of the easiest and least expensive ways to get nutritious produce year-round. “Frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at the peak of freshness,” says Sharp. “They don’t lose nutrients during transit time to get to you.” Throw a handful of frozen veggies into your stir fries, steam them for a quick side dish, or use frozen fruit to add flavour to your smoothies. 

What fruits and vegetables are in season in the fall?

The growing season varies from place to place in Canada, but generally speaking, these fruits and vegetables are in season in the fall:

  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn (early fall)
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes (early fall)
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Parsnips
  • Pears
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Red onions
  • Rutabaga
  • Spinach
  • Squash (winter varieties like acorn, butternut and spaghetti)
  • Turnips

By mixing seasonal foods with always-in-season staples such as frozen produce, you can eat amazing, fresh meals all fall and winter long in a way that's great for your health and your finances.

 

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