Fruits and vegetables represent a big part of a healthy diet. These foods contain a number of nutrients under-consumed by Americans, including folate, magnesium, potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamins A, C and K.1 Furthermore, they’ve been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer prevention.2
Though we know it’s important, many of us struggle to consume enough fruits and vegetables daily. Eating locally in-season produce can help.
- It can be more affordable. Locally in-season fruits and vegetables tend to be more abundant and, therefore, less expensive. That’s in part due to supply and demand, but this can also be attributed to the fact that it travels a shorter distance to reach you.
- It tends to be tastier. When produce is locally in-season, its journey to your grocer or farmers market is minimized. That means it gets more time to fully ripen in the sun and reach its peak flavor, as opposed to being grown in a greenhouse or picked early and shipped across the country or the world.
- It offers variety. —Rather than eating the same produce year-round, mix it up. Eating in-season fruits and veggies naturally infuses variety into your diet. It can make for more exciting mealtimes, challenging you to try new dishes or just swap out sides for something unexpected.
Some great ways to fit more locally in-season produce into your family’s mealtimes include the following:
- Visit the farmers market. Depending on where you live, local farmers may sell their produce in open-air or sheltered markets at certain times of year—if you’re really lucky, it may even be year-round. Make visiting your local farmers market a frequent outing since you will see new offerings from week to week. Vendors often provide samples, so it’s a great way for kids and adults alike to try fruits and vegetables before buying.
- Join a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture memberships allow you to get shipments of fresh, in-season produce each week. Look into CSAs near you and find out what they offer. Many provide options when it comes to delivery size and frequency; you may even be able to select a package that includes fresh eggs or meat. Not sure you can eat it all yourself? Ask a friend or family member who lives nearby to split a CSA membership with you.
- Grow your own produce. Start a garden in your backyard, plant some veggies in pots on your windowsill or patio, or get a community garden plot. This may not be the best way to meet your daily fruit and vegetable requirements, but it can be a fun and educational. You can also freeze, can or dry any surplus for future consumption.
Consult the USDA’s Seasonal Produce Guide to learn more about seasonal produce and find recipes.
When access is an issue
Access to fresh fruits and veggies can be a significant barrier to some families, whether it be due to cost or geography. It goes without saying that consuming fruits and veggies in some form is better than consuming no fruits and veggies at all.
When shopping for fruits and veggies, consider the full range of options available to you—fresh, frozen or canned. Pay attention to what’s on sale—look for signs while shopping, keep an eye out for sales fliers, sign up for your grocer’s email newsletters and sales fliers.
1 U.S Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.” Dec. 2010. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf
American Heart Association. “Fresh, Frozen or Canned Fruits and Vegetables: All Can Be Healthy Choices!” Updated Feb. 5, 2015. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/SimpleCookingwithHeart/Fresh-Frozen-or-Canned-Fruits-and-Vegetables-All-Can-Be-Healthy-Choices_UCM_459350_Article.jsp
Cleveland Clinic. “Seasonal Eating.” N.D. http://www.clevelandclinicwellness.com/food/SeasonalEating/Pages/introduction.aspx
Hellmich, Nanci. “Americans Need to Try Harder to Eat Fruits, Vegetables.” USA Today. July 9, 2012. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/story/2012-07-10/eating-fruits-and-vegetables-healthy/56118742/1
Klavinski, Rita. “7 Benefits of Eating Local Foods.” Michigan State University Extension. April 13, 2013. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/7_benefits_of_eating_local_foods
Nutrition.gov. “Farmers Markets: Fresh, Nutritious, Local.” Last modified March 19, 2015. http://www.nutrition.gov/farmers-markets