Ah, spring! The days are longer, the sun is thawing the ground, and finally we see a shift in the season which welcomes in a beautiful array of new produce to enjoy! Although not the bounty of summer, and the farmers markets may not be in full swing, spring produce should not be forgotten! There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that are hardy and frost resistant with quick enough growth that they can be enjoyed early on in the year. It’s more than just a festive gesture to eat foods associated with spring! Did you know eating produce when it’s “in season” is more nutritious, much more flavorful, and can actually save you money?
How is spring seasonal produce beneficial?
Food that is consumed closest to ripeness tastes more delicious and aromatic, as the sun allows the plant to fully infuse the fruits with true flavor. Imagine the smell and taste of a fresh picked tomato in July versus a pink roma that you purchase in the store mid-winter. You don’t feel even close to the same enjoyment when eating the sad, chalky December tomato! That’s because a tomato’s natural season is summer!
The overall nutrition also takes a hit when plants are picked long before they’ eaten. When they are transported from faraway countries that enable year-round growth, transit time can include days-even weeks-allowing nutrients to leach out as time passes. Not to mention, most plants are picked before their prime (especially stone fruit, tomatoes, avocados, and berries) to make them easier to store and transport without bruising or becoming overripe by the time they reach their destination. Now instead of eating a rosy, ripe, and nutrient-packed strawberry, you’re left with a sour, white-topped and watery fruit that provides less vitamin C and beneficial polyphenols. Not a trade-off I am willing to take!
Lastly, when there is an abundance of the produce because it’s their “season to shine”, the store usually offers these foods at a discount to help them get rid of the surplus! Look for weekly specials, bulk discounts, or even local farmers for great prices on “in-season” produce. Eating seasonally is a win-win-win situation!
Some great spring produce you should consider
To convince you further, some of the world’s most delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables are ready for harvest in the spring! Here is a list of some great spring seasonal produce that comes available to most of the northern hemisphere in the coming months.
1. Leafy greens
Greens like spinach, cabbage, bok choy (Chinese cabbage) and mustard greens are cold-weather friendly and grow quickly. They make great salads and other lighter fair that help people bid farewell to the richer foods of winter. Leafy greens are some of the most nutritious thing you can eat as they are loaded with vitamins (especially vitamin K, which is hard to find otherwise), minerals, antioxidants and other healthy phytonutrients like cholorophyl and polyphenols which fight disease and promote healthy tissues. They are also a source of fiber and are low in calories making them a great choice for people looking to lose weight while feeling full.
2. Vegetables with hardy stocks
And with quick growth like fennel, rhubarb, asparagus and artichokes are all delicious when enjoyed in the spring! They are much more affordable when purchased in the month March-June as that is when they are most available. All of these vegetables are high in fiber and colorful antioxidants. Artichokes, though seemingly drab in color, are rich in antioxidants and are especially high in a fiber that promotes gut microbiome health.
3. Don’t forget the fruits!
Strawberries, caracara oranges, grapefruit, kumquats, mango, Meyer lemons, and avocado are all grown coastally, or in more temperate areas where temperatures are a little warmer and there is enough sun to support their growth. They are able to be picked and shipped from California and Florida to the other states relatively quickly without much nutrient loss. Look for strawberries that are small to medium sized and bright red for the best tasting. Citrus fruits store their nutrients well because of their tough skin. Caracara oranges are a deliciously sweet variety that actually contain more nutrients than a navel orange so give them a try this spring!
4. Root vegetables
Plants that keep a fair amount of their mass underground also tend to survive frosts and do well in the spring namely: radishes, Vidalia onions, leeks, and green onions (clearly, since they are also known as a “spring” onion). Use onions and leeks generously in your cooking, they contain nutritious sulfur compounds and antioxidants that are helpful for keeping your immune system strong for the last few months of cold and flu season! Radishes shouldn’t be overlooked, as they add a great peppery crunch to salads and sandwiches while providing a good dose of antioxidants!
As temperatures grow even warmer, herbs like parsley, cilantro, basil, and chives grow quickly and can be harvested in April or May if grown indoors. Including fresh herbs in your cooking is a great way to add flavor without compromising health. In fact, herbs are nutrient power-houses that can boost the antioxidants value of your meals as well as imparting flavor. In addition, some have medicinal properties for instance, parsley is a very mild laxative and can be eaten to promote healthy digestive function.
Keep these foods on hand to make the most of your spring! Your body, wallet, and taste buds will benefit! Spring produce can be mixed in salads, lightly steamed dishes, or even roasted! For ideas using seasonal produce add these delicious spring-time recipes to your weekly menu!
Spring Salad with Asparagus and Goat Cheese
Broiled Cod with Leeks, Oranges, and Smoked Citrus Sauce