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Save Money On Meals By Eating With The Seasons

Throughout history, people’s diets have changed throughout the year depending on what was available and in season. The availability of refrigeration, better transportation systems, and supermarkets largely did away with seasonal eating in the 20th century. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a difference in quality in what’s available throughout the seasons. Think about the difference in a tomato you buy in January from the grocery store versus the tomato you eat in July from a local produce stand. Isn’t the July tomato far, far tastier (and usually cheaper, too)?

When you eat seasonally, you can save money, and you’ll also get the freshest, most delicious foods, since you’ll be eating what’s currently being harvested close to your home. As one food, like summer tomatoes, goes out of season, you stop eating it and start adding a food coming into season, like bell peppers, which are a fall vegetable. Your meals and diet change to reflect the foods currently in season, rather than constantly eating subpar produce that your grocery store gets shipped in from far-away places. After all, who wants their zucchini to be better-traveled than they are?

How Does Eating Seasonally Save You Money?

Most produce is shipped an average of 1,494 miles, but locally grown produce is shipped an average of just 56 miles. Shipping perishable foods is an expensive undertaking, and that expense is passed along to the consumer. Eating food in season grown close to home saves on shipping costs, and that savings is reflected in the prices you pay. Restaurants are also moving toward seasonal offerings to lower their food costs and boost their profits, and if there’s anyone who knows about saving money on ingredients without compromising on quality, it’s someone who runs a restaurant.

What Are the Other Benefits?

There are many health benefits of seasonal eating. For instance, did you know that eating spring nettles can help the body fight off spring allergy attacks? Summer fruits provide energy and fluids for long, hot days. The root vegetables of fall and winter are filled with beta-carotene, which provides a boost to the immune system right when cold and flu season gets under way. If you live in a warmer part of the country, winter can also provide a bounty of citrus fruit to give you much-needed vitamin C.

There are also real benefits to the environment from eating seasonally and locally. It’s estimated that $34.7 billion worth of environmental damage is done each year by industrial farming. And feeding each American citizen requires four hundred gallons of oil for food transportation. If every American ate just one meal comprised of locally grown components, the United States could cut its oil consumption by 1.1 million barrels a week! In addition, California provides 66% of the vegetables Americans eat, but California just experienced a seven-year drought that damaged countless acres of farmland. Moving to locally grown produce would take the burden off of California; it’s never good to have all of your eggs in one basket, after all.

How Can You Do It?

Farmers’ markets are an excellent tool to help you connect with your local food producers and begin eating seasonal, local food. Find your local farmers’ market and make it a regular part of your food-shopping routine. If your household receives food stamps or WIC assistance, you can locate a farmers’ market that accepts these benefits and may even double them to increase your buying power.

Community-supported agriculture programs, or CSAs, are another great way to buy local, seasonal food. With these programs, you pay for a share of a farm’s output, usually up front. Then, at a preset time (weekly is most common), you pick up your share of what the farm has produced. What’s in your basket is determined by what was picked that week at the farm. If a rash of insects infects the cucumber crop, you don’t get cucumbers, but if the broccoli is growing really well, you might get lots of it. You get to support a local farmer without going through a middleman, and it can also be a bit of a culinary adventure: CSA members might be introduced to locally grown produce they’ve never eaten or prepared before!

Season by Season

Do you imagine that eating seasonally means that you’ll have a delicious bounty in the spring and summer but few choices when the fall and winter come? Not at all! Each season has its bounty. Remember, though, that each region of the country has a different growing season: What’s in season in Michigan isn’t always what’s in season in Mississippi. Also, many summer and fall crops, such as carrots, onions, and beets, can be stored in a root cellar and enjoyed all winter long. Here’s a general guide to what’s available in each season:

Spring

  • Apricots
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Lemons
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Turnips

Summer

  • Apricots
  • Avocados
  • Beets
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Garlic
  • Green beans
  • Lima beans
  • Okra
  • Peaches
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Summer squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Zucchini

Fall

  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Cranberries
  • Grapes
  • Kale
  • Kiwifruit
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Parsnips
  • Pears
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Rutabagas
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes and yams
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnips
  • Winter squash

Winter

  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Parsnips
  • Pears
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkins
  • Rutabagas
  • Sweet potatoes and yams
  • Swiss chard
  • Turnips
  • Winter squash
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