By Mary Lindsey Jackson, Clinical Nutritionist Educator
Summer is a favorite season for farmers markets, and there are plenty around town here in western North Carolina. These markets provide a wonderful opportunity to connect with and support the local economy, as well as fill up on fresh, seasonal food items. Offerings at farmers markets can range from household goods such as candles and homemade soaps, to local fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, sauces, pickles and other foods.
Here are some tips to maximize your dollar and stock up on the healthiest items at the market to bring the farm straight to your table at home:
1. Bring cash.
2. Talk to the farmers.
You may see a variety of vegetables that look or sound unfamiliar – kohlrabi? Bok choy? Ask the farmer about the flavor differences between the types of vegetables (watermelon radishes vs. Easter egg radishes, for example) or if they have any recommendations for how to cook or prepare them. Don’t be afraid to also ask questions about how the food was grown or what types of pesticides were used.
3. Go early.
Some popular items may run out quickly in the morning depending on supply – go early for the best picks. Survey the scene when you arrive at the market, see what is available and compare prices between vendors.
4. A little meal planning goes a long way.
Trying new foods can be part of the fun of farmers markets. Plan for some spontaneity with your shopping list; however, doing some meal planning in advance can help avoid foods going to waste in the fridge during the week if they aren’t incorporated into meals.
5. Bring a tote bag.
Many markets offer plastic bags to carry food home in; however, these can be flimsy or difficult to transport. Bring your own tote bag to make carrying your foods home easier and cut down on plastic bag usage. If travelling long distances, bring a large cooler bag with ice packs to keep foods fresh.
6. Shop seasonal produce and goods.
Not only is it more affordable to shop in-season produce, but in-season produce is fresher, tastes better and usually has a higher nutritional value. It’s environmentally-friendly by supporting local farmers and agriculture.
Seasonal Summer Produce and Recipes:
Cucumbers, tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, cabbage, carrots, berries, beets, herbs, lettuces (and many others!) are all in season during the summer months in Western North Carolina.
Here are some recipe and cooking ideas for incorporating these nutritious foods into your meals:
- Try a Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil, drizzled with balsamic vinegar.
- Grilling vegetables brings out their natural sweetness and provides a delicious smoky flavor – try grilling corn, eggplant, squash, zucchini, onions, or even stone fruits like peaches or nectarines for a twist on dessert.
- Make a large summer salad with fresh greens, cucumbers, shredded beets, shredded carrots, and any other vegetables you can find. Toss with a light oil-vinegar mixture, and serve with local cheese from the market, grilled chicken, fish or tofu.
- Make a slaw with shredded cabbage, citrus, and fresh herbs for a light side or topping for tacos.
- Ratatouille is a Mediterranean-style vegetable stew that is loaded with summer vegetables – eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and basil.
- Utilize the herbs that are in season – basil, oregano, parsley, cilantro, and thyme can all add fresh flavor notes to dishes. If you have some leftover, chop, wash and freeze in ice cube trays in water or vegetable broth for future cooking.
- The produce at farmers’ markets is fresh, so don’t be afraid to let its natural flavors shine when cooking by keeping dishes simple.
Mary Lindsey Jackson, RD, LDN, is a clinical nutritionist educator at Mission Weight Management.