How To Eat Seasonally And Locally All Year Long (Yes Even In The Winter)
When people think about eating seasonally year round it all sounds like a lot of fun until the holidays have past and you are staring at a good 3-4 long months of cold, harsh winter ahead with only squash in site.
Okay that may be a little bit dramatic, but for us folks who live in cold-weather climates there is nothing that makes us more acutely aware of how much we depend on our global food system than the month of February (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere).
But it wasn't always this way, people have lived for centuries in cold weather climates with four distinct seasons without having to rely on all their food being grown and shipped from thousands of miles away. But how did they do it? We really don't have to look that far back, even just going back to the food preparation and planning habits of our grandparents and great-grandparents will do it.
And this isn't to say that our global food system is all bad, because it's not. There is something amazing about being able to experience foods from other cultures that you maybe would have never been able to otherwise. The issue isn't that we supplement our diet with some of these incredible foods, the issue is that they make up the vast majority of our diet and we really don't give it a second thought.
the next time you are at the grocery store . . .
The next time you are at the grocery store I want you to do something for me, I would like you to take note of where everything that you put in your cart came from. Where was it grown?
You only have to do this once to realize that you just had an around the world experience just by shopping at your local grocery store. That's kind of amazing, and also a simple example of how closely tied our global food system is to our desire for convenience and abundance, often times at the expense of taste, nutrition, and our environment.
While I love a good avocado as much as the next person, what bothers me the most about our global food system is that we have no real attachment or appreciation for it. It also isn't feeding us the best tasting, highest quality food because it is being picked, shipped, and processed thousands of miles away only to then sit at our groceries stores waiting for us to finally choose it.
No wonder so many kids and adults don't like conventionally grown vegetables from half way around the world — they don't taste good!
And this is what brings me to seasonal, local eating and why I am such a big advocate for adopting this lifestyle when it comes to our food — it tastes better, it’s healthier, it’s better for our planet.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy foods, spices, teas, coffee, etc. from around the world — in fact I encourage you to. Instead it means that these global food items should become the supplemental, special pieces of your food, not the main attraction.
The main attraction should be saved for the wonderful foods that you can source locally right within your own region. These are the foods that will be the most nutrient dense, that will be inline with what your body seasonally craves, and what supports the health of your local food system and economy.
How To Eat Seasonally And Locally All Year Long
yes even in the wintertime
The key to eating seasonally and locally all year long if you live in a climate with four distinct seasons is planning. Without some planning and preparation you honestly will be lucky to get to December before you are leaning heavily on foods grown half way around the world.
But where do you begin? While every family’s needs are going to be different the way you plan and prep for seasonal/local eating year round will be the same.
5 steps to seasonal local eating all year long
When you first go down the road to seasonal, local eating year round you most likely will feel a little overwhelmed, that is entirely okay. Which is also why I want to remind you that for most people this lifestyle change will take years and years to really get the hang of, so just start and don’t let feelings of overwhelm keep you from pushing forward because the end outcome is so very rewarding.
step one: get acquainted with your local growing seasons
Having a seasonal food list at your disposal is going to make planning for seasonal local eating so much easier. My favorite tool (if you live in the USA) is the Seasonal Food Guide, which is an online tool that allows you to choose your state and the time of year and it will tell you what is in season.
I use this all the time even during the summer to get a better understanding for what should be available at the farmers markets, and how I can plan my meals for our family. With time you start to know what foods are in season when, but for those just getting started this is a great tool.
step two: make a seasonal food list
Now with the use of a seasonal food planning tool like the one above it is time to make a seasonal food list. I encourage you to sit down with a journal that will become your “Seasonal Food Journal” and go month by month, writing out what is in season for your state/region.
Once you have this list I want you to observe when the foods you most commonly eat are in season, and what other alternatives there may be for them that does not include buying the same few fruits and vegetables out of season all year round. Instead I want you to think about the different ways you can prep and store the summer foods you love, while getting more creative with the foods you enjoy in the winter.
If there are some seasonal foods on your food list that you would like to eat throughout the year (for us it is tomatoes, berries, and some other fruits) you are going to have to find a way of storing them. This is where canning, freezing, and pickling can really come in handy and can help increase the variety of foods you consume in the winter months.
step three: prep for the seasons ahead of time
If you are going to eat seasonally and locally all year long then you have to start thinking ahead. While I know that this can be really hard for some people it also is incredibly rewarding (and a great way to save money long-term).
Prepping and preparing for winter and spring seasonal eating begins in the summer and fall. This is the time of year when most peoples favorite produce items are in season and most abundant — it is also when they will be the cheapest since they are in season.
Take your seasonal food list and make a note of when certain items are in season that you would like to prep and store for the months ahead. Remember that you most likely will consume them in a different form, but that is part of the fun. Instead of buying basil in the winter you could prep fresh basil in the summer for pesto, blend it alone and freeze it for soups, or dry it for easy seasoning.
Everyone is going to have a different list of foods that they like to buy and prep for the seasons ahead but to give you some ideas I have listed a few below. I also would recommend buying this Canning Book that is a great place to begin when it comes to canning and food storage.
Examples For Seasonal Food Storage:
Freeze Strawberries, Blackberries, and Blueberries
Freeze or Can Crushed Tomatoes
Freeze or Can Homemade Tomato Sauce
Freeze or Can Roasted Tomatoes For Soups
Can Fresh Homemade Salsa
Pickle Cucumbers, Green Beans, and Beets
Can Peaches and Pears
Can Homemade Apple Sauce
Freeze Basil Cubes
Freeze Homemade Pesto
step four: buy in bulk and learn good food storage practices
Now that you know what foods you want to prep for storing it’s time you learn the art of buying and processing in bulk. Prepping food (especially things like homemade sauce) take time and you really want to do as much as you can at one time.
My best advice is to make a list of what you want to prep for food storage and buy as much as you can at one time. For instance we usually buy the berries we will eat all winter in two trips to the farmers market. This way we can buy, prep, and store them in one-two big hauls and they are good to go for winter eating.
It also is important to learn good food storage practices since many foods like apples, cabbage, onions, scallions, squash, and many other root vegetables can be stored for months as long as they are kept in a cool dark place.
step five: think creatively & push your comfort zone
Repeat after me — you do not need to eat fresh spinach, strawberries, and tomatoes all year round. There are so many other equally nutrient dense, seasonal alternatives that you can lean on during the winter months when these foods are very much out of season.
Eating seasonally in the winter time is as much about planning as it is about creative thinking. Kale and cabbage are great alternatives to spinach or lettuce in the winter (most winter farm shares will have them throughout the winter). Frozen berries are a perfect substitute for fresh berries, and apples are a seasonal fruit that can easily be stored throughout the winter.
When it comes to winter salads skip the tomatoes and cucumber and opt for roasted root vegetables mixed with a whole grain like quinoa and chopped kale. These warm salads are my go-to in the cold winter months and are much more inline with my cravings than a raw, cold salad when it’s cold outside.
And ff you are really craving a fresh tomato, opt for ones that have been grown in greenhouses within your region. Right here in Vermont is an amazing organic tomato grower that grows tomatoes in greenhouses year round.
With these five tips in mind you will be well on your way to eating more locally and seasonally this year, and I promise the more you commit to this lifestyle the easier it will become to plan ahead — your body, community, and the planet will thank you for it.