Tips to optimize the nutrition in your produce this summer

As the days grow longer and the temperatures higher, we look forward to seeing fresh new colorful produce pour into our local grocery store and farmer’s market. It is the first true sign of summer when bright red strawberries start to flood your local farmer's market straight from the garden. Not only do these foods taste better when they are in season, but they are actually better for you as well. Here we outline some tips to get the most bang for your buck out of your produce this summer.

Shop Local

Yes, farmer's markets are the best way to do this but did you know many large grocery chains purchase from local farmers? Look for signs in the produce section noting which foods are sourced locally and prioritize these. Things like leafy greens, herbs, tomatoes, and melons are often from local farmers. Why is this important? Studies have found that many fruits and vegetables lose antioxidants after just 15 days in cold storage. One study found that leafy greens lost 50% of their Vitamin C after transport, storage, and just 3 days of sitting on the grocery store shelves. Therefore, it is vital to cut down the time between harvest and cooking to lock in these key nutrients.

Eat Seasonally

If you frequent farmers markets often you will see that what is available changes month to month or even week to week. Growing cycles are different for every food so understanding what is available during certain times can help you menu plan and maximize the nutrition on your plate. For example, strawberries start to grow in May and typically peak around June depending on where you are located. Melons on the other hand, although they start to grow in the early summer months, have a longer growing cycle and typically are not ready until closer to July or August. Browse your farmers market and see what is available and then take one or two key ingredients home to create a dish. Spring crops can tolerate colder temperatures and can start to grow in colder soil so these foods should be ready in the early weeks of June. This includes foods such as asparagus, rhubarb, garlic, spinach, and scallions. Summer crops thrive in warmer conditions and embrace the heat.  These foods will be ready later in the summer and include melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and eggplants.

Try a garden at home

The easiest way to ensure your food is getting from harvest to table quickly is by growing it yourself. If you have never attempted a home garden before, we recommend starting small and expanding as you feel more comfortable. Herbs are a great starting point, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, and peppers- are all easy, hearty crops that just take water and sun to start to see results. You can choose to grow in a raised bed, plantar boxes, or directly in the ground. Using compost in your home garden is a great way to ensure that your produce has rich nutrient dense soil which can help the growing process and cut back on waste. However you decide to begin, consistency is key to maintaining a healthy garden. Water often, harvest and prune crops that require it, and enjoy the benefits of eating right out of your home!

No matter where your produce is coming from this summer, try to keep recipes simple when using fresh ingredients. The taste of newly harvested produce is simply amazing, so embrace the simplicity of using the natural flavors that come with it.