In American supermarkets, it is not uncommon to find certain items, such as broccoli, cucumbers, and apples, on produce shelves year-round. But unless these items are in season in your area, they are being shipped from somewhere else or are being pulled from cold storage. When fresh produce is shipped long distances, it tends to lose some nutrients along the way, and flavor often suffers, as well. It also tends to be more expensive than the same product in season locally.
Foods kept in cold storage, however, are not all bad. When stored properly, fruits and vegetables such as apples, winter squash, onions, and potatoes taste perfectly fine for several months after picking. The “season” for such foods, therefore, goes beyond the week or month they were harvested. Frozen fruits and vegetables can also taste fresh and provide high amounts of nutrients if they were processed immediately after picking. In the winter, especially, frozen fruits and vegetables may be a nutritious and economical option.
Buy locally — sometimes
Buying fresh, in-season, locally grown produce can often be economical, but it isn’t always. If the farms in your area grow mostly organic produce or specialty items, for example, it may be more expensive than conventionally grown produce in the supermarket. Farmers who sell at farmers markets may also charge a premium for produce that was picked that morning. And small farmers have higher overhead costs, relatively speaking, than the large farming businesses that supply most grocery stores, so they make a profit only if they charge more for their produce.
There are some other reasons that produce at the grocery store may be cheaper than produce at the farmers market. One is that the grocery store (or, more likely, grocery store chain) buys such huge amounts of a product that they get it at a discount. Another is that grocery stores may sell a particular product at a very low price (called a “loss leader”) to lure customers into the store. Once there, the store hopes these customers will buy not just the inexpensive item but also more expensive items, ultimately giving the store a profit.
To keep your food costs down while enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables, educate yourself about what is grown in your area and when to expect to see it in stores. Also pay attention to when certain foods, such as citrus fruits or peaches, are in season in other parts of the country. One rather obvious clue that a fruit or vegetable is in season is that your store will have a large quantity of good-looking produce at a relatively low price. (Fruits and vegetables in season should look plump and fresh, while produce that has been in storage for too long may start to look dry and shriveled.) Learn to enjoy foods from all seasons of the year. That way, when you see fresh-looking produce being sold at a good price, you can take advantage of the savings and have a delicious meal to boot.
As I always do when I am in my Italian home, on my last trip, I spent some time cooking with my friend Vanda. Since she has diabetes and prefers vegetables to meat, we tend to concoct vegetable-based recipes that are diabetes-friendly. At the following three links are three of our most recent inventions. You will find them to be simple main dishes, constructed from humble, natural, inexpensive ingredients. They are easy to make and not very time-consuming. After all, Italians have only 24 hours in their day, too! The recipes are nutritious, and Vanda and I hope you agree that they are also delicious. Of course, you can add spices, different herbs, or an additional source of protein to the recipes to suit your personal taste. Buon appetito!