The winter season not only brings gray skies but can also bring gray mealtimes. With a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, and with colder weather, people tend to turn to those soul-warming dishes that have a distinct lack of vegetables and fruits with them. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that half of your plate should consist of vegetables and fruits, or 2 ½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits throughout the day. A barrier to reaching this daily goal for some people is the thought that there is no truly fresh produce in the winter time, but that is just not the case. Wintertime in the United States can yield some truly wonderful vegetables like beets, carrots, leafy greens like kale, squash and sweet potatoes, and even some fruits like citrus varieties, apples, and pears.
A problem with winter produce is that they can be unfamiliar. People don’t know how to incorporate them into a meal, and so skip them altogether. The website for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education contains a wide variety of information on low-income solutions to nutrition and wellness issues. The site’s Seasonal Produce Guide is a great way to find out what’s available right now, how nutritious it is, and even provides recipes for those fruits and vegetables that might be a bit foreign to us.
A popular misconception that goes along with our thoughts on winter produce consumption is that fresh produce is the only way to go. Fresh, frozen, canned, and dried produce, contrary to popular belief, will have roughly the same nutritional composition. With modern food processing methods, produce that is not bound for the fresh section of the supermarket will be in the can, freezer bag, or dehydrated the same day it was picked at its peak of freshness. So those fresh blueberries you have a craving for will have just about the same amount of nutrition as the frozen variety, and typically for a lower cost. Caution should be paid to canned vegetables and fruits as they are typically processed with added salt or sugar respectively as a preservative. When shopping for canned vegetables, opt for the “Reduced” or “Low” sodium varieties and for canned fruits, aim for options that are canned with “No Sugar Added” or “in Light Syrup”. Even when purchasing these options, as it is when you buy fresh, washing produce with water will reduce the added salt and sugar content, as well as remove any physical contaminants that ended up in the can.
While we are still mired in winter and longing for some consistent warm weather, keep these things in mind: there is produce available on the market that is both fresh and economical even in winter; half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables; and canned, frozen, and dried are just as good for you as fresh.
For more information on what fruits and vegetables are fresh throughout the year please visit https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide. For more information regarding health and wellness please contact Chris, County Extension Agent in Family and Community Health at 254-435-2331 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.