A steaming mug of hot chocolate. Warm, hearty soup served by the fire—the smell of freshly-baked cookies and pastries in the air. Since childhood, the first bite of savory pies, your mom's meatloaf, or your favorite casserole. Flavorful stews, tender pork chops served with gravy, and a big bowl of mashed potatoes just within reach – is there anything homier and more comforting than winter food?
(You don't have to feel embarrassed if you feel your stomach rumble and your mouth water while reading the first paragraph; believe me, that reaction is perfectly normal.)
Wintertime staples like soups, potatoes, bread, and meats are back on our tables, and to be honest, no one seems to be complaining about it. We all get a craving for warm and satisfying meals during the cold months, and that is fine. Our body's natural response to cooler temperatures is that we experience biological changes that trigger hunger and intense cravings for calorie-dense food.
The Art and Advantages of Seasonal Eating
Long before access to produce that is not in the season was limited and too expensive for an average American household, people used to practice seasonal eating or living on harvests that are naturally abundant during specific times of the year. In simpler terms, this dietary practice encourages you to only consume ripe vegetables and fruits in season, like eating oranges in winter, tomatoes, and strawberries in summer, and so on.
Seasonal eating was popular several years ago when scientific studies and agriculture innovations were unheard of. People only get access to fresh produce when weather and growing conditions are favorable, which differs from one season to another. Nowadays, you can find any fruit or vegetable in the supermarket, whether in-season or not. So, if you get a craving for mangoes or asparagus in the middle of the winter, all you need to do is visit your local grocer or order online. It's simply amazing!
Seasonally eating has a lot of advantages. Newly picked fruits and vegetables taste better than those not grown in season. Flavor-wise, they are proven superior, and when it comes to the nutritional value, they are outstanding, too! Out-of-season produce must be modified genetically to be mass-produced and resistant to diseases. The problem is that these modifications affect the nutritional benefits of the produce. And if you think about it, since we are growing and harvesting produce outside their natural cycle, the negative impact on our environment is huge. Resources like fossil fuels and massive amounts of water are needed to meet the demand for fresh produce all year round. It'll be hard to imagine the sheer amount of energy, resources, and carbon footprint that are in the process of growing non-seasonal food. We need to adopt more sustainable ways of consumption, and seasonal eating is one of them.
Getting Started: How to Practice Seasonal Eating
To be clear: you do not need an instant 180-degree change in your eating habits! There are simple and easy ways that you can follow to incorporate seasonal eating practices in your lifestyle:
1. Explore your area to know which fruits and vegetables are in season. Your local farmer's market is a great place to start, or if there isn't any near your residence, you can always do a quick search on the Internet to find the information you need. Take note of the best time of the year to buy seasonal produce and, if you can, get them from local growers in your area. Foods that cater to mass consumption often contain additives to make their shelf life longer; you will benefit a lot more from those harvested in small quantities. Plus, you can ask your local growers any question you might have about the produce - where is it grown? Is it organic? What is the best way to store it? - and get instant (and honest) answers!
2. Seasonal produce does not usually last more than a few days or months. That's why you need to consume them quickly to maximize their freshness and nutritional value. Or, if you want to enjoy those seasonal fruits and vegetables later, you can preserve them. You can freeze, dry, dehydrate, and pickle any fruits and vegetables. You can also turn fresh produce into jam, sauces, purees, jellies, marmalades - there is no limit on this department. Let your imagination run wild with the possibility of creating something new and exciting! (Banana jam and pickled asparagus, anyone?)
3. Planning is key. Once you have decided to eat seasonally, you need to start planning. This can be challenging at first, especially if you have zero experience, but it will be worth it in the long run!
Seasonal eating in winter and spring requires months of careful preparation and planning. You need to make a list of seasonal produce and make them last until winter. There are different methods and techniques, as mentioned in point #2. For example, you can freeze berries (blackberries, strawberries, and blueberries), pickled beets and cucumbers, and can tomatoes, salsa, pears, and peaches. Buy in-season foods in bulk and make sure that you know proper food storage methods to avoid spoilage!
Best Foods to Consume During Winter
There is no secret, really: the best foods that you can eat during winter are those that can keep you warm and provide the nutrients that your body needs to function optimally. It's that simple! Personally, the best advice that I would give is to make wise and healthy choices when you eat. Topped with nuts, dried fruits, seeds, and seasonal fruits like apples or dates, some warm oatmeal makes a great breakfast. You can also opt for red meats and lentils for protein for lunch, with a green, leafy salad on the side. Dinner can be a hearty broccoli soup, wholewheat bread and cheese, and a glass of antioxidant-rich red wine.
Simple yet filling and nutritious – everything that one can ask for in a meal on a cold winter's day or night!