If you want to get the most nutrients out of your produce, eat what’s in season. After a long winter, spring fruits and vegetables are a welcome site. During this time of year, you’re treated to an explosion of colors, flavors, and nutrients.
With the amount of variety you can find at a grocery store, it may be hard to know what’s actually in season. To meet demands, it’s very common for grocery stores to import produce from other states and countries near and far. While it’s great privilege, that produce won’t be as nutrient dense by the time it’s picked, packed, and shipped to your grocery store.
To get the most nutrient dense produce, head to your local farmers market. The farms will be much more local, have a shorter commute, and are usually picked closer to ripeness. Farmers markets also have the most varieties of what’s fresh and in season, and they could even have produce that’s hard to find or not even in your grocery store produce section.
Whether you’re shopping in a store or a farmers market, here’s a guide of some popular and nutritious produce to add to your meals this spring. Seasonality can vary a little bit from region to region of the country, so do some research to see what’s seasonal in your area.
Strawberries: Strawberries come back in a big way in the spring and into the summer, maybe even longer depending on where you live.
The sweetest, most flavorful strawberries show up around now. Strawberries are high in vitamin C and fiber. The high amount of vitamin C also means these berries are high in antioxidants. If you’re looking for something sweet, strawberries are a great way to satisfy that craving without leading to any sharp energy spikes and crashes.
How to Enjoy: Strawberries can be enjoyed raw as a snack, blended into your favorite smoothie, cut up and tossed in a salad, as a garnish or cut up into a sweet salsa. You can easily cook down strawberries into a jam, bake a galette for a fun sweet treat, add to healthy popsicles, or flavor your easy banana paleo ice cream with it.
Apricots: One of the first stone fruits to come into season over the spring and summer, apricots are a lightly tart yellow fruit that’s great to enjoy. They’re smoother than peaches, apricots are usually smaller and not as bright tasting. Apricots are high in vitamin A, C and fiber.
How to Enjoy: Much like strawberries, apricots are great raw as a snack, in salads, or smoothies. You can make jam with apricots as well. Roasted apricots with butter or honey would make a wonderful dessert. When looking for recipes, check to see if the recipe calls for dried or fresh apricots, dried apricots can be a more common ingredient.
Rhubarb: Not a fruit, rhubarb is mostly used for sweet dishes. Its is a bright red, tall stalk with a small leaf at the top.
The stalk is used for eating, not the leaves. Rhubarb can be eaten raw, and will probably be enjoyed most in it’s raw form by people who love tart flavors. Nutritionally, it’s high in vitamin K and a is a good source of vitamin C.
How to Enjoy: Rhubarb is fairly tart, and in sweet applications, is usually paired with a berry to add more sweetness and tone the sharpness down. Rhubarb is great roasted and cooked in sweet or savory applications. It can be a great topping or sauce for proteins as well.
Asparagus: A favorite due to its short season, asparagus is a must have on your plate this spring. Peaking back in markets around late February, the best asparagus lasts until June. High in vitamin K, C, A, folate, asparagus is a good way to get your nutrients.
How to Enjoy: Lightly steaming asparagus and enjoying them as a side is very common. Asparagus also makes a wonderful soup, addition in salads and great as an appetizer. You can also peel the asparagus into ribbons and enjoy it as a pasta or on top of another dish.
Artichokes: Although available all year in cans, the best form of artichokes appear from March to May. They’re cut by hand, which can attribute to their sometimes high prices. You can get artichokes in a few sizes, from small ones that are about the size of a baseball to artichokes the size of a softball. Artichokes are high in fiber and good sources of vitamin K, C and folate.
How to Enjoy: You can enjoy the whole artichoke or just the hearts. You can boil or pressure cook the whole artichoke and eat the meat off the leaves until you get all the way to the artichoke hearts. Smaller artichokes are softer and can be eaten than with some larger artichokes with tougher leaves. Artichoke hearts make a great dip, or work well in salads or as a side. Artichokes work very well in pureed soups.
Peas: No matter how divisive this little vegetable can be for people, fresh, in season peas are just that much better than frozen. Appearing in April and May, peas can be sold in their shells or sold deshelled (which is more likely at farmers markets). Peas can be a short season depending on your area, so stock up and enjoy while you can. Peas are a great source of vitamin K, C, fiber and manganese, as well as a good source of folate, thiamin, and protein.
How to Enjoy: The peas can be enjoyed raw in salads or as a garnish over a meal. They’re great as a steamed side or mixed in with other vegetables or grains. Pea soup, hot or cold just shines this time of year. After cooking or steaming peas, they come together well as a dip, with or without garbanzo or some other white bean mixed in.
Greens: After long and cold winter, some of your favorite greens reemerge in the spring, like lettuces, endive, radicchio, arugula, and spinach. These greens are all good sources of vitamin A and K like other greens.
They each have their own nutritional advantages over each other, so try all of them to get the most nutrients and flavor variety on your plate. To get even more of vitamin K and A, add an olive oil-based dressing over your greens, or sautée them in olive oil or coconut oil. Eating greens with fat will help your body better absorb these vitamins.
How to Enjoy: Whether just one green or a mixture of greens, bring the salad back as it starts to warm up. Sauté your green of choice down and mix it with other vegetables or enjoy as it’s own side. Try adding arugula and spinach into smoothies. Lettuces, endive, and radicchio make great serving cups for salad mixtures and party appetizers, or to use instead of any bread. Most of these greens could make a great slaw to serve alongside any entree.
Those are just some of the highlights of the bounty that spring and warmer weather brings with it when it comes to produce. You could have more produce that’s specific to your region that you can enjoy. If some of this produce is new to you, try it the next time you’re meal planning or grocery shopping and see if you like it.
Shopping at your local farmers market will give you great exposure to what’s being grown and enjoyed in your area, and the farmers selling their crops are great resources on how to prepare and enjoy them. Start adding in one or two seasonal vegetables if the concept feels a bit overwhelming. Or dive right in and soak up all that the season has to offer.
However you choose to eat seasonally, load up on the spring vegetables this season to get the most flavor and nutrition nature has to offer, and have fun when you’re cooking and eating!
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Second Photo Credit: KatyaPulina/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Nadezhda Nesterova/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Africa Studio/shutterstock.com; Fifth Photo Credit: Tatiana Volgutova/shutterstock.com