Wondering how to keep eating local in the wintertime? When the temperatures drop, there are many ways to keep the harvest and taste of fresh local fruits and vegetables, which can be stored in several forms. In this post we will explore fresh, frozen, and canned food items and how to get the most out of your food.
Fresh produce is in-season items that can be found at your local farmers market – some of which are open year-round in Maryland. We recommend purchasing fresh whenever you can; produce is at its peak nutritional value when it is least processed. Farmers market shoppers can also use their federal nutrition benefits to purchase fresh items at participating farmers markets in Maryland. There are also programs that provide matching funding for these benefits (SNAP, formerly known as “Food Stamps”, FMNP, and FVC) such as our Maryland Market Money program.
If fresh isn’t an option, frozen is a great alternative. Frozen fruits and vegetables can be blanched or slightly cooked at the peak of their season to ensure freshness and flavor. If you didn’t freeze any of your farmers market haul last summer, start planning now for what you’re missing from the summer’s bounty so that you can plan to freeze some in 2015. Frozen vegetables can be used to make meals such as stir-fry, soups and stews quickly; for example frozen corn kernels are a time-saver rather than using fresh corn still on the cob.
When buying canned fruits and vegetables, remember its best to look for a description that reads, “packed in fruit juice,” or “no sugar added” as opposed to syrup. When fruits are packed in their own juices there is less sugar added and fewer calories. For vegetables, look for “no salt added” or “low-sodium” items, so that you can control how much or how little salt you are consuming. Once opened, use all canned produce immediately to retain flavor and nutritional value. You can preserve your own fruits and vegetables from the market too – consider taking a canning class offered through your local Extension office or learning more about the process from books and websites. Many farmers market vendors offer preserves and pickles to sustain you through these cold months even when they are not at market.
Things to Consider:
Nutritive value- The human body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis. To ensure you’re getting your recommended daily intake of nutrition, the USDA has a great online tool, SuperTracker, or check with your doctor or nutritionist.
Wholesomeness- Fruits and vegetables are usually freshest at the peak of their season, so look for a bright lively color and crispness. Most vegetables can be stored 2 to 5 days from harvest; root vegetables (carrots, beets, potatoes, etc.) can be kept for several weeks after harvest.
Quality- Differences in appearance, price and amount of waste are all factors to consider when assessing the quality of your food. You can use your eyes to determine quality based on appearance; determine what price you are willing to pay for produce; and limit waste by using your produce quickly. Be sure to buy in-season when you can as fruits and vegetables have their highest nutritional value when they are at their peak ripeness.
Whether fresh, frozen or canned, all fruits and vegetables are good for you and can be enjoyed at any time. Remember, a vegetable in any form is better than no vegetable at all!