As a registered dietitian and lover of fresh produce, I am excited to see our Midwest gardens starting to blossom. June kicked off the beginning of our seasonal farmers markets, which makes buying fresh produce more convenient and economical. More than one million people nationwide visit a farmers market each week and new locations are cropping up yearly. Your VA may even host a farmers market.
The best time of day to hit the farmers market is early in the morning so that you get the most variety and options while they are freshest. Aim to purchase produce that you will use in the next few days and in the quantities you need. Make sure to bring cash as some vendors do not accept checks, credit or debit cards. Many states offer food voucher programs accepted at farmers markets for low income individuals or seniors. To keep farmer’s costs low and help out the environment, bring along reusable canvas bags or baskets. If you use plastic bags, make sure to remove produce once you return home as plastic bags can cause decay in produce.
Another great opportunity for farm fresh produce is to purchase a share in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. To be part of a community program, you purchase a share for the season up front, and then receive a box of produce every week. Some of the benefits of belonging to a community program include ultra-fresh food, trying new types of produce, opportunities to visit the farm, and learning more about farming practices. Many community programs offer work-trade programs for low income members or may accept vouchers.
To find a local farm or community supported agriculture near you check out http://www.localharvest.org/.
Shopping Tips: One easy way to tell if fruit is at its prime is to smell it; this is especially true with melons. Smell the stem end for a strong melon aroma. To avoid overripe berries, check the bottom of the container – it should not be stained or moist and the fruit should be bright, full, and plump. Avoid washing berries until you are ready to use them.
Fruits and vegetables are some of the most nutritious foods in the world. Farm fresh fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. They keep us feeling full, control hunger, and can help with weight loss efforts. Studies show eating fruits and vegetables helps reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes (Hung, Joshipura, Jiang 2004.)
Most fresh fruits and vegetables are best stored in a refrigerator at 40° F or below and in the crisper drawers. There are some exceptions.
Produce best stored at room temperature (dry, well ventilated, away from direct sunlight):
- Sweet potatoes
- Tomatoes (vine facing up)
- Winter squashes
Produce to keep on counter to ripen and move to refrigerator when ripe:
- Kiwi fruit
You can’t go wrong by choosing fruits and vegetables as an option for meals and snacks. For more information about healthy eating contact your local VA Nutrition clinic or MOVE program.
Erin Vaillancourt, main author of this article, has been a registered dietitian at the Saginaw, Michigan VA Medical Center for the past six years. She is a certified diabetes educator on diabetes management and has a master in science degree in nutrition from Central Michigan University. Erin works in the outpatient MOVE clinic counseling Veterans individually focusing on weight reduction and diabetes. She also teaches a variety of classes and support groups through the Healthy Teaching Kitchen, MOVE! and diabetes management programs.