Nutrition Articles

What to Eat This Winter

Enjoy the Season's Freshest Foods

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For most of us, eating seasonally is a foreign concept. Many people don't even know that foods have a season, let alone what foods are in season at any given time of year. In the U.S., we enjoy practically unlimited access to any food at any time of the year. Tomatoes in December are nice, but not without consequences. Flavor suffers, nutrient levels decline, and environmental impact soars with each mile a food must travel to reach its ultimate destination.

Local food, on the other hand, is seasonal and fresh! Boasting a host of benefits, including better flavor, more nutrients, and less environmental burden, it's usually picked just hours or days before you buy it (while standard supermarket produce can weather many days or even weeks in transport). It’s also healthier for the environment because the food has traveled a shorter distance, meaning fewer fossil fuels are used in its transport from the farm to your table.

Possibly the best benefit though, is that seasonal food is always interesting, as each season brings a new crop of foods that you haven't had for an entire year. Before you've had a chance to tire of its bounty, the season changes to bring new, flavorful foods to add to your pantry.

But eating locally in February? Can it be done? Absolutely! Surprisingly, there are a number of foods that make winter their season, and if you stock up on these basics, cooking satisfying, fresh, and wholesome meals in the dead of winter will be a breeze. In any other season, this would be as simple as making a trip to your local farmer’s market to stock up on the essentials. But many farmers’ markets close down for the winter. In this season of scarcity, you’ll probably need to call around to find a local farm that sells produce throughout the cold months. Check out www.FoodRoutes.org for a list of farms near you.

Once you find a source and make over your pantry for winter, all that’s left is stirring and savoring. Availability will vary from region to region, but here's a general list of foods that make winter their season, along with tips on how to incorporate these ingredients into your meals.

Winter Vegetables
  • Kale. This hearty green is a rich source of minerals (including calcium), and although it is available year-round, it actually tastes the sweetest in the winter. To eat, wash leaves thoroughly and tear them into small pieces—discarding the touch stem. Place in a steamer and steam until tender (five minutes). Sauté in garlic butter or olive oil; sprinkle with soy sauce; or toss right into a hot bowl of soup to boost its nutritional content.
  • Leeks. A mild-flavored member of the onion family—and essential ingredient in potato-leek soup—this winter vegetable adds delicious flavor to many recipes. Try them in your favorite winter stew.
  • Radicchio. A type of bitter lettuce, radicchio can be grilled or used in salads.
  • Radishes. Most commonly used in green salads and vegetable trays, this spicy root vegetable can also be cooked as a side dish. Thinly slice radishes and steam them until tender. Then sauté steamed radishes in butter with a few cloves of garlic, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and a sprinkle of dried dill weed.
  • Rutabaga. Another root vegetable, try mashed rutabagas instead of mashed potatoes.
  • Turnips. These spicy root vegetables can be braised, sautéed, pickled, sun-dried, or roasted. As a rule, smaller turnips are usually tastier than large ones.

Winter Fruits
Depending on your region, these citrus fruits may be abundant at this time of the year. If so, enjoy them for the rest of us! While they're fabulous straight out of the peel, there are some creative alternatives for enjoying these vitamin-rich fruits.
  • Grapefruit. Try an orange-grapefruit-pomegranate compote for a healthy desert.
  • Lemons. Whip up a batch of lemon bars.
  • Oranges. How about some freshly-squeezed orange juice to start your day? Also try adding orange zest to some of your favorite baked goods, like muffins and sweet breads.
  • Tangerines. Toss a peeled tangerine into a blender along with frozen banana chunks and some orange juice for a smoothie.
Winter Extra!
  • Chestnuts. Unless you live near a chestnut grove, you’ll be hard-pressed to find these nuts locally. But December is their season, so here are a few options for preparing these holiday treats. After slicing a slit into their smooth shell, they may be boiled (for 15-30 minutes) or roasted (baked for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally). Eat them plain or incorporated into a recipe. Boil for 15-30 minutes, and then peel.
Although enjoying seasonal produce in the dead of winter may not be as straightforward as in other seasons, the delicious flavors of winter are well worth the extra trouble.

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Member Comments

  • Thanks for listing all the vegetables and fruits available in the winter - a good way to try new freggies.
  • If this list contained all the fresh produce that was available for me to eat during the winter months, I'd starve. Only the citrus fruits have any appeal to me. I am guilty of buying some out-of-season fresh produce when it's available in my local markets, but I agree with Azure-Sky when it comes to the frozen produce. It (or low-sodium canned) is my go-to in the winter months. We have a really good farmers' market here, and the prices are easily better than most local grocery stores. It has me longing for summer!
  • I eat peppers for the high content of vitamin C....bell peppers, sweet peppers and jalapenos,
  • I feel very blessed to live in Louisiana. We have farmers that sell produce year round from their trucks. And the Whole Foods buys from local farmers. We always have an abundance of fruits & veggies. My sister & I campare prices & she pays much more than I do, because she lives in Indiana.
  • GIBSONVK
    I'm sorry, but I disagree. I can go and feed 7 of us for a little over $1 total if I buy Ramen Noodles. If I went to get fresh veggies or fruit it would cost us almost $10 for a meal. How is that just $1.80? Maybe we're in a bad district for fresh fruits and vegetables, but still. I can also feed all of us bologna sandwiches for $2.50. I didn't say they were especially filling meals, but it is within our budget. I would love to eat even just healthier than we do now, but I don't see how we can. Prices for good nutritious food are outrageous! And no, I don't buy a bunch of junk, no chips, cookies, cakes, candy or sodas.
  • I don't think there is much of anywhere to buy local produce around here. There is one VERY expensive indoor Farmers Market, but there really isn't anywhere that has fresh fruits and vegetables locally this time of year. That Farmers Market has meat and cheese and packaged spices. During the summer we have farmers markets that charge by the pound usually more than the grocery stores and we have a store that is called a farmers market that usually has better prices on produce, but everything they have is either from some other state like California or from another country. To get something local it would have to be grown in a greenhouse.
  • I'm lucky here in Ottawa, as there are a couple of organic greenhouses that are producing salad fixings nearly year-round (including some winter months). There's nothing like a nice ripe off-the-vine tomato when there's snow on the ground!
  • I used to work at a farmer's market in Texas. The produce was the same that came to the grocery store on the truck, they just put it in rustic baskets to make it look better. Only a few things like chili peppers and watermelons, when they were in season, were actually grown locally. Be careful!
  • CAMELSAMBA
    Just wanted to comment on this statement: *There's no guarantee that the produce you get at farmer's markets is all grown locally, rather than bought at a distributor or supermarket, unless you know the vendors.*

    It also depends on your market. Our market is "producers only", which means the vendors are required to grow or make everything they sell. The market manager visits all the farms to ensure they are legitimate operations.

    Also on pricing - I once wondered about the comparative pricing. The grocery store tends to mark things by the pound, while the market is by the quart / box / whatever, which can make it seem more expensive. So I took my quart box of cherries from the FM and weighed them at home and sure enough - they were cheaper than the grocery store. I've done the same with other items and it always works out that way.
  • I've also had bad experiences with local farmers' markets, Azure Sky. I go expecting to be able to pick over fresh vegetables and get what I want, but the farmers insist that I buy their pre-packaged assortments, which usually contain at least a few less-than-desirab
    le pieces. I'd rather take my chances at the grocery store and get what I want.

  • AZURE-SKY
    Sadly the author ignored the benefits of frozen vegetables. Many frozen vegetables are picked at prime ripeness and frozen immediately, retaining all the nutrients, as opposed to fresh produce that sits on the supermarket display cases or produce stands for days, losing many nutrients. Studies have shown that frozen vegetables are as good as or sometimes better quality than what you find in stores.

    I've been to some farmer's markets in the summer where the produce is overripe or rotting on the stands because of the heat. I've seen green beans at the farmer's market that are completely limp, bruised and shriveled green peppers, cucumbers & tomatoes, corn on the cob that is completely dried out - when I can get fresher & better quality produce at my local Walmart or supermarket or Costco - they keep the produce refrigerated. There's no guarantee that the produce you get at farmer's markets is all grown locally, rather than bought at a distributor or supermarket, unless you know the vendors.
  • AZURE-SKY
    Sadly the author ignored the benefits of frozen vegetables. Many frozen vegetables are picked at prime ripeness and frozen immediately, retaining all the nutrients, as opposed to fresh produce that sits on the supermarket display cases or produce stands for days, losing many nutrients. Studies have shown that frozen vegetables are as good as or sometimes better quality than what you find in stores.

    I've been to some farmer's markets in the summer where the produce is overripe or rotting on the stands because of the heat. I've seen green beans at the farmer's market that are completely limp, bruised and shriveled green peppers, cucumbers & tomatoes, corn on the cob that is completely dried out - when I can get fresher & better quality produce at my local Walmart or supermarket or Costco - they keep the produce refrigerated. There's no guarantee that the produce you get at farmer's markets is all grown locally, rather than bought at a distributor or supermarket, unless you know the vendors.
  • Parsnips! Underrated but at their best in cold weather.

    I love the idea of Farmer's Markets, but they're often not in my budget. I do try to buy in-season & freeze though. Winter squash, yams & apples from farms keep well through most of winter. I grow sprouts on counter for fresh "greens" too.

About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.