Ever wonder why some restaurants have menus that change with the season? Even though customers might want to come back for their favorite strawberry dessert, their go-to restaurant may not offer it in the winter. The reason is that food grown in-season is picked at the perfect time after ripening on a vine or in the field, resulting in a fresher, sweeter, more optimal taste.
But the benefits of consuming in-season produce stretch further than your tastebuds. Opting to shop from local farmers helps stimulate the local economy and limits the transportation of the produce. Fruits and vegetables travel on average 1,500 miles – resulting in a product that is picked too early or receives additional processing to maintain its quality. Furthermore, the transport of food contributes to excess fossil fuel emissions.
The great news is that Michigan has over 300 farmers markets that offer affordable produce to everyone. Many markets accept programs and vouchers for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) recipients and seniors. For example, Double Up Food Bucks allows Bridge Card users to get double the fresh fruits and vegetables at the same cost.
Fresh produce is just that – fresh. Keep these tips in mind to make the most of herbs, fruit and more.
- Store asparagus like a bouquet of flowers.
- Wrap herbs in a paper towel in a bag to keep them dry.
- Be wary of cold spots in your fridge and limit the storage of vegetables with a high water content in those areas – thawed lettuce and cucumbers aren’t delicacies.
- Store produce that expel excess ethylene gas away from others. Apples, potatoes and ripe bananas accelerates the ripening of other produce.
- Notice your lettuce is looking sad? Perk it up by giving it a cold-water bath, then taking it for a ride in a salad spinner.
- Avocados and mangos ripen great in a sunny window. If it’s perfectly ripe on Friday but needed for a Sunday brunch, pop it in the fridge to halt the ripening process.
The summer offers a wide variety of fresh produce. Take advantage of three with this one-pan roasted pasta sauce the whole family will enjoy:
Roasted Summer Vegetables Pasta Sauce – Serves 4
- 5 Bell peppers, red, yellow or orange
- 10 oz or 12 oz container cherry tomatoes
- 2 garlic heads
- 2 tbsp plus 1/2 cup olive oil, separated
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 1/4 cup shredded parmesan
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garnish, basil leaves
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and prepare a large lined baking sheet.
- Cut bell peppers in half, removing seeds, core and membrane. Add to baking sheet face down.
- Cut the top of the garlic head off to expose a small part of the garlic clove. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Wrap garlic heads in aluminum foil and place on baking sheet.
- Add tomatoes to baking sheet. Drizzle 2 tbsp olive oil and season all vegetables with salt and pepper.
- Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until bell pepper has sunk in and getting charred marks.
- Let vegetables cool. Remove garlic from aluminum. Add all contents to a blender. Combine with basil, 1/3 cup olive oil, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.
- Toss or swirl with your favorite pasta. Top with shredded parmesan and basil.
Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan based in Detroit. Passionate about the science of nutrition and behavior, Shanthi has experience working in clinical nutrition, public health and teaching in the university setting. In her free time, she enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, exploring the outdoors, working on art and spending time with family.
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