Top Picks for Winter Produce
Fresh produce like apples and tomatoes are abundant during the summer months — and once the weather turns colder, you may think that you need to resort to canned or frozen produce until springtime. Fortunately, this isn’t the case: Many fruits and vegetables are just hitting their peak in the winter months. That means even more fresh produce choices for healthy eating.
“Purchasing produce that is in season has two important benefits,” says Toby Smithson, RD, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and founder of DiabetesEveryDay.com. “First, taste is at its peak. And second, produce that is in season is typically both plentiful and sold at the cheapest price compared to other times of the year.”
The Added Bonus of Healthy Eating in Winter
Not only is winter produce delicious and fresh, but these healthy foods provide nutrients to help get you through the winter. “Eating winter produce adds protection during cold and flu season,” says Smithson. “Many types of winter produce are good sources of vitamin C and A.”
In fact, vitamin C is essential during winter months. Canadian researchers analyzed the results of seven trials evaluating more than 3,000 cold episodes to determine the effectiveness of vitamin C against the common cold. Their analysis showed that vitamin C helped shorten the duration of the common cold by as many as two days in adults and children. They also found that people taking vitamin C who were under intense physical stress (in the form of extreme cold or significant physical activity) were half as likely to catch a cold as those who took a placebo.
Although vitamin C can be taken in supplement form, including it in your diet through fresh produce is the most effective way to reap its benefits.
Fresh Produce for Healthy Eating
There are many tasty options for winter produce that are easy to incorporate into your favorite dishes. Produce that’s at its peak in the colder months includes:
- Citrus fruits, including grapefruit, lemons, oranges, tangerines, and mandarins
- Brussels sprouts
- Kale and collard greens
- Root vegetables, including sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips
- Dates and date plums
- Several varieties of squash, including butternut, buttercup, sweet dumpling, and delicata
- Passion fruit, persimmons, pomegranates, and maradol papaya
There are plenty of ways to use fresh winter produce in your favorite dishes and healthy foods. Kale is particularly rich in nutrients and is a good source of vitamins C and A, potassium, and calcium. Sauté it for a side to your favorite dish, or chop it up and add it to your favorite pasta sauce, soup, or pesto recipe — even the pickiest eaters won’t notice it. Smithson also recommends using kale as a pizza topping or sprinkling some with Parmesan cheese and olive oil and then baking to make kale chips.
Sweet potatoes are fiber-rich, satisfying root veggies that are rich in potassium and vitamins A and C. Cubed and roasted sweet potatoes and butternut squash make a hearty side dish. You can also puree these roasted winter vegetables and make a sauce to add to your favorite pasta dish. “Both sweet potatoes and squashes also make great baked fries, and you can use a variety of herbs and spices to alter the flavor from sweet to savory to salty,” Smithson says.
You can also use winter produce to make a quick and easy meal. “Winter is a great time to use a slow cooker for easy-to-prepare meals," suggests Smithson. "Many of the winter vegetables can be prepared this way." Try using your slow cooker to make a hearty soup packed with varieties of squash and sweet potatoes.
Here are other ways to enjoy winter produce:
- Add pomegranate seeds or kiwi slices to a kale salad
- Top poached pears with walnuts and dates
- Toss chopped beets with a salad of greens and goat cheese
- Add mandarins to a chicken stir-fry
- Drizzle Brussels sprouts with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then add sesame seeds and bake for 40 minutes at 400 degrees
Choosing and Storing Winter Produce
When you’re browsing the produce aisles, make sure you know what to look for. In general, Smithson says, “brightly-colored and firm produce is usually the best bet for winter produce."
Here are more specific suggestions:
- Grapefruits are best with smooth, blemish-free skin
- Kale should have dark green, firm leaves — no yellowing or wilted leaves
- Brussels sprouts should have a dark color and firm texture
- Squash should feel heavy and firm, with no soft spots
- Sweet potatoes should feel firm and have smooth skin with no soft spots
It’s important to store your winter produce properly so you'll be able to enjoy your favorites at their peak freshness. Some items have specific needs, so follow these storage tips:
- Refrigerate Brussels sprouts, ripe pears, grapefruits, clementines, and kale.
- Store kale inside a plastic bag.
- Place pears inside a paper bag to help them ripen.
- Store other winter fruits at room temperature until ripe.
- Store sweet potatoes in a dark, cool spot for three to five weeks.
- Store squash in a dark, cool spot for up to three months.
Fresh produce offers delicious and unique flavors with a bounty of nutrients. So enjoy the harvest and have fun making healthy foods featuring your favorite winter produce.
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