Seasonal Produce – What to choose, When to choose it, and Why is it important?

Fall is here, the leaves are falling, and holidays are just upon us. The fall season is actually one of the most abundant seasons of the year when it comes to finding seasonal produce.

Apples Bell peppers
Cabbage Cauliflower
Corn Cucumbers
Eggplant Grapes
Greens Lettuce
Okra Onions
Peas Plums
Potatoes Pumpkins
Radishes Rhubarb
Spinach Squash
Sweet Potatoes Tomatoes

Purchasing produce in-season provides a product with a higher nutritive content, due to the fact that the fruits and vegetables do not need to be stored or transported at length to get to your food stores. The longer the food has to travel, the more energy it takes to get it there, and the lower the vitamin and mineral content. This sustainable way of eating reduces the impact on our environment (less fuel costs and gas emissions in our air). Further, the quicker the food is picked and consumed, the greater amount of vitamins and minerals in our food. The items listed above are late fall seasonal fruits and vegetables available in Illinois.

Try some of these great recipes with the above seasonal produce.

“Mock-ed Potatoes”
Trade your regular mashed potato recipe with this fantastic option featuring cauliflower. Despite the lack of color, cauliflower is actually rich in Vitamin C, fiber, folate, carotenoids, and several anti-cancer phytochemicals released when cauliflower chopped and chewed. This recipe recommends steaming cauliflower rather than boiling, due to the rapid reduction in nutrient compounds after boiling. After about 10 minutes, about 50% of the phytochemicals are reduced.

4 cups cauliflower florets
½ cup 0% fat Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp light butter
4 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Clean cauliflower and chop into small pieces. Add about ½ inch water to a medium size pot and add cauliflower. Cover and cook until cauliflower is fork tender. Let cool slightly. Using an immersion blender or a food processor, puree cauliflower until consistency of mashed potatoes. Add Greek yogurt, butter and Parmesan cheese and mix well. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Four Spice Okra

Okra, originating in Africa, is cultivated in many warm climates all over the world. These edible green seed pods are rich in fiber and many vitamins and minerals including folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin K, and manganese. Try this wonderful recipe instead of broccoli or green beans and serve with meat, poultry or fish. Cooking tip: due to the soluble fiber content of okra, when sliced and cooked the vegetable can become “slimy”. However, if cooked for a longer time, this will diminish and produce a thicker sauce. Try this method and leave them whole.

2 TBSP butter
1 medium onion
1 lb fresh okra (look for young pods, about 2 inches in length)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground black pepper
salt to taste

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, and cook until tender. Stir in the okra, season with cumin, ginger, coriander, pepper and salt. Cook and stir for a few minutes, reduce heat to medium-low, sauté for 3-4 minutes until tender, stirring occasionally.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes

Pumpkin is an excellent seasonal squash, full of vitamin A, vitamin K, and 1 cup provides about 1/3 daily iron needs. Use it in your next smoothie, prepared with 0% Greek yogurt with honey, frozen banana, and a dash of cinnamon. Use canned pumpkin instead of fresh in a pinch, rather than pumpkin pie mix, which frequently contains added sugar.

1 ½ c whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 ½ c 0% fat Greek Yogurt
1 cup mashed or canned pumpkin
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp brown sugar

Mix together the first 7 dry ingredients, set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together yogurt, eggs, vanilla, and brown sugar. Add wet mixture to dry and stir gently until batter forms. Cook pancakes on a greased pre-heated griddle or skillet, and serve warm. Leftover pancakes can be stored in re-sealable bags or containers in the freezer.

Spinach Strawberry Salad with Poppyseed Dressing
Strawberry Poppyseed Salad
Spinach is a fantastic choice of lettuce when making a side salad. Rich in vitamin K and iron, this leafy green is very versatile when paired with a tangy, sweet poppyseed dressing to spicy mustard vinaigrette. Eating a source of Vitamin C rich foods such as in this recipe, fresh strawberries, and aids in the absorption of the iron contained in fresh spinach.

1 bag or about 10-12 ounces fresh baby spinach
1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
6 oz fresh mozzarella, cubed
4 oz slivered almonds
Optional: diced chicken breast
¼ c reduced-fat mayonnaise
¼ c 0% fat Greek yogurt
6 TBSP sugar
2 TBSP poppyseeds
¼ c skim milk
2 TBSP red wine vinegar

Clean spinach and spin dry, place in large bowl. Add sliced strawberries, mozzarella, and almonds. Prepare dressing, add all ingredients to small mixing bowl and whisk until lumps disappear, add additional milk to reach desired consistency. Toss salad with dressing just prior to serving.

Butternut Squash
This delicious type of winter squash has a sweet, nutty taste similar to a pumpkin. It is rich in fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin C. Butternut squash is easily prepared, and can be mashed into soups, casseroles, & breads. Preparation is simple, however in a pinch many frozen butternut squash varieties are available.

Cooking spray
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp nutmeg

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Spray lightly with cooking spray. Place cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 45 minutes, or until softened. Remove from oven, turn squash over to let steam escape. Scoop out squash, top with brown sugar and nutmeg, and serve warm.

Lara Field MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Specialist in Pediatrics with over a decade of clinical and client experience. When she’s not actively working to keep her clients healthy, she’s a busy mother of two active boys and loves testing new recipes in her kitchen. Follow her on Instagram to see her recipe ideas, product suggestions, and see how she manages a healthy lifestyle @larafield.