Shopping for Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables

watermelon slices fruitsFresh watermelon, cherries, and blueberries…sure signs that summer is here. My 22 month old daughter loves eating these summer fruits. I’m glad she likes them but oh boy does she create a sticky mess when she eats them; watermelon juice running down her chin, her hands sticky with cherries. The blueberries aren’t usually too messy, except when she drops one in her seat and sits on it!

I like purchasing fruits and vegetables that are in season because they have the best flavor and are usually the least expensive. My husband really likes fresh asparagus and would like to eat it year-round. However, I won’t buy it fresh unless it is spring when asparagus is in season. When fruits and vegetables aren’t in season, consider buying them canned or frozen for a better buy.

In the summer in Iowa, I enjoy going to farmers markets to look for seasonal and locally grown fruits and vegetables. At the farmers market I can talk with the grower about their produce and get their recommendations for selecting and preparing the produce.

Many fruits and vegetables are available at a low cost from the grocery store year-round like bananas, carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. To find out when different fruits and vegetables are in season, check out the list on Produce for Better Health.

For more information, watch our video on How to shop for seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Whether it’s veggies from your own garden, the farmers market or the grocery store, enjoy all of the flavors of summer!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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A deeper look into school lunch

Saying good things about school lunch never has been fashionable, but recent changes seem to have provoked more concern than usual. I posted a blog about changes in school lunch last month. The responses prompted me to investigate the situation further by eating lunch at threschool lunche schools — one urban, one suburban and one rural. The first step (and maybe the trickiest) was to get my nieces to let me eat with them. After some sweet talking and conferring with friends, they agreed. A colleague got me into the third school to eat with her son and his friends.

Take a look at a comparison chart of what I observed about menu choices, costs, security and supervision, time to eat, etc. along with photos of my lunches.

Children’s health is important to everyone — parents, USDA, schools, school lunch managers, parents, etc. However, we all have a different viewpoint, from USDA, which has developed program policies using the latest science based nutrition information, to parents trying to provide their child’s wants and needs on a family budget.

Much has changed in the 15 years since school lunch regulations were previously updated. Now school lunches fit the 2010 Dietary Guidelines: half the foods on the plate are fruits and vegetables, whole grains have increased, and milk is low-fat or fat free. Serving sizes are moderate. Condiments, which can be high in sodium, are limited.

lunch tray
My lunch tray … I didn’t care for creamed corn or fruit salad with coconut, so my menu options were a bit limited.

The meals I ate at school tasted pretty good and were inexpensive (I paid about $3). Each meal had a protein source, fruit, vegetable, milk and grain (except the meal that ran out of corn muffins). I thought the cheese bread with marinara sauce was great, the chili and fresh spinach tasted good, and the cantaloupe was about the best I’ve had this summer. The fish tasted fine, but because I don’t like creamed corn or fruit salad with coconut, I didn’t take either. My meal was a bit limited that day.

All the schools served 3 to 4 different fruits and vegetables, including at least one that was fresh. We served ourselves fruits and vegetables, meaning we could take more of something we liked. The kids I ate with who did not eat fruits or vegetables had less to eat. I think parents could help by serving more fruits and vegetables at home. Eating fruits and vegetables in any form is what is important – it doesn’t matter if fresh or frozen or canned; or whether organic or conventionally raised or local. New foods take a while to get used to.

One of the complaints about the new school lunch is that the portions are not large enough (more on this topic in next weeks blog). If your child tells you they are hungry, the first thing to do is make sure they are eating breakfast. This year the Iowa Department of Education and Midwest Dairy are partnering on a School Breakfast Challenge to increase daily school breakfast participation by 20%.

I enjoyed eating lunch at school with my nieces and colleague’s son. It was fun to see the kids interacting with their friends and understand more about the hustle and bustle of middle school.

Stay tuned … next week I’ll blog about ala carte options and getting enough to eat.

Thirsty?

As the weather starts getting warmer, having something cold and tasty to drink is on my mind a lot.  After taking my dog for a walk, playing with my son at the park, or working in the yard, I am thirsty for something cold.  The water that comes out of the tap is just not cold enough, so what is a girl to do?

When we are thirsty, water really is the perfect choice.  It keeps us hydrated and healthy, it has no calories, and it is inexpensive.  Here is a comparison of some drinks I found (costs are from Central Iowa, April 2012):

Beverage Calories Per 8 ounces Grams of Sugar per 8 ounces Cost Per Gallon
Tap Water 0 0 $0.00435
Bottled Water 0 0 $1.57
Sugar-Free Drink Mix 2 0 $2.59
Sports Drink 50 14 $4.19
Regular Soda 100 27 $4.44
Diet Soda 0 0 $4.44
Bottled Tea 0-90 0-23 $8.32
Energy Drink 0-140 0-31 $13.48
Orange Juice 110 24 $7.61
100% Fruit Juice 120 29 $7.64
Lemonade (from mix) 60 16 $1.50
Juice Boxes 90 21 $4.80
Reduced Fat Chocolate Milk 180 24 $4.17

If plain water is not for you, here are a few ideas to try:

  • Freeze juice in ice cube trays and cool down your glass of water with flavored ice cubes.
  • Put cut up fruit in a pitcher of water in the refrigerator – the flavor of the fruit will flavor the water.  Oranges, lemons, limes, kiwi and berries work really well for this.
  • Put water in a special cup or water bottle and store it in the refrigerator so it is easy to grab in a hurry.  Sometimes water tastes great plain when it is in a special cup.
  • Add low-calorie drink mixes (such as Crystal Light) to your water.

Check out choosemyplate.gov this May through August to see what the USDA is doing to promote drinking water instead of sugary drinks.

Justine Hoover, MS, RD, LD

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Top 4 Tips for Controlling the Cost of Fresh Fruit

Is fresh fruit expensive? Many people think so. Recently I was really hungry for fresh peaches. The store I was at had only 1 variety. They were $1.48 per pound and the peaches were very large. I bought 4 of them. When they rang up, they totaled $2.92…more than I thought they would be and more then I would normally pay for 4 pieces of fruit$.73 a piece.

Here are some tips for controlling the cost of fresh fruit:

  1. Watch size of individual fruit. Small peaches would have been about 3 per pound and even at $1.48/pound they would have been less than $.50 a piece.
  2. Watch quantity purchased. I purchased fresh cherries earlier this summer. They were $2.99 per pound, a pretty good price for fresh cherries. I was so surprised when they rang up over $10!  They were pre-bagged and even though the bag didn’t seem that big, I had purchased over 3 pounds of cherries.  Just be sure you can eat the quantity you purchase!
  3. Store them correctly. If fruit needs to ripen (like peaches), place them in a basket on the counter or in a brown paper bag. Once they ripen (or if they were already ripe when purchased), place them in the refrigeratoreither in the paper bag or in a bowl/basket. Some fruits (like peaches and pears) spoil from the inside out when kept in a plastic bag; so, when you get home from the store, take the fruit out of the plastic bag you bought it in.
  4. Keep it in perspective. My peaches were $2.92 and that seemed like a lot, but I recently bought a bag of baked chips that cost $3.79less filling and less nutritious than the 4 peaches! Also, $.75 for a piece of fruit may seem expensive, but a regular-sized candy bar at a convenience store is $1.19.

So, enjoy that fresh fruit!

-contributed by Renee

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