Editors note: “A Better Life” is a weekly column by the USU Extension – Tooele Office that focuses on a variety of topics intended to enhance quality of life.
June is National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month. We all know that fruits and vegetables are a healthy part of a balanced diet. As it warms up in Utah, it’s a great time to commit to eating more fresh fruits and veggies.
Locally grown, fresh produce is getting easier to find too. Whether you are harvesting from your own garden, or purchasing it from somewhere else, June is a great time to refocus on including fresh fruits and veggies in your diet.
Gardening gives you fresh seasonal produce with a little exercise, too. Some may have the space and time to tend to a traditional garden; others may be better suited for a raised box or container garden. Either way, gardening can be a fun activity to do as a family. It provides you with your own fresh produce and gives you a sense of accomplishment with every harvest.
If you don’t have a garden, but would still like access to fresh fruits and vegetables, consider visiting your local farmers market. Have you visited our local farmers markets? Tooele Main Street Market actually opened this year on the first Saturday of June in the Cal Ranch parking lot. There will be several others opening soon too.
Farmers markets are a great place to find fresh, local fruits and vegetables. The popularity of markets has been on the rise, which means more vendors and more options for you. If you have never shopped at a farmers market, start small. Buy fresh ingredients to make a salad, or fruits and vegetables you already know how to use. Salsa is usually easy to get everything at the market for too. Once you get more familiar, branch out and try new things.
Mother Nature plays a big part in the variety, timing, and abundance of fresh, local produce. You won’t always know what food items will be available at a farmers market. As you are planning your menu and shopping list for the week, leave a little wiggle room. Decide on your main dish and plan to fill in the rest with fruits and veggies you find at the market. Salads, fresh fruit, a veggie tray, and fruit kabobs are all great ideas.
Here are a few more tips to be a savvy farmers market shopper:
• Don’t be shy. The people selling products want to answer your questions.
• Do your homework. Find a market that’s in a convenient location and has hours that fit your schedule so you can easily add a shopping trip into your weekly routine.
• Time your outing. If you can only go on weekends, get there early. Otherwise, go on a weekday during the middle of the day. The less traffic in the market, the more opportunities you’ll have to get the best products and chat with vendors. If you’re shopping on a budget, going at the end of the market day will usually enable you to get some great deals and negotiate prices with the vendors.
• Bring cash and reusable bags. Small bills will make transactions easy, and you’ll need a bag to carry your purchases home.
• Become a gourmet. Ask the vendors for cooking suggestions; sometimes they even provide recipes. Vendors usually love to share tips on selecting and storing fruits and vegetables. You will also find our Tooele County Food Sense Nutrition Educator at the market occasionally with samples or recipes using in-season produce. Did you know our local Nutrition Educator is a trained chef who graduated from culinary school?
• Be flexible. Accept that produce will not always look perfect. But, it has been grown locally and picked recently, which means it’s packed with flavor and nutrients.
While taking cash to the market is the best choice, many farmers markets across Utah accept EBT cards. Many also participate in Double Up Food Bucks, a program to help low-income families take home affordable fresh produce from local farmers.
It is true that fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients. That isn’t the only reason you should add them to your plate. Prepared in a variety of different ways, their color, flavor and texture can bring something new to every meal.
Try grilling mushrooms, peppers, potatoes and onions on a kabob skewer to serve beside your favorite meat. Even fruits, like pineapple and mangoes, are great on the grill. Almost any vegetable makes a nice addition to a stir fry. Give asparagus, cauliflower and peas a try. Add bananas, apples or peaches to your breads and muffins for a healthy dessert option.
Sarah Patino is the Certified Nutrition Educator for Food Sense at the USU Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2408 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.