Fruits and vegetables taste best and are healthiest when just harvested. Find out which spring foods to cook with for a healthy diet of seasonal food.
By Beth W. Orenstein
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
Spring is a great time to clean up your closets — and your diet. As the weather warms and heavy soups, stews, and casseroles lose their appeal, start taking advantage of seasonal spring food, especially the fruits and vegetables that are so tasty in the earlier part of the year. It’s easy to follow a healthy diet when you incorporate spring food.
Seasonal food is a great food choice for several reasons, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN, the Chicago-based author of The Flexitarian Diet, The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life. First, seasonal fruits and vegetables are at optimal flavor and quality. Second, they’re in abundance, so they cost less at the grocery store or farmer’s market. And third, says Blatner, “They are more nutritious because they don’t sit around. Seasonal foods don’t have to travel as far or as long to our table as those grown in faraway locations.”
Seasonal Food: What’s in for Spring
Which fruits and vegetables are seasonal? It can vary somewhat from region to region, says Blatner, who is also a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, but among her favorites are:
- Apricots. Although many people enjoy dried apricots, they are also delicious served fresh, especially when chopped in a salad.
- Asparagus. When visiting a grocery store in the spring, you’ll likely see displays of asparagus. For a delicious treat, fire up your grill: Spray asparagus spears with a little oil and sprinkle with salt, then grill them over a hot fire for about 5 minutes. Grilled asparagus should be brown in spots, but not charred.
- Artichokes. “I’m biased about this choice because I love artichokes,” Blatner says. “They are one of the highest antioxidant vegetables around. Some people are intimidated by them, but they have no reason to be.” To prepare an artichoke, tear off the outside leaves. Cut off the stems tips of the leaves and steam them in the microwave; serve drizzled with low-fat Italian dressing. Microwaving time depends on the amount. A large artichoke can take about 7 minutes, a small one only about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Broccoli. Broccoli is always a good choice because it’s loaded with antioxidants and is high in fiber. You can serve broccoli steamed or sautéed, or try it raw in salads or for a crunchy snack.
- Chives. Chives are one of the many seasonal herbs that are especially good in the spring.
- Fennel. Fennel is available in early spring and also in summer and fall. It has a slight licorice flavor and adds a unique taste and crunch to salads.
- Greens. Spring greens include Swiss chard, mustard greens, and collard greens. “Toss them in a salad for a wonderful springtime treat,” Blatner says. Don’t hide their natural flavors under a heavy dressing. Instead, mix a splash of lemon juice with a high-quality olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.
- Mango. “One of my favorite spring desserts is fresh strawberries topped with a mango puree,” Blatner says. “It’s a neat way to incorporate spring food in your diet — fruit on fruit.”
- Oranges. Oranges are a winter fruit, but they carry over into spring.
- Spinach. Try spinach in place of lettuce in sandwiches, on burgers or in salads, or sauté spinach to serve as a side dish or in pasta.
- Strawberries. Strawberries are available through early summer, but may be sweetest in spring.
Seasonal Food: Get as Much as You Can
Spring weather can make it pleasant to grill outdoors, one of the healthiest ways to prepare food. Grill leaner cuts of lamb with asparagus for a tasty springtime dinner.
For a springtime breakfast idea, skip the heavy oatmeal and opt for a bowl of muesli soaked in low-fat milk and topped with fresh fruit. “This will be more filling than a cold cereal because foods with high water content fill you up more,” Blatner says.
No matter what time of year, you can incorporate lots of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet. Nutritionists recommend at least five servings each day, and spring’s bounty makes reaching this goal a snap. Fruits and vegetables that are nutritious and available year-round include potatoes, carrots, celery, bananas, and peppers, but you may want to shift your focus to seasonal foods when possible for the freshest taste.