The seasonality of food is increasingly a concern for many people when making decisions about what exactly they should purchase. We’re being told of the benefits of buying seasonally by groups as varied as governments, charities, and celebrity chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Gordon Ramsay – who has even gone so far as to call for a ban on foods which are out of season.
Increasing your intake of a wide variety of seasonal vegetables can be good for your health and the environment, especially if it accompanies a corresponding drop in your meat and dairy consumption.
This time of year is interesting in terms of the variety of food, as many winter vegetables are at the end of their season, and many new spring vegetables and herbs are beginning to become available. We try to make the best use of this diversity of delicious vegetables when planning meals for our weight loss diet plans.
Seasonal Vegetables in March
March has many vegetables which are in season in the UK. Parsnips, carrots, leeks, swedes and onions are all currently in season, making this time of the year ideal for stews and soups. Cauliflower is also available in March and can be a great choice, with a number of interesting new recipes helping to reinvigorate this old stalwart.
Curly kale can be a great accompaniment to a meal, as can savoy and spring green cabbage. All three are very good for you, particularly as sources of vitamin C. Purple sprouting broccoli is tasty too, and provides similar health benefits.
For something a little different to greens and root vegetables, try some bell peppers. These are delicious raw or grilled, and can be enjoyed as the main part of a meal or as part of a sauce or salad. March is one of the months when these peppers are at their best in the UK, making them an excellent spring ingredient.
Lastly, add that bit of extra flavour to your meals with some seasonal herbs. Chives are at their best currently, as are coriander, dill, curly parsley and sorrel.
Curly Kale – Photograph by Nick Saltmarsh
Spring Ingredients for April
Several of these vegetables are still in season in April. Some of the more wintery root vegetables finish their seasons this month, including parsnips and swedes. Celeriac can be a good alternative to these and is fully in season in April. It is lower in starch, with a distinct celery taste, but otherwise is very similar to other root vegetables, especially when it comes to its culinary uses. As well as this, it is a good source of potassium and phosphorus. Celeriac is growing in popularity, meaning that there are some good recipes out there.
It’s likely you are going to start having a few lighter meals, such as salads, as the summer looms ever closer. Try adding a bit of bite with some watercress, which is properly in season by April. Spinach is also at its best in April and is an especially versatile green which can used in a number of different types of meal.
The herb sorrel is also a good choice at this time of year. It’s mainly used to flavour all sorts of soups and sauces, but younger leaves can also be used in salads.
Celeriac – Photograph by Skånska Matupplevelser
The Benefits of Seasonal Ingredients
Seasonality can be a good way to reduce your carbon footprint, but it’s important to do your research. Currently, there are no strict standards on the sale and marketing of seasonal foods, which means that they will not necessarily provide benefits to the environment when substituted for out-of-season foods. These foods do often have a more of a positive impact on the environment, but if you want to be sure then look into your choices.
That said, more seasonal foods have additional benefits. They often taste better than their out of season counterparts and have a higher nutritional content, as they are picked when they are naturally at their best.
Eating seasonally is also a good way to narrow down your food selection from the dizzying array of choice now on offer. It can also be a good opportunity to broaden your horizons by trying some new foods which you may otherwise not have considered using in your recipes.
Sustain provides some good resources on seasonal vegetables, which explore the issues and benefits of using seasonal ingredients in more detail. For those interested in reading around the issues in more detail, take a look at this 2009 PDF report from the Food Ethics Council, or this report by the New Economics Foundation.
Do you know any good local producers? Have we forgotten to include any of your seasonal favourites? Let us know in the comments below.