Written by contributor Stephanie Langford of Keeper of the Home.

My goal this year is to go through this winter without eating a single fresh tomato.

Outrageous, right? A health blogger who doesn”t value fresh food, raw vegetables, valuable nutrients?

Actually, I do completely value those things, and yet I also believe that there is a certain seasonality, an ebb and flow, to the way that vegetables and fruit are grown and I believe that the way we eat throughout the seasons should reflect this natural cycle.

If you”re still wondering whether our family eats vegetables of any quality or quantity during the winter, the answer is a resounding “yes”, but it might look different than the conventional view of nutritious eating. We do eat tomatoes, but they”ve been canned (straight from our garden or local produce market), dehydrated or frozen. We also eat dehydrated vegetables like green beans and zucchini, frozen corn and peas, stored root vegetables like carrots and beets and potatoes, frozen summer fruit, canned fruit preserves, fresh dark leafy greens and so much more.

Why Eat Seasonally?

  • Food that doesn”t require transportation means less fuel being consumed, less vehicle exhaust, less pollution.
  • Produce that hasn”t had to spend days or weeks in transit doesn”t have nearly the same need for toxic sprays or other nasty treatments that are intended to preserve the “freshness” of the food.
  • Eating locally and seasonally helps to support local growers and the local economy. Farmers need to sell their produce when it”s ripe in August, and can”t hold on to it until we want to buy it in December or February.
  • It”s far cheaper to eat the foods that are already in abundance, rather than those fruits and vegetables that have a premium price on their head to cover their travel and accommodations. Seasonal foods are almost always noticeably cheaper than those that are out of season.
  • It simply tastes better. Food that is at its peak of ripeness, picked or harvested recently, is infinitely more tasty than food that was selected long before it was ripe.
  • You”ll get more bang for your buck nutritionally. Vegetables and fruits that are allowed to ripen longer before harvest and make it to the market and then to your kitchen in a short period of time retain significantly more nutrients than those that are harvested before their prime.

What You Can Do Now to Eat More Seasonally This Winter

Some of you may be thinking, “gee, how nice to learn about eating seasonally, but why mention it now as the summer seasons draws to a close?” Are there any ways that we can still make seasonal eating a reality when we start this late in the season?

This post isn”t meant to tempt or frustrate you. There are legitimately possible and even easy methods for incorporating more seasonal eats into your fall and winter repertoire, regardless of whether you”ve been standing over a boiling canning pot this summer or not.

Preserve what remains.

There is still time for end-of-season produce, such as tomatoes, peaches, pears, green beans, basil (pesto!), apples, , etc. depending on where you live. Find plenty of ideas, recipes and tutorials for preserving foods on my site, as well as on Simple Bites.

Stock up now on what stores well.

Many vegetables don”t require actual preserving, per se, but simply cool storage. While you may not be able to store them for an entire season without a root cellar or the like, you can likely store them for at least a couple of months. Potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, garlic, winter squash, apples and pears are all great options for cold weather storage.

Even without a proper root cellar, it”s not that difficult to store winter food for at least several months, if not longer. Consider using the garage, an unheated room in your basement or somewhere in the house that is always cool, or a backyard shed. Another option is to dig a simple pit cellar or use something like a garbage can “root cellar” in the ground.

With food packed into wooden crates or even rubber containers or garbage cans with plastic holes for breathability, many foods can be stored in sand, layers of newspaper, straw, etc. I do this every year with my year”s worth of garden garlic and it makes it all the way until April or May when I have to bring the remainder into the fridge. I”ve done it with winter squash for 3-4 months (even in a closet that was only semi-cool). Try it on a small scale this year and with confidence that it is possible, you can add more food next year.

My year's worth of garden garlic, stored in a bin in the garage.

Educate yourself on what is seasonally available where you live.

Do some research and learn what vegeatbles and/or fruits will be seasonal in your location throughout the fall, winter and early spring.

The EatWellGuide has seasonal food guides for most US states and Canadian provinces.

Scout out places to shop.

My local farmer”s market shuts down by mid-October, but in some places they keep going later into the fall or even through-out the winter, so do some research to find out what is available where you live.

Also, see what offerings can be had at produce markets or even grocery stores. I have a favorite produce market that definitely does import its fair share during the winter, but they also grow in small-scale greenhouses and provide things like root vegetables and leafy greens well into the winter. Knowing that, I”m more likley to shop there and search out what is still local and seasonal.

Determine now that you won”t be swayed by what isn”t in season.

For me, knowing that I won”t be buying fresh tomatoes or asparagus or melons or tree fruit (other than things that store well like apples and pears) come winter helps to make it easier to say no when the opportunity arises.

Helpful Hints for Eating Seasonally During the Cold Months

Learn to use recipes that work with what”s available.

Make your menu plans based on what you have in storage or know is available, rather than what simply sounds good. Start your brainstorming with a list of what is already available and use that as your recipe inspiration.

Fall and winter is a time for warming foods, like soups and stews, roasted meat and veggie dishes, slow-cooked meals. Simple fare that involves storage vegetables, like carrots, onions, potatoes, and squash. Add cooked kale to a soup, or make a wilted spinach salad with nuts and cheese. Treat yourself to apple crumbles and cranberry bread. Our body naturally transitions to craving more warming and comforting foods, and this pairs perfectly with the availability of winter foods.

And Remember…

None of us do this perfectly. Take the opportunity this year to begin to shift towards seasonal eating during the leaner, cooler months. It will slowly become easier with practice, and you may be ready to put more effort into preparation for the following year as you begin to realize how simple and even enjoyable it really can be.

After all of this, you better believe that come next July I will be salivating for fresh tomatoes. cucumbers. melons. zucchini. peaches. All the goodness that the summer bounty holds.

Until then, I”ll wait patiently as I savor the flavors of cool-weather eats.

Do you try to eat according to what is seasonally available? How do you prepare for seasonal eating? Share your best tips with us!

All photos by Stephanie Langford