If there’s any time of year when it’s easy to find healthy and delicious recipes for weight loss, it’s the spring and summer. Fruits and vegetables are coming into season and are full of flavor. There’s also a greater variety of fresh produce available in grocery stores and markets. One of the best ways to score delicious goodies is to hit the local farmers market. In addition to fresher products, you know that your purchases support the local farmers in your community.
The same way that there are tricks to successfully navigating your local grocery store, there are strategies that you can use to make your trip to the farmers market more productive. Here are 11 tips to make navigating your farmers market a fun and fruitful experience.
- Bring cash and bags. Some vendors may not accept credit cards, so it’s important to carry cash on you. It can also be helpful to have small bills instead of larger ones, so that there aren’t issues with getting change. In addition, there may not be bags available to carry your purchases. Bring some reusable ones with you so you don’t have to worry about juggling produce as you shop.
- Go early or go late. There are two schools of thought on this one. Some people believe that it’s better to get there earlier, before it gets crowded and/or the high value products sell out. It can also be better to get things that need to be refrigerated (think eggs, cheese or meat) before they’ve been sitting out all day. Other people swear by getting there later in the day. Some farmers may start offering discounts so that they don’t have to pack up and bring leftovers back to the farm.
- Make a loop first. Before you dive in and start buying everything that looks good, make a quick loop around the market to get an idea of what is available. Make a few mental notes of which booths you’d like to go back to. Also note if any of the booths have payment requirements, like “cash only” or “no large bills.” This helps you plan out what you’ll purchase before you blow your budget (or your cash) on the first few tables.
- Plan to spend some time. The best part of going to a farmers market is spending a little time wandering through and taking your time. A large market can easily take an hour or two, if you take the time to check out each of the vendors and what they offer. It also gives you time to speak with the farmers and possibly even sample some of the produce.
- Plan recipes. Take a few minutes to plan out a couple of recipes that you want to make for the week, and know what ingredients you’ll need. That way, you can keep a specific eye out for those key veggies. Looking for some ideas? Try these farm-fresh, Lean and Green recipes that are not only healthy, but also delicious.
- Spinach, Tomato and Turkey Pizza: In the mood for pizza? Try this delicious low-carb recipe that features a cauliflower crust and lots of fresh veggies on top.
- Veggie Quiche: This recipe is great for both breakfast and dinner. It contains lots of iron-rich spinach and sautéed mushrooms and peppers with indulgent mozzarella cheese.
- Bruschetta Eggplant with Tofu: Craving Italian? Give this rich eggplant recipe a try. It contains lots of veggies, like eggplant and tomato, with roasted tofu for extra protein.
- Lemon Scallion Chicken Skewers/Vegetable Kabobs: These grill-friendly skewers are family friendly, easy to prepare and perfect for a summer night. They are so simple to customize, too—just pick out what looks good and adjust your cooking time if needed (i.e.: less time for fragile or soft veggies, and longer time for the more hearty ones).
- Don’t have a plan. On the other hand, it can also be nice to go without a plan and simply explore what the market has to offer. Wander around and see what catches your eye. If you find something interesting, you can always bring it home and look for a few recipes. You may find a new favorite vegetable or family recipe!
- Know what’s in season. Farmers markets won’t sell the same variety of produce that you find at a grocery store. They usually only have what is in season and ripe at that time. Some products, like mangos, are never found at farmers markets, simply because they aren’t grown here. Check out this guide for a listing of harvest calendars based on your region.
- Bring ice packs for meat/cheese. If you’re planning on buying anything that requires refrigeration, make sure to bring an ice pack and cooler bag. Many farmers markets aren’t limited to just fruits and vegetables, and have vendors that sell fresh meats, cheeses, milk or eggs. Some even sell processed foods, such as guacamole, hummus or other dips, that require refrigeration.
- Talk to your farmers. When in doubt, chat up the farmers at their stands. They are a wonderful source of information about storage, cooking ideas and flavors. They can make suggestions about other products you may like, or introduce you to new fruits/vegetables that you may not have tried otherwise. It’s also a great way to meet other members of your community and potentially learn about events they are hosting, or services they offer. Some farms offer the opportunity for CSA boxes, a weekly delivery service for seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- Be aware of etiquette. It’s important to realize that many markets don’t allow you to bring your pets (service animals excluded) due to health and safety reasons. Some allow for sampling the produce; others don’t. Also, most markets discourage bargaining with the vendors. To make sure you get a good price, take a few minutes for a quick stroll before buying anything.
- Check in with the information booth. If you have any questions, check in with the information booth at the entrance. The information booth can also inform you of other services that the market offers. For example, there may be cooking demonstrations, or a place to store your purchases while you continue to shop.
If you’ve never been to your farmers market, try to take advantage of this wonderful community event! It’s a great way for families to get out into their community and connect around healthy food.