Making quick, healthy meals is a snap with fresh seasonal produce. North Carolina opens up a whole new range of ingredients in the fall to include in your healthy meal plans. NC is one of the nation’s premier farming regions, and the fall harvest brings a bounty of delicious, fresh food to stores and farmers markets all around the Triangle area.
Visiting the farmers’ market is a great way to enjoy the cool autumn air. You get a chance to meet your farmer, stretch your legs, see the sights, and discover new produce that fits wonderfully into a healthy meal plan.
Here are a few of the top veggies and fruits in season from September through November that add great flavors to quick healthy meals! If you need more ideas on selecting great fall produce, schedule a consultation with a Registered Dietitian to give you some tips and recommendations on how to get the most out of fresh produce.
Bring on the Greens!
Dark, leafy vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and fit perfectly into healthy meal plans, and fall is the best time of year to stock up on these delicious, filling vegetables.
Here are two leafy greens you can enjoy throughout the season:
Mustard greens are a zesty, peppery green that you can sauté, braise, steam, or boil. This Southern classic is a favorite in local cuisine, and with good reason, as they are both healthy and tasty.
What to look for: Mustard greens should be a bright green color, and smaller greens are the most tender. Avoid mustard greens that are yellowed or wilted.
Storage: Keep unwashed mustard greens in the crisper for up to 1 week. Wash thoroughly before cooking.
Spinach is good in everything from delicious salads to quick, healthy meals like quiche or spinach pie. There are two types of spinach: curly-leafed spinach and flat-leafed spinach. Baby spinach is the flat-leaf variety that is harvested when the spinach is very young and tender.
What to look for: Spinach should be a dark, rich green color. Avoid spinach that is slimy or that has spots of brown or dark green-black.
Storage: Store unwashed spinach in a plastic bag or box in the fridge with a paper towel wrapped around the leaves to soak up the extra moisture. Use within a few days for best results.
Other North Carolina Fall Favorites
Although greens are great, healthy meal plans are easiest to stick with when you embrace variety and many different fruits, vegetables, and berries to satisfy your palate.
Here are a few other awesome ingredients that are in season this fall:
- Raspberries: Raspberries are packed with antioxidants and flavor. These little dainties are both good for you and taste great—especially when you’re craving something tangy-sweet. Try adding fresh or frozen raspberries to smoothies, as toppings for desserts, or just grab a handful for a healthy, delicious snack that will give you an energy boost!
- Pears: Pears are an often-underappreciated fruit, but they’re great for stewing or slicing up for a snack or a healthy side dish with your meal. Look for pears that are firm but not rock-hard; these fruits will last longer and will have optimum sweetness and texture.
- Snow peas: If you’re a fan of stir-fry or crunchy, sweet vegetable snacks, snow peas are a great choice for your healthy meal plan. Look for snow peas that are bright green for the most snap and best taste. You can steam, sauté or chop them up to top your salad.
- Mushrooms: White button mushrooms, Portobello mushrooms, and baby Bellas are a good meat alternative. They’re ideal when you’re looking for something hearty and chewy to add to quick healthy meals, and they’re rich in vitamin D and many other nutrients. Select mushrooms that are firm without discolored patches, and store them in a paper bag in the fridge.
Quick Healthy Meal Ideas Starring Fall Produce
If you’re stumped for healthy meal plans that use delicious autumn vegetables, there are plenty of great ways to take advantage of North Carolina’s finest fall produce.
Kale is currently all the rage because it’s tasty, packed with vitamins and minerals, and is a filling vegetable with a satisfying crunch. Here are a few tips on preparing raw kale for salads or other dishes.
- Remove the kale’s ribs: Kale leaves have thick, fibrous ribs that are hard to chew and digest. To make the best raw kale salad, strip the leafy matter off the ribs and compost or toss the thick stems.
- Chop or rip the kale leaves: To make your kale easy to eat, chop or rip it into bite-sized pieces.
- Massage your kale: If you plan to make a raw kale dish, it’s a good idea to sprinkle it with just a little salt and then massage the leaves until they’re dark green and aromatic. To do this, simply grab a handful of kale and gently squeeze then release it. This releases the vegetable flavors and makes it easier to chew.
Healthy Pumpkin Soup
Pumpkins aren’t just for carving and pies. Here’s a hearty and healthy soup to try while pumpkins are in season!
- 1 small pie pumpkin, roasted and pureed
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup milk
- ¾ cup water
- pepper and salt to taste
- Cut the pumpkin in half and remove the stringy pulp and seeds. Save the seeds if desired and roast them to make healthy snacks. Place the halved pumpkin in a glass dish, cover with foil, and roast for about 90 minutes at 375 degrees, or until pumpkin is tender and easily pierced with a fork.
- Cut the roasted pumpkin into chunks and puree in a food processor.
- Heat ¼ cup of water and add the onion and cook until tender, about 3 minutes.
- Add ½ cup water, pumpkin, stock, and spices and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer soup for 5-7 minutes.
- Stir in milk and heat until soup is hot.
- Garnish with green onion, fresh basil, or parsley if desired. Serve either hot or cold.
This year, don’t miss out on all the benefits fall has to offer for use in your healthy meal plans. Consult with a Registered Dietitian and find out how to make the most of this bountiful season.