Every year, I get excited by the return of fresh leafy produce at my local market, and every year, I struggle to find ways to choose things I know I’ll use and enjoy. Farmer’s market shopping, especially in early spring when the season is just getting started, can be difficult to plan for, which can make it intimidating and a source of food waste. There are some tricks, though, that can help you use meal planning and nutrition goals to make the most of what’s available.
Pay Attention to Local Seasonal Calendars
Part of what makes planning around farmer’s market shopping tricky is not always knowing ahead of time what will be available. Sure, you can often supplement what you can’t find from your usual grocery store, but it’s so appealing to eat from the local spring bounty on its own! Most areas have local seasonality calendars from farmer’s markets or other organizations, and many local CSAs will have an up-to-date calendar of what’s available right now in their service area based on the way the season has gone (which might not be reflected in standard calendars, which usually work on averages for your growing zone). Both options can be great tools for helping you get an idea of what you can expect to find at your market this week.
Plan According to Your Goals
In conjunction with those calendars, you can start shopping with a plan so you’re not simply choosing produce that appeals when you see it. Knowing roughly what will be available gives you the option to make a meal plan that uses ingredients you expect to find, and you can supplement from the off-seasonal selections in a larger grocery store if necessary.
Alternatively, you can choose your produce and build your meal plan around it afterward. Those crisp spears of asparagus, fresh red berries, or soft leafy lettuces can be so tempting, but one way or the other you need to find out how to use them. If you’d rather browse the market and build your week around what you find than build your week and go seeking particular items, scheduling your meal planning time between your market trip and your regular grocery store shopping can be a great way to take advantage of lovely seasonal surprises you might not have been able to fit in otherwise.
Talk to Your Vendors and Take Advantage of Non-Perishables
This is a big one! You might have one meal in mind for those baby radishes, but they’re often sold in bunches that can accommodate more than one recipe, especially if you’re only feeding one or two people. Your vendors probably have some great ideas for using both produce and non-perishables like sauces and seasonings. Some might even have recipe cards available for you to take home and use!
The off-season vendors with their bright jars and tins might not seem as exciting with all the new freshness arriving, but preserves, spices, and other less-perishable items can help fill out your plans and make use of everything you’ve found, especially when used in conjunction with advice from your vendors.