This post is part of my Types of Meal Planning series. There are four main approaches you can take to meal planning, and each is designed to suit households with different time constraints, and requirements.
As I write this, it’s late August. Here in the UK, the farmers have started their ploughing, families are anxiously getting ready to go back to school and the summer sun is fading fast. Autumn is just around the corner.
My orchard is full of plums, damsons, elderberries and apples. But in my fridge, there are strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Summer remains in the kitchen – and on my plate – until the red berries run out and we search for something more comforting and warming.
Sure, I could go to the supermarket for a punnet of strawberries or raspberries in winter. But they wouldn’t be British and they definitely wouldn’t taste the same. And you know what, I wouldn’t want them either, because that’s not what nature wants us to eat.
Eating seasonally has to be the most rewarding way to experience food. Simply put, food just doesn’t taste the same at the wrong time of year and it doesn’t fill that particular yearning we have for food to satisfy. So it’s a wonderful thing to live in a country with such a variety of produce, and in a county with such amazing farms, farm shops and food enthusiasts. That said, our supermarkets are so good at providing us with any product we like at any time of the year that we have to be careful with our shopping to ensure we’re only getting the very best, the very local and the very seasonal.
Cooking by the Seasons
When I come to do my meal planning, one of the first things I consider is what’s in season. I rely on the ever-changing seasonal produce to ensure that my menus are always new and exciting and that we get a wide variety of foods in our diets. So, while I might still cook a risotto year round, in spring it’s flavoured with new peas and baby broad beans, while in autumn it’s butternut squash and wild mushrooms – both with lashings of garlic and parmesan, of course.
Making a Seasonal Menu
Ready to try?
The next time you’re in the shops, pay attention to what is fresh in store. Is it broad beans and peas? or pumpkins and squash? Keep a list at home of what you see around you in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, and then write a list of your favourite meals that use those ingredients.
You’ll be eating seasonally in no time.
Why you should give it a go
If you’re not already using the best your country has to offer, here’s 10 reasons why you should give Seasonal Menus a go:
Studies have shown that eating produce that’s in season is actually better for you. That’s right, eating what’s in our fields and gardens at the moment contains more nutrients than food that is forced at the wrong time of year PLUS eating straight from the garden or farm (not freezing in between) preserves even more of the yummy goodness!
Eating locally supports local farmers and pumps more money back in to agriculture. It creates local jobs and helps keep farms and soils healthy. Plus, keeping our farms alive means our green spaces are preserved. Great!
If you’re conscious about your carbon footprint (which we all should be) then cutting down on food miles should definitely appeal to you. Why should we put food on an aeroplane to get to our plates when we can simply venture out into the countryside and save the fuel?
It tastes better! There’s just something about a sweet, juicy tomato in July that cannot be matched by the same in winter. Tomatoes need sunshine, not hothouse lamps and ripening gas.
It creates less waste! Produce tends to spoil much quicker if it is purchased out of season; have you ever bought raspberries from the supermarket only to find they’re soft and squishy before you’ve even started them? That means we’re throwing away food after we’ve already paid for it! Furthermore, supermarkets and suppliers toss fewer products when they’re grown in season. Meal Planning aims to cut down on waste, not create it, so this is a big reason for me.
The food industry in the UK is a huge draw for tourists. With food festivals, pick your own, cookery courses, farmers’ markets and live shows, our economy gets a huge boost from food-themed tourism.
Just last month there was a scandal involving a major supermarket and their meat products which came from abroad. They were found to be infected with a very nasty bug and millions of consumers were affected. But if you bought your meat from your local farm then you’d steer clear of any damage from it and could enjoy your meal safe in the knowledge that your food is 100% organic and safe.
It’s cheaper! To give you an example, I live in an area known for its asparagus. If we buy a bunch in March /April then it’s as much as £5 a bunch but, come June, it’s down to £2. Asparagus overload! Buying from a crop at its peak is significantly cheaper than buying out of season and is a very useful trick if you’re shopping on a budget – as long as you don’t mind asparagus for a few weeks 😉 Which brings me to:
Just when you’ve had enough of one vegetable (no more asparagus, please!), nature changes the season – and the produce along with it. Suddenly there’s a whole host of new, fresh ingredients to try; dinnertime couldn’t be more exciting. And finally:
Mother nature always seems to know exactly what type of food we’re craving at any one time. Hot and bothered in August? Just look for the plentiful supply of water-rich, cooling treats. Cold and miserable in November? Why not dip into nature’s bounty of root vegetables, perfect for hearty-and-warming soups and stews?
Well played, mother nature, well played.
Want to learn some other great ways to meal plan?
Eating SEASONALLY is only one of the angles you can use to get ahead. Here are some other suggestions:
Rotational Menu – rotating meals based on how much time you have to cook and prepare. For example, quick and easy, low and slow, freezer meals.
Capsule Pantry – kind of like a capsule wardrobe, you pick a small number of ingredients and have a selection of different meal combinations that you can make from them.
Theme Nights – choosing a meal every night based on a cuisine (curry night), cooking style (stir-fry night) or ingredient (pasta night).
Are you a seasonal cook? Drop me a line in the comments below.