It’s that time of year again: the leaves are changing color, sweaters are coming out of storage, and we are being surrounded by all things pumpkin spice. At Culina Health, we love fall, not only for the vibrant foliage and cozy fashions, but also for the delicious and healthy seasonal foods that become available. In fact, we believe that understanding and embracing seasonal eating can be a game-changer when it comes to your health. Read on for the benefits of eating what’s fresh and some of our favorite fall foods (including a healthy pumpkin spice latte).
What is seasonal eating?
If you’re like most Americans, you probably buy your groceries from a large store and expect that most fruits and vegetables will be available no matter the time of year. But seasonal eating, in essence, means aligning your diet with the natural rhythm of the seasons. Instead of buying, preparing, and consuming the same produce year-round, seasonal eaters choose to eat food that’s locally grown and harvested at peak freshness.
Here’s a breakdown of the key aspects of seasonal eating:
- Buying – opt for fruits and vegetables that are currently in season — for example, tomatoes in the summer and apples in the fall. These are more likely to be locally sourced and less likely to be transported long distances, reducing your carbon footprint. Even better, you’ll be eating the foods when they are at their absolute best in terms of taste, texture, and freshness.
- Preparing – you don’t have to learn all new recipes in order to embrace seasonal eating — though if cooking is something you enjoy, you can certainly use the changing of the seasons as an excuse to experiment! But if you already have some tried-and-true family favorites, simply incorporate seasonal ingredients to enjoy the full flavor and nutritional benefits they offer.
- Eating – savor the taste of the changing seasons, and embrace the specific time and place represented by each bite. Enjoy the variety that each new food brings to your plate.
Why eat seasonal food?
First and foremost, seasonal eating is fun. There’s a reason we don’t leave holiday decorations up all year; they would lose all novelty and excitement. Eating seasonally allows you to fully appreciate certain fruits and vegetables while they’re around, and look forward to different ones as the months go by. It’s a culinary adventure that keeps your meals exciting and fresh, and on a human level, it encourages us to mark the passing of time in a meaningful way.
Another benefit to seasonal eating is that it encourages you to explore produce you might not be familiar with, expanding your palate and your cooking skills, as well as diversifying your nutritional intake. For example, if you always eat asparagus with your steak regardless of the month, you might be missing out on another delicious vegetable that you would like as much or more. Increasing the diversity of your diet also helps to ensure you are consuming a wide range of nutrients (including a variety of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals).
In addition, when you eat what’s in season, you’re more likely to consume locally grown produce at its peak freshness. This reduces food waste and shrinks your carbon footprint—a win-win. Foods at peak freshness also typically contain higher amounts of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, compared to produce that has spent a lot of time in transit and sitting on the grocery shelves. Your local farmer’s market can be a great source for organic seasonal fruits and vegetables. Farmer’s markets often accept SNAP benefits, making healthy and sustainable food accessible.
Fall seasonal foods to try
If you follow Culina Health co-founder and CEO Vanessa Rissetto, you know she makes no secret of her love for healthy autumn recipes. She recently joined former Buffalo Bills player Eric Wood on his podcast “What’s Next” to discuss all things food and nutrition, and shared some of her favorite treats for the fall:
- Roasted Delicata Squash – this sweet, nutty, and fiber-rich vegetable is generally in season September through November, and makes a great side dish for lunch or dinner. For an easy and delicious delicata squash recipe, cut it into half moons, drizzle some olive oil, and add salt and red pepper flakes before roasting 10-15 minutes per side at 425 degrees (hint: look for a golden brown color and crispy outer texture).
- Pumpkin Chili – those in search of fall dinner ideas need to look no further than this favorite. Rissetto keeps it simple but delicious with the addition of canned pumpkin for fiber and hearty autumn flavor.
- Apple Pie (Without the Pie) – for a fun and easy fall dessert, Rissetto combines cut up Granny Smith Apples, pine nuts, and cinnamon in the oven, for a healthy spin on traditional apple pie.
- Citrus – citrus fruits like oranges, clementines, grapefruit, and kumquats start coming into season in the fall and offer another simple, healthy, and delicious seasonal snack or dessert option. Citrus can also be incorporated into salads or savory dishes to bring a burst of vitamin C and tart flavor to fall meals.
Prefer your fall flavors to be caffeinated? Try this healthy pumpkin spice latte coffee
If you’re a fan of seasonal coffee drinks like the Pumpkin Spice Latte, you are not alone! Watch Culina Health Registered Dietitian Vivian Schemper order a healthier version of this beloved fall drink from the Starbucks drive-through:
Want to make a homemade pumpkin spice latte? Look for pumpkin spice syrup at your local grocery store or make your own by simmering pumpkin puree, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, and brown sugar or maple syrup with a little bit of water. Just remember to follow Vivian’s advice and limit the amount of syrup in your coffee to a tablespoon or less. It will still be plenty sweet and flavorful, and even more satiating with the addition of full-fat or 2% milk.
Eat seasonally without giving up year-round favorites by heading to the freezer
Don’t forget to explore the frozen food section for year-round favorites like peas, kale, blueberries, and other produce preserved at its peak of ripeness. We’ve all done the walk of shame from our fridge to our trash can with a bag of forgotten kale or moldy berries. Eating frozen vegetables and fruits not only cuts down on waste but also allows you to enjoy your preferred foods even when they are out of season. You can even save money by purchasing seasonal organic produce from your local farmer’s market and freezing it yourself while it’s fresh.
Bonus fall recipe: heart-healthy pumpkin oatmeal
In the spirit of embracing the fall season and making the most of fresh produce, we’re excited to share this delicious and nutritious recipe for pumpkin protein oatmeal with sautéed cinnamon apples. This dish not only captures the essence of autumn but also offers a nutritious meal that’s rich in fiber, whole grains, fruits, veggies, protein, and healthy fats. It’s not just tasty; it’s good for your heart and will keep you feeling full, satisfied, and energized.
Pumpkin protein oatmeal with sautéed cinnamon apples
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 medium-sized apple
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp maple syrup (omit if insulin resistant)
- 1 cup old fashioned oats
- 2 tbsp chia seeds
- 1/4 cup pumpkin purée
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1.5 cup almond milk
- slivered almonds
- chopped walnuts
- 1 tbsp almond butter
- 2 tbsp Greek yogurt
- For the apples, add coconut oil to small skillet over medium heat. Chop the apple into a medium dice. Add to pan. Let cook until tender, about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cinnamon and maple syrup, stir, and let cook for another 2 minutes.
- To make the oatmeal, combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Divide the oatmeal into two bowls, and top with the sautéed apples.
Whether you’re a seasoned seasonal eater or a novice, give this pumpkin oatmeal recipe a try and savor the taste of autumn while nourishing your body with the goodness of in-season produce. Happy cooking!
Work with a virtual dietitian nutritionist
At Culina Health, our team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are dedicated to helping you achieve your nutrition and overall health goals through virtual, telehealth sessions. Whether you have a specific health condition, particular dietary needs or preferences, or simply want to make the most of seasonal eating, our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are here to support you.
One-on-one virtual nutrition care sessions with Culina Health Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are covered under most health insurance plans. During sessions, your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist will help you understand how food affects your body, and work with you to create a personalized plan to meet your health goals, including access to healthy and delicious seasonal recipes.
Fall is the perfect time to embrace the benefits of seasonal eating and optimize your health. You can enhance your health and well-being while enjoying the delights of autumn by savoring the flavors of the season, diversifying your nutritional intake, minimizing waste, and exploring new culinary horizons. We’re here to support you every step of the way, so let’s embark on this seasonal journey together!