What Is Seasonal Eating?

Produce in cardboard tray

One of my favourite things about the cooler weather is the beginning of stew season. I am a total sucker for curling up in a large fluffy blanket with a warm bowl of soup or stew and watching the snow come down. I’m serious. It’s like the second that fall weather comes around I am no longer craving salads and fruity snacks, but warm soups and other comfort foods. Then when summer comes around, I’m back on for the salads!

Apparently it’s pretty common for people to notice these weather-timed cravings. It’s called “Seasonal Eating” and it’s pretty cool. Seasonal Eating centres on the idea that our bodies crave certain foods in the weather to help provide us with what we need to get through those seasons and keep us at our healthiest.

In the summer when the weather is hot, we spend more time outdoors doing a wide variety of activities. The body may crave foods to help cool and hydrate our bodies while also giving us a hit of sugar to keep us moving through the sunshine. Because the sun is up for longer periods of time, we also have improved moods and more access to natural vitamin D and C. Crops that ripen and are plentiful in the summer months include watermelon, strawberries, tomatoes, okra, cantaloupe, corn and cucumbers. All very hydrating foods high in natural sugars!

In Winter, our body temperatures drop and we burn lots of energy through shivering to keep ourselves warm. So, the body craves foods that warm us from the inside out and provide us with starches and carbohydrates to keep those energy levels up. The decrease in sunlight also often affects moods, and has our brains wanting more serotonin, which can also be found in carb heavy foods. Food crops that are ready for harvest in fall and winter months include most root vegetables, onions, pears, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, squash, celery, oranges, limes and apples.

Take a second and read that list of winter crops one more time. Isn’t is so neat that the foods that naturally ripen around this time of year perfectly suit our need for more vitamin C (look at all those citrus fruits!), iron, starch, and fibre and pectin (looking at you, apples!) to help us digest the bulkier warmer foods we often gravitate towards?

Back before large grocery store chains that had all sorts of food available to them year-round, people grew their own food and made meals out of whatever was in season. These days, not everyone has the time or knowledge to plant seasonal crops for their families. Another benefit of looking at eating seasonal foods is that you can continue to shop local. It used to seem crazy to me that farmer’s markets were open so late in the year, but that was only because I associated them with fruits and summer season vegetables. Some farmers may have crops of squash, pumpkin and root vegetables that are ready for their debut in our meals! Not only are you continuing to support small farm operations; being able to shop locally for these seasonal foods is actually more nutritionally beneficial for us. If we shop through our local farmers the chances of our food tasting fresher and being ripe are higher. Local foods will also have spent less time in storage (which can decrease the nutritional value in food.) When foods are shipped from other places in the world, it also creates a massive carbon output because these foods are being driven, flown or shipped in. It’s more environmentally friendly to shop local because the produce has less of a distance to travel.

For example, the strawberries you might get at a Pick-Your-Own patch in the summer are always amazing. You’re not often disappointed by those teeny strawberries because they’re fresh, juicy and full of flavour. But have you ever been super excited to grab a container of strawberries in the dead of winter, only to find that every container has at least one mouldy strawberry or that they’re all starting to look past their prime? Strawberries don’t naturally grow every month of the year. That means that grocery stores have to ship them in from warmer climates. Depending on where they come from, that’s a pretty long journey. Strawberries contain Vitamin C, which can actually start to deplete the longer that a berry is in storage. The longer the time between the strawberry being picked from a field and then being consumed by you, the faster it will ripen and pass its prime taste and nutritional levels! Not only are you getting a less-than-tasty strawberry, it’s hard on the environment and you’re not getting its full nutritional benefit!

Healthy Alternatives to Winter Comfort Foods

Seasonal foods can also be an alternative to gorging yourself on winter comfort foods. In winter months we are surrounded by food heavy holidays, it can be easy to overeat and not pay attention to what we are putting into our bodies. When we give in to ALL of our comfort food cravings with lots of carbs, sugar, and starches it definitely warms our bodies up, but it also spikes our blood sugar and lowers it quite quickly which triggers our hunger faster… and causes us to reach for even more fast carbs to fill us up. This can lead to holiday weight gain. It can be a vicious cycle, so it’s important to remember that there are other options out there!

  • Tea instead of Pumpkin Spice Lattes! Magical things are happening with tea these days, there is no shortage of interesting flavours for any time of year. Tea also has the additional benefits of hydrating you and providing anti-oxidants!
  • Zucchini Noodles instead of white pasta noodles. Zucchini noodles are low in sodium and high in potassium and fibre.
  • Quinoa instead of white rice! Quinoa is ridiculously versatile. Have it as a side dish, in salads, or soups! Quinoa is gluten-free, contains amino acids, and a multitude of vitamins!

Recipe Suggestions

Of course there are going to be days where the comfort food wins out, but on the days where you’re looking for something a little different I’ve included some of my favourite winter meals in the links below to give you a healthy boost with sacrificing the warmth! You are, of course, free to substitute any ingredients to suit your dietary or personal needs.

Love and Lemons: This Chicago couple cooks seasonal food year-round, and post the recipes and photographs from their most popular meals to share with us! Some of my winter favourites I’ve found on their website include Vegan Broccoli and Cheese Soup, Butternut Squash Pasta with Chilis, Mint, and Lime, and Roasted Beets and Citrus Fruits.

Seasons and Suppers: The food diary of a woman from Muskoka, Ontario containing the most interesting homemade recipes and the wonderful comfort food alternatives. Unique recipes I’ve tried from her are her Shepherds Pie Soup, and Pork Tenderloin with Cranberry Maple Balsamic Sauce.

Food.Com: Food.com is a community hub where anyone can post and share their own recipes with the world! There are hundreds of recipes to go through, and you can do specific searches for “winter” foods! Two great ones I found are Pumpkin Risotto, and Chicken Thighs with Roasted Apples and Garlic.

Overall, eating seasonally is a great way to keep up with your body’s natural rhythms, support your local economy, reduce your carbon footprint AND keep yourself healthy by resisting the temptation to curl up all day with good book!



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