“We still have locally grown items like potatoes, onions, winter squash, cabbage and hydroponic basil,” says Trish Kazacos, corporate nutritionist for Wegmans supermarkets. “These vegetables can be stored and enjoyed for longer periods.”
Ben Vitale is the executive director of the CNY Regional Market Authority, which operates the Regional Market, 2100 Park St. “In February and March, the sun is high enough in the sky and the hours of daylight are long enough for local farmers to grow spinach in high tunnels,” he explains. Those tunnels allow growers to plant in the ground and cover the plants, creating a greenhouse effect. Even if the temperature goes down at night, residual heat from the daytime can keep the plants growing.
With increased awareness of the value of eating locally grown produce and consumer demand for it on the rise, local farmers have taken steps to lengthen their growing season. Fresh leeks are flourishing with box lights, basil is grown with hydroponics, and leaf lettuce will be harvested from high tunnel fields.
“It’s proven that eating locally is healthier than relying on produce which is shipped,” says Vitale. “When produce has to be shipped, it can’t ripen properly. Fruits and vegetables that are picked to be shipped can include different varieties that are harder and have less natural sugar. Real flavor and real nutrition can be affected.”
The half-plate healthy rule, promoted for years by health experts, also helps customers reach Wegmans’ Strive for 5 campaign, a daily regimen featuring a five-cup goal of fruits and vegetables, estimating portions and keeping calories in check. For those who want seconds, the half-plate healthy principle comes in again. It can take the guesswork out of eating right.
But according to nutritionist Kazacos, some of us resist feasting on veggies because we don’t know what to do with them. In that case, she says, “We strive to help folks overcome these barriers by teaching easy ways to make veggies they’ll crave. Wegmans Veggies Coaches demonstrate simple cooking techniques, vegetable dishes are available at the Fresh Food Bar, and seasonal recipes are included in the Menu magazine, and hundreds more at wegmans.com.”
The Regional Market will offer a helpful cooking lesson on Saturday, March 24, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., inside A shed, when the Central New York Dietetic Association celebrates National Nutrition Month with a demonstration of preparing maple-roasted sweet potatoes and applesauce with raisins. Dieticians will be on hand to answer questions and provide tasty recipes.
Another in-season vegetable is winter squash. Local dietician Darlene Endy says butternut, acorn and pumpkin squash are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, potassium and dietary fiber. Nutrient rich but slightly higher in calories (about 40 to 60 calories per half cup) than non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, they make a great substitute for potatoes, rice or pasta.
“They can be baked whole, or cut into chunks,” Endy says, “but if you are using them in a recipe, it is easiest to simply cut them in half and microwave until soft. Then the shell can be easily removed.”
Despite generally harsh winters, every season is veggie season in Central New York. “We’re much busier in the winter than we used to be,” says Vitale. “People are in tune with eating locally and farmers are growing vegetables in the ground as early as February. Getting ready for St. Patrick’s Day, many people will come to the market to pick up locally grown cabbage for corn beef and cabbage.”
And remember to team up all this good food with physical activity.
The ADA suggests picking activities you like and starting by doing at
least 10 minutes at a time. Fruits, vegetables and exercise can get
spring off to a great tasting, healthy start.
Marnie Blount-Gowan is a member of the Crouse Hospital Integrative Health Alliance, Mind Body Health instructor and editor of Realewell.com.
Eat Your Veggies
Here are 10 tips to incorporating more vegetables and fruit into your diet.
Use vegetables to top pizza. Try broccoli, spinach, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and zucchini.
“Sandwich” in fruits and vegetables. Add pineapple, apple, cucumber or tomato to your regular sandwich protein.
Top baked potatoes with salsa or broccoli.
Stock your freezer with frozen vegetables to steam or stir-fry for a quick dish.
Make a veggie wrap with roasted vegetables and low-fat cheese in a whole-wheat tortilla.
Instead of a candy bowl, put out colorful fruit where everyone can grab a snack on the run.
Stuff an omelet with vegetables like broccoli, squash, carrots, peppers, tomatoes or onions with low-fat sharp cheddar cheese.
Wake up to fruit. Add it to morning oatmeal, cereal, yogurt or waffles.
Boost the nutritional value of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, pasta sauce or rice dishes by adding vegetables like shredded or chopped zucchini, spinach and carrots
Looking to dip? Try whole-wheat pita wedges in hummus, baked tortilla chips in salsa, strawberries in low-fat yogurt.