This time of year, when comfort food is the standard fare, it can feel like fruits and vegetables are scant. And while the produce section at your grocery store is still packed with fresh options, the best ones to grab aren’t necessarily your typical favorites. “Don’t only go for produce that’s specifically harvested in the spring, summer or fall, like berries and bell peppers,” advises Sara Haas, R.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Many fruits and vegetables peak during colder months and offer nutrients that are quite beneficial to your health.” You’ll also save money by choosing foods that are in season. Read on for our top picks of healthy winter produce, plus ways to cook and eat it to retain the most nutrients possible.
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Cheap, Healthy Winter Produce to Stock Up on Now
Many root veggies are in season in the winter, including parsnips and turnips. Turnips are a cruciferous vegetable, known for their high concentrations of vitamins, minerals and health-promoting carotenoids. They’re also great sources of fiber, folate, and vitamins C, E and K.
“Root vegetables are typically pretty hardy, so it’s perhaps more of a challenge to destroy some of its nutritional benefits with cooking,” says Haas. She recommends adding them to soups and stews. When the veggies break down and release nutrients, they’ll be leached right into the cooking liquid, so you’ll still end up consuming them. Roasting them is another good option; toss them in olive oil first to help your body absorb their fat-soluble vitamins (like A, D, E and K). Or, combine the turnips with other root veggies in this Root Vegetable Salad with Miso Dressing.
You might tend to pass over this vegetable at the grocery store without thinking twice. It resembles a cross between a white onion and celery and tastes milder than licorice-flavored seeds. Fennel is a good source of vitamin C, potassium, fiber and folate.
Haas recommends slicing and sautéing it slowly over low heat until it’s softened and slightly sweet; then add the caramelized fennel to a turkey burger or steak. For a quick but impressive dish, you can also add raw slices to this Fall Cleanse Kale Salad Recipe.
3. Brussels Sprouts
You can find these veggies year-round, but their peak season is fall to mid-winter, which means they’ll cost less in these colder months. They’re an especially good source of vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants, which are known to have many health benefits.
Roast them with olive oil, salt and pepper to retain their nutrients and help you absorb the vitamin A. Or try roasting them with lemon slices so the veggies absorb the juice and drizzle with a little butter, like this Roasted Lemon Pepper Brussels Sprouts recipe.
4. Dark Leafy Greens
The rich green color of kale and other leafy greens, like Swiss chard and collard greens, are a hint that they’re packed with antioxidants. They’re also a nice alternative to dairy to get your calcium, says Haas, and are a good source of iron and folate (which are both especially important for pregnant women).
For a nutrient-packed alternative to potato chips, Haas recommends coating the kale leaves with a little olive oil and baking them into kale chips. Sick of your usual salad? Toss the greens with feta cheese, pomegranate seeds, sliced almonds and balsamic vinaigrette. Or, sauté them with cumin and add to tacos. We also love this this Collard Greens, Quinoa and Chicken Burrito recipe.
5. Citrus Fruits
“Citrus is available year-round, but most of it is in season in the winter, depending on the climate where it’s growing,” says Haas. Despite what you’d think some varieties are actually better in the winter, she says, because this is the time when they’re at their peak ripeness. Navel oranges, mandarin oranges and grapefruit are some of the most flavorful options during winter months. Stock up now for an extra boost of vitamin C, as well as vitamin A and fiber.
Eat ’em on their own or try making this Kale and Blood Orange Salad.
This festive-colored fruit is in season from late fall to early winter and is a great source of antioxidants and phytonutrients like beta-carotene, plus potassium and vitamin C.
Eat the seeds plain or as a topping for low-fat yogurt. Strain them into a juice and heat it to reduce it into a glaze for pork or poultry, suggests Haas. Or, sprinkle the seeds onto hearty hot cereals, like oatmeal or this Persimmon-Pomegranate Quinoa Breakfast Bowl.
You of course don’t have to steer clear of produce that isn’t technically in season, but Haas recommends shopping for those — berries, corn, green beans and peppers in particular — in the frozen section. They’ll be less expensive than their fresh varieties and will possibly pack in more health benefits because, “they’re typically harvested at their peak and frozen immediately to retain nutrients,” she says.
Originally posted January 2015. Updated January 2017.