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A Beginner’s Guide to Farmer’s Market Shopping

Posted on Sunday, May 20th, 2012 at 6:23 am under Eat Well.
farmer's market guide

courtesy of inglesgourmet.com

One of the best parts of summer is the stellar produce.  Cherries, peaches, watermelon, tomatoes, zucchini, sweet peppers — just typing this list is making my mouth water!

While you can usually find your favorite fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, it’s a lot more fun – and often tastier, healthier, and cheaper – to shop at your local farmer’s market.  There’s no better place to find fresh, flavorful produce, and you’ll feel good about supporting the growers in your area.

If you’re new to farmer’s market shopping, it can be a little intimidating.  With so much produce from so many vendors, it’s hard to know what and how much to buy, or what to do with it when you get home.  Below are some basic tips for navigating a farmer’s market.  Once you get familiar with this type of shopping and with your own market vendors, you’ll be ready to add some of the more unique market items to your shopping list.

Come armed with a (loose) plan.  This won’t always be practical, but when you remember or have time, plan a couple of meals before you shop, so you can buy the specific produce you need to make those meals.  If you arrive with no idea why you’re there, you’ll be more likely to buy everything you see, or end up with a bunch of random ingredients that don’t complement each other.  Plan to buy a few veggies for salads and hot meals, plus a few fruits and veggies for snacking.

Stick with what you know.   If you’re new to the market or to cooking, skip the exotic fruits & veggies and go for produce you’re familiar with.  You’ll be much less overwhelmed if you focus on cucumbers and tomatoes rather than .

Limit the number of items you buy. It’s easy to go nuts when you see all this beautiful produce, but overbuying will lead to wasted food, wasted time thinking about what to do with the food, and of course wasted money.  Instead, stick to 2-3 veggies and 2-3 fruits per week, plus one fresh herb and one citrus fruit or vinegar to use for dressings and sauces.

Wash and chop when you get home.  If not right when you get home, plan a time within a day or so when you can prep lettuce (here’s how I do it), wash and cut veggies for snacking, and wash some fruit (most fruits are better prepped right before eating, but you can always wash cherries & grapes, wash and slice strawberries, melons, & oranges).  Having a fridge full of ready-to-go veggies and fruits makes it much more likely that you’ll reach for these healthy items when you’re hungry for a snack or ready to make a meal.

Keep it simple.  No need to reach into the depths of your recipe collection or biggest cookbook to figure out what to make for dinner.  During summer especially, produce is so good that it’s best eaten in it’s simplest form.  Salads can simply be a platter of tomato chunks drizzled with olive oil or a bowl of sliced cucumbers with salt, lime juice, and hot sauce.  Snacks can be melon wedges, snap peas with hummus, or berries topped with yogurt.  For a main dish, toss pasta with fresh basil and cherry tomatoes, or lightly saute greens to serve with fried eggs.  The great thing about summer is that good food is plentiful, and the time and effort needed to make something tasty is minimal.

Wondering where to find a market near you?  Do a search for “certified farmer’s market” plus your city or state and you’ll find some direction!

The Big Question:
What are your favorite summertime fruits and vegetables and how do you eat them?  Let us know in the comments section below!