“I don’t live in California and don’t have access to year-round amazing produce like you do. How am I supposed to eat healthy without a local farmers market?”
Not everyone is blessed with the kind of produce we have here in California, but that shouldn’t prevent you from eating healthy, delicious food year round. Although the local food movement is awesome and doing a tremendous amount to help people make better food choices, it isn’t a requirement for healthy eating.
Good produce can still be found in the winter. Here are 13 tips for eating healthy even if you don’t have a local farmers market.
How To Eat Healthy Without A Local Farmers Market
1. Shop in season, even if it’s from CA, FL or TX.
Though local food can taste amazing, it’s not the only place delicious food can come from. Buying foods that are in season but shipped from somewhere a little farther from home will taste better and be cheaper than food shipped from another hemisphere. Follow the seasons and let your local grocery store surprise you.
2. Learn to cook
Good produce will only get you so far if you don’t know how to prepare it. Follow food blogs, buy a cookbook from your favorite celebrity chef and get your hands dirty in the kitchen. The learning curve is short and the skills (and pleasures) will last you a lifetime.
3. Find dedicated produce marts
Big grocery stores and farmers markets are not the only options for fruits and vegetables. Look around town for smaller, dedicated produce marts. These will often have better selections than what’s offered at the local chain store.
4. Find natural stores
I used to avoid natural food stores because I always assumed they were too expensive and filled with weird, hippy foods. Though these things can sometimes be true, natural food stores are a great source of high-quality organic produce and other healthy foods.
5. Find ethnic grocers
Asian and Latino markets are fantastic resources for interesting, tasty and often very inexpensive produce. Everything they carry might not be organic, but healthwise it’s more important to eat a variety of produce than to be rigid about organic standards.
6. Buy vegetables
Vegetables are the basis of any healthy diet. If you can find any at all, you should buy and eat them.
7. Buy fruits
Citrus fruits from Florida and California are amazing in the winter, and ship well to almost anywhere. You should also be able to find some good pears and apples. Eat fruit, it’s nature’s candy.
8. Buy fish
One advantage of large grocery stores is they have the resources to ship fish safely from almost anywhere. Whole Foods in particular has an excellent seafood section, if you have one in your town.
Vegetables are not the only health food and fish is some of the highest quality protein and fat you can eat. Keep your eye out for wild fish varieties and try to avoid tuna and swordfish, which are high in mercury.
Read more on How to choose fish and seafood.
9. Buy legumes
Legumes (beans and lentils) are easy to store, easy to cook, taste delicious and are available everywhere year round. I recommend experimenting with dry beans and using a pressure cooker to prepare them. Check the bulk bins for the best deals.
10. Buy bulk grains
Oats, barley, brown rice, farro and quinoa are all relatively easy to find, particularly in the bulk sections of natural and regular grocery stores, and there’s a good chance you’ll find a lot more. Intact grains are filled with essential vitamins, minerals and fiber, and are effective at curbing sugar cravings.
11. Buy nuts
Local nuts are tasty, but only a bonus in a healthy foodie’s arsenal. Feel free to stock up on almonds, cashews, peanuts and pistachios no matter where they come from. Nuts are healthy and great for both cooking and snacking.
12. Survey the crisper case for interesting ingredients
Even in big chain supermarkets I’m often surprised at the variety of ingredients I find in the vegetable crisper. Pay close attention in this aisle and look for fresh herbs and ingredients like ginger. I’ve even found more exotic items like lemongrass and specialty mushrooms. Herbs and spices go a long way in making even non-local vegetables taste amazing.
13. Find the ethnic food sections and browse ingredients
Take your cooking to the next level by browsing the ethnic food sections for interesting ingredients. Most grocery stores have at least a small section specializing in Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and other ethnic foods. These are a great resource for new flavors and can give you inspiration for cooking the fabulous veggies you pick up from around town.
What are your tips for finding healthy foods without a local farmers market?
Originally published October 25, 2010.