How To Eat Healthy Without A Local Farmers Market

by | Oct 1, 2012

Photo by rick

“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.

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16 Responses to “How To Eat Healthy Without A Local Farmers Market”

  1. You gain power over the ingredients you choose when you learn to cook. I’m not talking about following written recipes. Recipes don’t call for “a farmers market tomato”. When you know the basic methods behind cooking, you can create your own recipes using the ingredients you desire.

    Written recipes won’t teach you to cook any more than having sheet music will teach you to play piano.

    The biggest frustration for the home cook isn’t cooking, it’s following the written recipe. Recipes have inherent flaws and variables that make them impossible to duplicate and always let you down.

    When a recipe calls for “one onion, chopped”, how big is this onion? When a recipe says “cook under medium heat”, how do you define medium? And, worst of all is cooking by time. “Saute for 3-5 minutes” can mean raw or burned depending on the stove, pan, ingredient, etc…

    Why is cooking the only art form that has a strict set of instructions? You’d never tell a painter to “paint with 1.7 ounces of green paint for 22 minutes, and you’ll have a landscape”. No, he’ll use as much green paint for as long as he wants until the landscape is complete. This is how people should cook.

    I’ve taught thousands of people to “Burn Your Recipes” and cook like a chef at home, with basic cooking methods and the ingredients you desire.

    Concentrate on the basic cooking methods of saute, steaming, braising, roasting, grilling, poaching, simmering and you can create an infinite amount of recipes from the fresh ingredients YOU choose.

    Chef Todd Mohr

  2. I totally agree with the suggestion of ethnic markets, or even the ethnic section of your regular market. Besides the “exotic” stuff you wouldn’t normally try, imported stuff is more likely to not have high fructose corn syrup. (Think Mexican Coca Cola for example.)

    I don’t worry about mercury in fish, though. Here’s a good summary of the current research on mercury in fish, with links to source materials, both pro and con. In short, mercury first became an issue based on a Japanese population with daily consumption of highly contaminated tuna from a specific fishery offshore from an industrial area:

    In the case of Japan’s Minamata Bay, 111 people living near this body of water during the 1950s ate large amounts of fish that were artificially contaminated when a plastic factory dumped mercury-laden waste into the Bay.

    Mercury levels in wild-caught fish are generally far lower than those levels, in the range of 40 times lower. And Americans don’t eat nearly as much fish as Japanese anyway. The health benefits of eating fish — any fish — far outweigh the theoretical risks.

    Rant over. 🙂 I like the “learn to cook” suggestion, too. Which in my case should be “learn to cook fish”, because I’m really bad at it. Steak … pork … chicken … vegetables … got it covered. But I’m really not that fluent with cooking seafood.

  3. E. Foley says:

    My local farmers market (Olney, MD) is closing in two weeks, so this article couldn’t be better timed. I love soups and stews in the winter and root veggies tend to be pretty good even from the grocery store. I make a pretty awesome potato-leek soup. (Tho I’m sad to report that I’m totally out of frozen garlic scape pesto, which makes an awesome base to that soup.)

  4. Alice says:

    I second the vote for finding local produce marts. I found one near my house that’s open year-round. I drove by it for years w/out stopping because it’s a total hole-in-the-wall, but now I shop there regularly. Their prices are often half of the big grocery stores. In the summer, it’s brimming w/ local stuff. Score!

  5. Neil M. says:

    A great article, but I need to that a person doesn’t eat healthy, a person eats healthily. Healthy is an adjective and healthily is an adverb. I’m sorry, but your title doesn’t look quite right when reading it.

    I don’t like pointing these things out, but felt that it was important, since your website does drop the h-bomb quite a lot.

  6. Even if you only learn a few one pot, 30 minute meals, that expands your diner options 10-fold! You can take one recipe and swap out or add a few ingredients each time to see what works and what you like. You don’t need fancy knives or tools to make healthy dinners that you’ll want to eat.

  7. Great post, Darya. Helps people to think outside the box when they decide to make changes and eat healthy.

    In the UK our seasonal veg during winter is basically like eating an insole out of your shoe. Adding spices, and bulking out with beans, is so key and (added bonus) allegedly increases the digestibility too! I have definitely found that to the the case with beans!
    Also, be open minded… whilst I always thought I hated swede and celeriac I have learned to ‘like’ it during those long winter months. Although, if we ever moved to a hot climate I would definitely NOT go eating imported celeriac (imagine?!) Im perfectly happy to eat it here. With lots of cheese.
    Cheese is another good one. Cheese makes everything better! xox

  9. MB says:

    I’m living in DC presently and finally have a real farmer’s market with beautiful, fresh produce. The craft section (my pet peeve for the YL market) is on a different street. 🙂

  10. Kari says:

    I work in an alternative health clinic and am surrounded by foodies who think all good things come from the farmer’s market or our local health food store, both of which i love. But I enjoy shocking them all with the knowledge that the lovely soups, stews, and salads I’m always eating were made with ingredients from freaking ALDI’S.

    My main rule is if it came in a box or bag and has a more than rudimentary ingredients list (I.e. “Ingredients: lentils” is fine), it’s not food. You can buy basic produce, grains, and legumes most places, so there’s no need to give up and live on box rice.

    An aside to Chef Mohr: Most technical manuals on art are way scarier than the Joy of Cooking. If you just cover your surface in green without regard to proportion of ingredients or construction of materials, your work will literally fall apart, probably sooner than later. Even the masters can go wrong from time to time. The Last Supper was crumbling within ten years, all because DaVinci experimented with a new paint technique.

    Every art I can think of has a strict set of instructions, for a reason. They’re what we know works. True also, however, that every now and then someone has to take a risk or we’ll never learn anything new.

  11. Spencer says:

    Love number six: “…you should buy them and eat them.” It struck me as way funnier than it should have that your instructions involved both the purchasing AND the eating components. No one can say you didn’t make it very clear what to do with the vegetables after buying them. Big fan of your blog, great work as always.

  12. Stephanie says:

    I have one question. For cooking legumes you recommend a pressure cooker. I have no experience with a pressure cooker but my concern is that it cooks the food at a high temp. Is that healthy? I thought cooking food fast and at a high heat kills the nutrients and lessens the benefits. I really don’t know much about this and I am always confused about this. Please help! Thanks!

    • Darya Pino says:

      For legumes, cooking actually improves the nutritional value, making some nutrients more accessible. Depending on the food, cooking accomplishes different things. For instance, vitamin C is denatured by cooking (so raw fruit is healthier if you want vitamin C), but some nutrients like lycopene become more available when they’re cooked (cooked tomatoes have far more than raw). It’s not black and white. Eat a wide variety of both cooked and raw foods for maximal benefit. Traditional cuisines have largely figured this stuff out a long time ago 🙂

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