With a change in seasons nearly upon us, now is the best time to find out what fruits and vegetables are in season, so you can cook with recipes that take advantage of these easily found (and cheaper) ingredients. Cooler temperatures and the back-to-school season usually means heading back into the kitchen and gathering around the dinner table again, so consider searching out these five frugal and fresh ingredients next time you're in the grocery store:
You're probably familiar with squash as a staple on the Thanksgiving dinner table, but in fact this vegetable is in season beginning in September in most parts of the country. Known as "winter squash," the types of squash that are harvested in the early fall have a thicker, harder rind to allow for storing throughout the winter.
Winter squash is low in calories, rich in vitamins and and offers many nutritional benefits. Varieties include acorn, buttercup, butternut and spaghetti squash. Use winter squash to give a twist to classic pasta dishes like lasagna or gnocchi, or find a recipe that uses squash as a lighter alternative, like roasted spaghetti squash.
When it comes to berries, September offers a blend between late summer fruits including blueberries and strawberries and early fall specialties such as cranberries and huckleberries. Bake this season's fruits into crisps, pies and tarts; not only can you get these fruits for a good deal in your local grocery store, but the desserts will taste especially good using fresh ingredients versus frozen.
There are certain foods that instantly bring to mind changing leaves and cool nights. These flavors of fall are some of the best the season has to offer. Even better, some of these delicacies can not only be eaten, but also harvested and enjoyed in fun outings.
Apples are an incredibly versatile fruit and can be used in snacks, beverages, meals or desserts. Picking your own apples is a frugal and fun daytime trip, and after you're done there are endless possibilities for cooking up your bounty, whether it's in a pie, hot mulled cider or applesauce to accompany your next pork dish.
Other fruits, including figs and pears, can also add to the bounty. These unique and sweet fruits can make any meal instantly feel gourmet, at little cost to you. On your next cheese plate, just add a few figs and drizzled honey for a seasonal and delicious twist. Pears are the perfect addition to autumn salads.
If you're looking to transition your cooking from bright summer to savory fall flavors, try sweet potatoes or turnips, which begin their peak season in October. These hearty vegetables make great sides to a meal and brighten up your dinner plate.
Last but certainly not least is pumpkin, which exploded in the last few years as everyone's favorite fall flavor. There is plenty you can do with pumpkin however, besides drinking it in your coffee. You can cook and bake with it (and because of its large size you can get a lot of bang for your buck) or even roast and season the seeds for a snack that will last beyond Halloween.
Root vegetables can't get the entire spotlight this fall. There are plenty of green vegetables coming into season that you can find easily at low cost and high nutrition, including broccoli, spinach, curly kale and cabbage. Spice up your salad by using kale instead of your normal lettuce, which is known for its many health benefits including high content of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Fall's fruits and vegetables are ideal for more than just the dinner table; mix up school lunches and keep your kids healthy by adding these flavors to the lunchbox. Apples are an easy snack, especially when accompanied with peanut butter (or different nut butter for schools that are more allergy-sensitive). Roasted pumpkin seeds sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar are a sweet treat they won't expect. Berries and a few chocolate chips are the perfect addition to yogurt to keep kids from getting bored.
Visit your local grocery store and farmer's market to see what produce you can cook and bake with (or snack on!) during the early fall months.
Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website BeFrugal.com, which saves shoppers an average of $27 per order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 4,000 stores.
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