Now is time to improve eating habits

Now is time to improve eating habits

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The Issue: High prices and availability can make healthy eating more difficult.

Our View: Now is the time of year to embrace local fruits and vegetables.

It’s the time of year when gardens and markets are burgeoning with all sorts of fruits and vegetables. One doesn’t have to go far to find the freshest produce available.

It’s obvious the economy in Macoupin County is based on agriculture. Driving down our back roads and state highways is like passing through a tunnel with corn standing taller than most people lining both sides of the road. Agriculture is a way of life here, whether most people realize it or not. Those who don’t farm likely work for an industry that services those who do, or use goods produced by farmers, either directly or indirectly. The reach of agriculture in this country spreads from the restaurants we patronize to the fuel that goes in our tanks.

During the winter months, fresh fruits and vegetables can get quite pricey. That’s because the produce has to be transported so far. Eating healthy is much more affordable during this time of year, when produce is at its most plentiful. Local grocers, those selling produce from the backs of pickup trucks and even people with gardens in their yards benefit from having so much fresh produce so close at hand.

People tend to stick to their eating habits, which is probably fine for a lot of folks, but with this country’s rising obesity rates and the convenience of fast food, those habits aren’t always the best. In fact, convenience foods in general are usually over-processed and very unhealthy.

Thanks to the Internet, there’s an endless supply of recipes providing ways to prepare all the zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, beans and, of course, corn that’s available this time of year. There are plenty of locally grown fruits as well. Fresh strawberries come with the warm weather and area orchards produce a lot of peaches and several varieties of apples, along with apple juice, cider and apple butter. Soon, pumpkins will be the crop of choice.

Even though most people cringe at the thought of changing their eating habits, there’s no better time of year to experiment with using all this fresh bounty in new ways. In fact, vegetables especially can vary widely in flavor depending on how they’re prepared. After all, zucchini bread doesn’t exactly taste like zucchini, does it?  Raw carrots have a completely different taste than cooked carrots. With so many people avoiding carbs these days, many have experimented with using cauliflower to replace things like rice and flour. There are even recipes out there for making pizza crust with cauliflower instead of flour.

We all know people who plant a vegetable garden every year, but one doesn’t have to be an old hand at gardening to put in a few tomato plants or some lettuce. The Internet is full of resources that will provide guidance when it comes to backyard gardening. With the popularity of container gardening, it’s not even necessary to dig up the back yard. For many people, it’s much easier to consider a salad with the evening meal when one only has to walk a few feet into the back yard to get what is needed.

Another advantage is so many fruits and vegetables can be canned or frozen and enjoyed over the winter. All those tomatoes, for example, can be easily stewed with some onion and garlic, sealed in a zip bag and frozen. Come winter, those tomatoes can be used in soups and sauces. In fact, a lot of vegetables can be blanched, frozen and enjoyed once the weather turns.

Canners can turn those summer and fall fruits into jam or just can it to be served straight out of the jar. Peaches and pears are a particular treat during the winter. Everything from sauces, salsas, relishes and pickles can be canned just from the output of a small garden.

It’s easy to take the huge variety of fresh produce we have for granted. We are lucky to live here in the farm belt, and it’s a mistake to not take advantage of what our local growers have to offer.