If there were ever a time to bolt from the local King Soopers and hit your local farmers market instead, August and September would be it. The harvest is on, with tables piled under the weight of colorful beets, radishes, carrots, and squash of every shape and color. Sunflower blooms nod together by the bucketful, and the air smells of fresh dill, sharp basil, and warm, sweet tomatoes.
A diet study from the Annual Review of Public Health compared all the things: Low carb, low glycemic, Paleo, vegan, Mediterranean—you name it. According to this research, "A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention."
In other words, the old Michael Pollan quote reiterated: "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much."
As athletes, we know this but can still get in a rut—sometimes, cooking fresh, unprocessed food takes work. However, framing it with the concept of a farmers' market brings that over-simplified concept to life.
Here are five reasons to shop at the farmers market to inspire a healthy diet, plus some simple and delicious ways to incorporate in-season ingredients into a show-stopping dish.
You can talk to the grower for inside intel.
Farmers know about ripeness, taste, and how to best use what they grow—they know which peaches hold up in cobbler, what tomatoes will work better with your caprese for your potluck, or can tell you how to make sure your bushel of ripening pears last for weeks (hint: they like it cold).
You can smell, taste, and feel your ingredients, leading to better cooking.
When you smell ripe blackberries or inhale the scent of a fresh bunch of basil, you engage your senses and your imagination. Suddenly you get a feeling for the possibilities—it's pesto tonight—and develop an intuition for choosing and combining things you love into dishes you'll enjoy.
You'll find a wider variety of foods.
Sure, you can find bland old yellow squash at the store—but a farmers market will offer up silky sweet pattypans, vibrant squash blossoms for stuffing and frying, miniature squashes, or rich and delicious Japanese kabocha. More variety, more inspiration.
It's surprisingly affordable.
Locally grown foods have minimal processing and travel shorter distances, making it cheaper for farmers to sell directly to consumers. Deals abound, especially at the end of the day when farmers are packing up and may be willing to bundle you up a bargain.
Enjoy seasonal treats.
Shopping farmers' markets on the regular lets you anticipate and savor when each ingredient comes into season. There's nothing like biting into the first Palisade peach or fresh ear of corn of the year, and they are far more tender, sweet and delicious than their grocery store counterparts year round.
Not sure where to head? Find a nearby farmers market with the help of the Colorado Farmers Market Association.
What to make?
Congrats! You've filled your tote with a colorful bounty of locally grown fruits and veggies. Now what? Mark Bittman, New York Times "Minimalist" column and cookbook author, offers up these super-easy and inspiring prep ideas from his "101 Picnic Recipes":
Peel beets and grate them (a food processor will keep the juice contained). Add pistachios or hazelnuts; dress with orange zest, juice, and olive oil. Add bits of goat cheese and chopped parsley.
Tomatoes and peaches
Toss together sliced tomatoes and peaches, thinly sliced red onion, and chopped parsley or rosemary. At the last minute, dress with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
Fennel and tart apples
Slice and toss together with chopped tarragon, basil or chervil, olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Celery is good in this, too, as are oranges and sheep's cheese.
Green beans or asparagus
Steam or boil, and slice on the bias. Toss with sliced red onion, small pieces of prosciutto, olive oil, lemon juice, a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper.
Toss with cornbread cubes, lemon juice, olive oil, and hazelnuts.