Spring is finally in the air! If you’re like most people, you and your loved ones may have fallen off the health and nutrition bandwagon this winter. With the harsh weather and indulgent holiday gatherings, it’s common to slip up and make poor diet choices that you normally wouldn’t.
If you’re looking for ways for your family to kick off spring on a healthier, more wholesome note, buying groceries at a farmer’s market is an affordable and fun way to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet. The produce sold at these markets is usually locally grown, more likely to be organic and can even reduce your carbon footprint.
Healthy Springtime Produce Options for Caregivers and Seniors
- Fava Beans
Your loved one may remember eating fava beans boiled with a dollop of butter or margarine, but this method of cooking completely strips them of all their nutrients. Instead, try quickly sautéing the beans in a little olive oil. You can even mix cooked fava beans with steamed basmati rice, chopped dill and freshly minced garlic for a savory whole-grain dish that will surely wake up your elder’s taste buds.
Asparagus is another great spring vegetable that is naturally rich in glutathione, an antioxidant that fights aging and can potentially lower one’s cancer risk. Asparagus is usually harvested in the spring, making it a perfect pick for the farmer’s market this time of year. Try chopping the stalks into bite-sized pieces and adding it raw to salads. For a healthy alternative to French fries, you can also roast asparagus spears in the oven with a little olive oil, garlic powder and salt. Unlike roasted potatoes, asparagus won’t cause spikes in blood sugar.
Many herbs flourish in spring, thanks to milder temperatures and plentiful rain and sunshine. Mint is a popular springtime herb that is not only refreshingly tasty, but it also has medicinal properties. Mint is a natural digestive aid that can soothe nausea and upset stomachs, which can be common in seniors as they age. Try adding fresh mint leaves to a salad. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can mix mint, garlic, salt and diced cucumbers into plain Greek yogurt for a tangy tzatziki sauce to serve with chicken or beef or to use as a dipping sauce for fresh vegetables. Additionally, steeping fresh mint leaves in boiling water with a few slices of lemon is an easy way to make a caffeine-free herbal tea that can be served hot or cold.
Usually root vegetables like carrots and potatoes are harvested in the fall, but radishes have a crisp bite to them that makes them perfect for spring. They are versatile, fiber-rich vegetables, packing pack up to two grams of dietary fiber per cup. Increasing a senior’s fiber intake can help ease constipation and improve digestion. Radishes are often an acquired taste, so try introducing them into your loved one’s diet gradually. They can be served raw, roasted or sautéed, and the peppery green tops are edible and nutrient dense as well!
Green peas are no longer the vegetable you hated as a child. In fact, they are actually legumes that are low in calories and contain an impressive amount of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Peas are one of the best foods for reducing dangerous inflammation in an elder’s body that can contribute to conditions like indigestion, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s disease. Garden peas are also relatively high in protein and can be served as a side dish or added to salads, soups and pastas. My personal favorite use for peas is tossing them into a hearty chicken salad!
Strawberries are one of the sweetest fruits to feed your loved one during spring. Loaded with vitamin C, they contain antioxidants which can help with all sorts of health problems and ailments. If your elder bruises easily, the high vitamin C content in strawberries is thought to alleviate their severity and aid in faster healing. Don’t be afraid to get creative with strawberries, as you can easily add them to oatmeal or cereal, layer slices of strawberries in a delicious yogurt parfait, blend them into a nutritious smoothie, or dice them with red onion, cilantro, jalapeno and some lime juice to create a zesty strawberry salsa.
- Green Onions
Also known as scallions, green onions add a punch of freshness to any dish. Unlike white onions, which can be rather pungent and acidic, scallions are much milder in flavor and texture. Topping a bowl of chili or soup with a handful of chopped scallions is an easy way to instantly elevate the dish. While most people usually use scallions as a garnish, keep in mind that the heartier white bottoms of the stalks can be used in the same way as white onions in a variety of recipes. Try sautéing green onions in a tomato sauce, adding them to an omelet, or incorporating them into Asian entrees like stir-fries, noodle dishes, and salads for subtle yet distinguished flavor.
As seniors age, their sense of taste and smell are likely to diminish over time. Instead of bland lettuce mixes like iceberg and romaine, opt for a bitter, leafy green like arugula. Arugula is rich in selenium, which is what gives it its peppery flavor. It’s also rich in a crucial B-vitamin called folate, making it a great base for spring salads. You can also use arugula in sandwiches and wraps, as a pizza topping, wilted into pasta dishes, and even as the main ingredient in a bright pesto sauce (in lieu of basil).
Artichokes are one of the most overlooked veggies available in the spring and summer months. They are high in vitamins C and K and pack plenty of dietary fiber, but most people buy them canned or jarred because they aren’t sure how to prepare them fresh. Surprisingly, these large, intimidating looking flower buds aren’t all that difficult to cook. After washing, simply trim off the tight tops of the buds, trim and lightly peel the stalk, and carefully snip off the sharp thorns on the tips of the remaining petals. Prepared artichokes can be boiled, steamed, baked, grilled and even microwaved with your seasonings of choice. (Lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and herbs are popular accompaniments.)
The cooked petals don’t yield much flesh, but the tender, sought-after artichoke hearts can be used in pastas, dips, spreads and sandwiches. Just be sure to avoid eating the hairy-looking choke! Everyone loves a warm spinach and artichoke dip, so why not use fresh artichokes when they’re in season? If your loved one enjoys sandwiches and wraps, try adding artichoke hearts to roasted red peppers and low-sodium turkey for a healthier take on an Italian cold cut.
These bright, sweet fruits are high in vitamins A and C, potassium, antioxidants, and dietary fiber. The nutritional value of apricots makes them an excellent dietary choice that helps to prevent eye diseases and promote cardiovascular health. Their small size makes them perfect for snacking, but they can also be made into jams, butters and other condiments. Another surprising use for apricots is grilling or roasting them alongside lean protein like chicken to produce an entrée with balanced sweet and savory notes.
Use the start of spring as an opportunity to wake up your taste buds and reestablish healthy eating habits. A farmer’s market is a great place to seek culinary inspiration, and attending one can be a fun outing idea for caregivers and their aging loved ones. Keep these ingredients and recipe ideas in mind the next time you hit your local farmer’s market!