The days are shorter, the trees are changing colors and pumpkin is in coffee cups, candles and cupcakes. In other words, fall is here. But with the change of seasons – and the closing of farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs – can come a reduction in the number of fruits and vegetables you eat.
It doesn't have to be that way. Instead, embrace the convenience and tastiness of canned, frozen or dried produce. Here's how:
1. Have a can plan.
Fresh tomatoes are unbeatable in the height of the summer, but are sometimes inedible in the fall. Instead of suffering through pale, juice-less tomatoes, try different varieties of canned tomatoes like fire-roasted, flavored, whole, peeled, diced or stewed. They too are high in lycopene, a plant nutrient that may protect against heart disease and macular degeneration. Add them to sauces, chilies, soups and tacos to provide that great tomato taste.
Canned pumpkin is also a healthy, convenient alternative to scooping out pumpkin flesh from the vegetable itself. And it's not just for pie, but can be added to oats, muffins, pancakes, quick breads, sauces, soups and stews. Pumpkin is a great source of beta-carotene, which is important for eye and lung health. In addition, pumpkin is high in fiber. If you have leftover pumpkin, freeze it in ice cube trays and use the pumpkin cubes in smoothies, or add it to sauces, soups or stews.
2. Try dried.
Plums may be out of season, but prunes are always in. Eaten alone, they are sweet and chewy, and added to vegetable dishes, muffins, quick breads, salads, stuffing and oatmeal, they can make a dish shine. Pureed, they can replace some of the fat and sugar in baked goods like brownies, muffins, pancakes and even smoothies.
Eating five to six prunes a day may help support healthy bones in part due to the fact that prunes contain copper, polyphenols, boron and vitamin K. You may associate prunes with regularity, and indeed that is true. Prunes are naturally high in sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that can have a laxative effect and help maintain good digestive health.
Dried tomatoes, too, can be added to a pesto, pureed in a bean dip or sauteed and added to pasta to bring umami and chewiness to your dishes.
3. Heat it up.
Summer may have called for salads and quinoa bowls, but nothing beats a flavor-filled fall bowl of vegetable soup made with stock, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, celery and carrots. Chili can be served alone, with cornbread or over a baked potato. The good news with soup, stews or chili is that it takes the same amount of time to make a little or a lot.
If you want to be adventurous, divide the recipe into thirds and season each one a little differently. Chili, for instance, can be spiced up with cocoa powder and chipotle, with cumin and chili powder, or with Tabasco, jalapeno pepper and garlic. Three different tastes out of one recipe.
4. Bring the outside in.
Miss grilling out? Use a grill pan or cast-iron pan on your stove, or broil foods to get that same delicious taste and texture. Burgers, chicken, fish, pork loin, steak, tofu, tempeh and vegetables can be rubbed in herbs and spices, or marinated in a vinegar. Use soy or Worcestershire sauce to tenderize and bring out the flavor. A bonus: Grilling indoors is easy and a one-pan clean up.
5. Embrace cravings.
On a 90-degree day, a salad is refreshing, but when it's blustery, a cold meal may not hold the same appeal. Don't try to fight it. Instead, try a bowl of roasted vegetables with chicken, or broccoli slaw with grilled salmon. Instead of shivering while drinking your same summer smoothie, try a bowl of oatmeal with pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla Greek yogurt, cranberries and pecans. If that turkey sandwich you took on picnics has lost its luster, how about a hot sandwich of spinach-stuffed chicken or turkey breast with cranberry sauce on a whole-wheat roll?