Good for your wallet, great for your health.
Before the air even turns crisp, you can sense it: a slight change in the hue of the leaves, from green to gold to orange to red. Pay attention, and you'll notice that the same thing happens with produce, says Margie Saidel, MPH, RD, VP of Nutrition and Sustainability at Chartwells K12 in North Carolina.
"Fall produce is often deeply colored," she says. "For the most part, it's fair to say that the darker the color, the more nutrients are in it." Yet while we know fruits and vegetables are good for us and all, even the best of us succumb to sticker shock at times. Our nutrition detectives help us navigate the fall produce aisle without breaking the bank.
Best Picks for… Orange
Orange is the "it" color for fall, from pumpkins to potatoes, and because it's plentiful, that means it's budget-friendly.
"If it’s in season, it's automatically going to be cheaper," says Josh Alsberg, owner of Rubinette Produce in Portland, Oregon.
Halloween not complete without carving a pumpkin? Don't throw out those seeds just yet, says Saidel. "Pumpkin seeds are the most nutritious things that you can eat, and think about it this way: if you’re buying a carving pumpkin, they're essentially free because you're not buying them for the seeds," she laughs.
Best Picks for… Green
"During the summer, the heat makes it difficult for some of the bunched greens to live to their potential," says Alsberg "Generally speaking, greens are growing nationally very well in the fall, so you’ll be seeing chard, spinach, kale, broccoli that are very plentiful and therefore less inexpensive."
Best Picks for… Red
"In the fall, apple orchards want to move volume as much as they can while it's harvest season, so you can find really great deals at the farmers' market or U-picks," says Alsberg.
Cranberries are also a steal all fall, says Saidel. "We tend to think of cranberries as a Thanksgiving tradition, but they are plentiful all fall and are usually very inexpensive," she says.
Best Picks for… Gold
Just like apples, pears are plentiful in fall, and their sweet taste means a little goes a long way to bring a salad to life — "that way, you don't need as much dressing, so you're naturally making it more nutritious, too," says Saidel.
3 Steps to Avoiding Sticker Shock
Beyond the price itself, these steps can help you make the most out of every dollar you do spend on fresh fruits and vegetables.
1. Store it right. When's the last time you cleared out your crisper drawer of all that’s gone bad? We've all been there, assures Saidel.
"Vegetable bins can be deceiving," she says. "You think, 'Well, it's a vegetable, then it goes in there, but there are certain veggies that shouldn’t be refrigerated because they’re better off in a dry environment," she says. "And that's really a big part of being budget-friendly. It's not always the price you pay in the grocery store. It's how you store it so it lasts the longest. Even though we're lucky that fall produce tends to last longer, there are still ways to ensure you're getting your money's worth." Potatoes, tomatoes and garlic all thrive outside of the fridge.
2. Don't lock on the price. "Don't focus so much on the price tag, but instead keep in mind how many servings you're going to get out of it," she says. "On the surface of it, produce like pomegranates and figs may be more expensive, but you really get more bang for your buck with them because a little goes a long way and they're available for such a short time. Factor in price per serving versus price overall."
3. Stick seasonally. And if you don't know what's in season, don't be afraid to ask your local produce guy, says Alsberg. "That's what we're here for, to point you in the right direction," he says. "We can help you avoid out-of-season ingredients that are going to make the cost of your dish rise exponentially." (Strawberries and asparagus, for example.)