Spring is in full swing here in Virginia and I LOVE taking advantage of all the locally grown and raised produce, meats, and cheeses at our farmers markets. Before kiddos, my hubs and I loved going to our favorite market, the South of the James Farmers Market, just to stroll around, buy a few things here and there and leave with a warm Mrs. Yoder’s Donut in hand.
These days, coming home with a random mix of foods and needing to have a virtual Chopped competition to craft them into a meal is a little less appealing when we’re working to feed our family around our busy schedule. But, we’ve discovered how to approach farmers markets in a way that suits our family’s everyday needs, while also helping connect our kiddos to real food and the folks who work so hard to produce it.
Choose a market that fits your needs.
Markets vary greatly by location, size, time, and offerings. If you’re looking to make farmers markets a regular addition to your weekly shopping rotation, I’d recommend choosing one fairly close to your home that is open at a time convenient to you. Trodding out to a market in your suit and heels after work just because it’s a mile away may be less appealing than driving 20 minutes on a Saturday morning when you’re feeling a bit more relaxed.
Most markets have an online presence that allows you to preview their list of vendors. If you’re looking to snag your produce for the week, make sure the market isn’t packed full of soap, jewelry and cosmetic vendors with only 1 or 2 veggie and fruit stands.
A quick Google search can help you land on the markets in your area. If you’re close to Richmond, VA, check out the 2017 Guide to Richmond, VA area farmers markets.
Know what’s in-season.
This may be my best piece of planning advice. Before you head out, do a quick scan of what’s in season in your area. This past weekend, my hubs took our little guy to the market on Saturday and I looked up what’s currently in season before he headed out. Asparagus was top of the list, along with sweet peas. So, since we weren’t buying food for a week, just dinner that night, I thought a simple veggie pasta might be great and steered him in the direction of that. Go to the Virginia Grown site and click on the ‘What’s in Season?’ link to get a handy printable of in-season fruits and veggies throughout the year.
Not lucky enough to live in Virginia? 🙂 Check out the Field to Plate Guide to find what’s in season in your state.
Do a quick in-home inventory check.
Inventory what you have at home, so you know what types of meals you’ll want to ‘round out’ your week. Since I never start my weekly meal planning from scratch, I’ve always got something in the freezer to get us rolling. So, we typically work around that. If you’ve got meat in the freezer that you’d like to grill, get veggies to go along with it. Maybe you know you’ll be making a meatloaf on Tuesday, so you’ll want some lighter meals the rest of the week. Perfect. Grab a head of greens, some in-season veggies, fruits, and herbs and you’re all set. In effect, start to formulate a rough plan of what the week’s dinners might look like.
If you’re following my What the Fork is for Dinner? meal planning system, you’ll already have an idea of the types of meals you’ll want to eat this week. If you’ve got a Pasta Night, Taco Night, breakfast for dinner, Seafood Night and Pizza Night, a quick list might include fresh pasta, cilantro, eggs, fresh crabs, and veggies for pizza toppings. You’ll go with a starter list so you’re not aimlessly wandering…unless that’s WHY you’re going. 🙂
Be open to pivoting your game plan.
Remember, I called it a starter list. Shopping at a farmer’s market is not like shopping at a grocery store. If you don’t find what’s on your list in the ‘fresh’ department, you can’t just go to the frozen foods section. But, that’s the beauty of it. Shopping at markets will actually help you develop the skill of flexing your meal plan to accommodate changes in your family’s schedule, which is super important on most given weeks. Remember, meal planning is a means to an end–getting dinner on the table SO THAT you can connect with family. So, roll with the punches.
Be open to impulse buys and swapping one veggie out for another. No lettuce in season? No worries. Let spinach pinch-hit as the star of the salad. Sweet peas not available? Grab some smoked tomatoes to be the highlight of your pasta dish. See? Roll with the punches. Heck…look forward to them. If sweet peas are supposed to be in season and they’re not there…there’s probably a good reason.
ENJOY just being there.
As much as I am a fan of meal planning, I’m a bigger fan of dinnertime because of the opportunity it affords us to connect with our family. And, strolling a market provides a pretty unique opportunity to connect, as well. The bonus of a farmer’s market is that we not only connect with our kiddos, we all help connect them TO real food and the folks that work so hard to make it readily available to us.
So, find out where the closest market is to you and go check them out. You might just find a new veggie that you can’t live without. At a minimum, you’ll be supporting those folks in your very own community that work tirelessly to put food on your family’s table.
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