This time of year many of us spring clean our pantries, checking for expired or stale foods and making a list of healthy meal ingredients to stock. Doing so can help boost the nutritional value of your family’s meals.
Inspecting best-before dates, smelling cooking oils to make sure they haven’t gone rancid and checking the fragrance of dried herbs and spices are ways to ensure your pantry is primed for healthy meal prep.
Spring is also the time to transition your diet away from winter’s hearty meals (think chili, shepherd’s pie, roasted root vegetables). Adding seasonal spring foods will lighten up your menu and amp up your nutrient intake.
Leslie Beck: How to give your fridge a good spring cleaning
Leslie Beck: Clean up your pantry to amp up nutrition (and flavour)
Five foods to add to your spring diet
The following nutrient-packed seasonal foods deserve a spot on your spring menu. Look for them at your grocery store and local farmer’s market.
Available late April through early June, fiddleheads are the tightly coiled heads of the ostrich fern. This springtime delicacy has a grassy flavour, similar to asparagus, and a somewhat crunchy texture.
Fiddleheads are an excellent source of the antioxidant beta-carotene and niacin, a B vitamin that keeps hair, skin and our nervous systems healthy. They also offer a decent amount of potassium and vitamin C.
Fiddleheads should never be eaten raw; they need to be boiled for 15 minutes or steamed for 10 to 12 minutes before sautéing, stir-frying or roasting. Enjoy them sautéed with garlic and lemon, add cooked fiddleheads to an omelette or quiche or toss them into a pasta.
Its short growing season – May and June – means spring is the time to enjoy asparagus, a leading source of folate, a B vitamin that makes DNA in cells (six spears supply one-third of a day’s worth for adults).
This green vegetable also delivers a good amount of vitamin K, potassium and prebiotic fibre, a type of fibre that feeds friendly probiotic gut bacteria.
My favourite way to enjoy spring asparagus is simple: steamed and served with a splash of lemon juice. But also add chopped asparagus to stir-fries, pastas, risotto, soups and frittatas. Include raw asparagus spears on your next crudité platter.
With its ruby red stalks, this tart vegetable is a hallmark sign of late spring. (Botanically speaking rhubarb is a vegetable although it’s treated as a fruit.)
Rhubarb is a good source of fibre (5 g per one cup cooked), vitamins C and K and blood-pressure-regulating potassium. While it’s an exceptional source of calcium with 348 mg per one cup, a little more than one cup of milk, much of this calcium isn’t easily absorbed by the body.
Avoid rhubarb if you have calcium-oxalate kidney stones. Rhubarb is high in oxalates, natural compounds that can contribute to kidney stone formation.
Rhubarb works well in sweet and savoury dishes. Add diced rhubarb to muffin and pancake batters, fruit crumbles and smoothies, or use it to make jams and chutneys.
Top oatmeal or yogurt with stewed rhubarb. Stew rhubarb along with other naturally sweet fruit, such as strawberries, to reduce the amount of added sugar you use.
Look for fresh English peas in the pod late spring to early summer. Sweet and tender, green peas are also nutrient-rich, delivering plant protein and fibre, along with folate, vitamins C and K, iron, zinc and potassium.
Green peas are also an exceptional source of lutein, a phytochemical that protects vision and brain health.
Serve steamed green peas with torn mint leaves, chopped spring onions and lemon zest. Stir green peas into rice pilafs, add them to salads, pair them with other vegetables in a stir-fry or purée them into a chilled spring soup.
Also called broad beans, nutty-tasting fava beans are a fleeting spring favourite of mine. Inside their large pods, the bright green beans are covered by a skin that’s removed before eating. (Roasting fava beans makes their outer skin edible.)
Fava beans are a nutrition powerhouse serving up an impressive amount of protein, fibre, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and brain-friendly choline.
Eat them raw, steamed, boiled, roasted or mashed. Make fava bean hummus (my favourite), add fava beans to whole grain and bean salads (add some feta and mint), toss them into green salads or enjoy them sautéed with garlic.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD
Sign up for the weekly Health & Wellness newsletter for the latest news and advice.