Meal Plan Using Local & Seasonal Ingredients

Meal planning is a great way to set yourself up for success each week. It can help you eat healthier, stick to a budget, and just make dinner time less stressful.

Meal planning using locally sourced, seasonal produce can be a bit tricker but is definitely worth your time. When you start to incorporate seasonal produce into your meal plans each week, you have to rethink the way you plan.

Typically people choose meals they want to make and then list all the ingredients they need to purchase to complete those meals. They let the meals dictate the ingredients. When you use local produce, you have to stick with what is in season in your local area. So instead, you let the ingredients available dictate your meals instead of vice versa. You have to be familiar with what is in season in your area and then base your meal plans around what you can create using only those ingredients.

When using local, seasonal produce, you need to let the ingredients dictate the meals instead of letting the meals dictate the ingredients.

For folks who are avid gardeners or frequent the local farmer's markets, this may seem like a no-brainer, but for the rest of us, this can be tricky. How do you even know what is in season and when? How do you know where to purchase it?

Industrialized Food System

Over the past 50+ years, our society has transitioned from purchasing local food from our neighbors or growing it on our own to purchasing it at a big-box grocery store. These stores provide everything we need at any time of year, even bananas in December. To give us this variety, the stores purchase products from across the world, but it robs us of knowing our local food system. As a result, we can not know how our food is grown, when it is grown, and how to use it to create hearty, nutritious meals for our families.

Local Food System

For us in Arkansas, this means enjoying produce like fresh, juicy strawberries and blueberries in the spring, heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, corn, cantaloupe, and fresh peaches during the summer, and apples, sweet potatoes, pecans, and butternut squash in the fall. There is always something new to look forward to when you eat with the seasons.

Locally grown produce ripens longer on the vine and is not bred to withstand shipping cross-country. Most everyone can taste the difference between a grocery store tomato purchased out-of-season and a local homegrown heirloom tomato. There is just no comparison! When you incorporate locally grown food into your meals, you know where that food comes from and can often find it to be a more flavorful and nutritious item.

Eating seasonally means enjoying the flavors of each season when they are at their peak!

Purchasing local, seasonal food not only tastes better but also has a positive impact on your local food economy. Buying local will likely not be cheaper, but more of your hard-earned money will stay in your city, creating more resilient communities that can weather tough economic times. We all saw how our global supply chains started to break down during the COVID pandemic. It showed us that we need to rely on our local food system. During the pandemic, we could still depend on our local farmers to stock our shelves at The Farmstand, our local food grocery store.

You may be thinking, okay, great, but how do I know what is in season in my area?

Seasonal Produce Cards

To give you an idea of what is in season for us in central Arkansas each month, we created seasonal produce cards. Arkansas has a mild winter, and you can find produce growing here all year long. Root crops and green leafy veggies thrive in our colder months, and we have a long summer growing season filled with summer annuals such as tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplant, okra, and more.

Seasonal Recipes

Now that you have a guide to what is in season during the year, how do you want to use it to prepare delicious meals? To help with this, we created sample seasonal meal plans that show how you can easily incorporate local produce into weekly meals.

Kim Doughty-McCannon, the owner of Bell Urban Farm, shared, "Usually, I tweak my recipes to include as many local items as possible! It is a fun challenge for myself and my family each week to add as many local items to our dinner plates as possible! For example, if a soup recipe I want to make calls for barley which we don't have locally, I will substitute it with rice, something I can purchase locally."

Where to Purchase Local Produce

To purchase local food, look for local food grocery stores like the Farmstand, small grocery stores that buy direct from farmers, farmer's markets, and local farm stands. Since the pandemic, many local farmers have also started selling online or offering community-supported agriculture (CSA) boxes. Research online to find the local farmers in your area!

If you live in or near Conway, Arkansas, we have several options for accessing local produce:

  • The Farmstand: The Farmstand is our local food grocery store at Bell Urban Farm. We are open seven days a week, year-round, and we purchase directly from over 100 other local farmers and artisans. We also offer seasonal farm boxes that you can sign up for. These CSA-style farm boxes are a great way to become familiar with the local food in our area! Read the Q&A blog about our Farm Boxes, and sign up for our newsletter to be notified when the next Farm Box is available!
  • Conway Locally Grown: "CLG" is an online farmer's market. You place your order online at the beginning of each week and pick it up every Friday afternoon in downtown Conway. New items are listed weekly by local farmers.
  • Farmers' Markets: We currently have two main Farmers' Markets in Conway. The Downtown Conway Farmers' Market and the Conway Farmers' Market at Antioch Church.

"I challenge you to seek out local, seasonal food. Commit to adding more locally grown items to your meals each week. Forming a relationship with the food on your plate and the farmer who grew it is the best feeling in the world and, in my opinion, the best part of eating locally!" Kim Doughty-McCannon shared.