Midwinter Dilemma: How on Earth Can You Eat Seasonally With Picky Kids?

Linda Sharps knows she's buying produce shipped from afar. But what local choices make sense in the dead of winter?

(Photo: Kenneth Wiedemann/ Getty Images)

Living in Eugene, Oregon with her family, Linda wrangles two rambunctious boys while ignoring the laundry.

"Can we get some of those?" My eight-year-old—a strong contender in the title for World's Pickiest Eater—was pointing at a pint of blueberries in our Safeway produce section.

"Of course!" I said, tossing them in the cart. "Strawberries too?" Both my kids would live on Goldfish crackers and peanut butter if I'd let them, so I jump at the chance to stuff them with the few fruits and vegetables they'll tolerate. The list is pretty damn small: berries, bananas, apples, carrots, and oddly enough, celery (my older son: "It tastes like crunchy water!"). 

When I was unloading my groceries at home, I took another look at that container of strawberries I'd purchased. Each berry was freakishly enormous, practically the size of my palm. I tried an experimental bite: bleargh. Almost completely tasteless, all overly firm tart flesh, with zero of that sweet summer flavor. 

Well, winter strawberries aren't exactly known for their amazing farm-fresh taste, are they? I live in Oregon, where this time of year berries have likely been shipped from Central and South America or Florida. Bananas are coming from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama. My beloved Honeycrisp apples, which I am downright obsessed with, travel from Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, New England, and upstate New York.

It's not that I'm unaware of the negative impact my nonlocal, nonseasonal purchases have on the environment. I did read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and of course common sense tells me that foods that have traveled thousands of miles via the industrial agriculture system are contributing to transport-related emissions in a big way.

There are all kinds of reasons to stick to locally grown foods. They taste better, for one thing. Their production, transportation, and distribution require fewer fossil fuels. Locally grown foods help protect local ecology and preserve genetic diversity. Local food uses less packaging. The list goes on.

I know these things, and yet I still find myself buying all sorts of nonseasonal produce. During the summer, we have any number of farmers markets that are overflowing with delicious Pacific Northwest bounty, but it's February right now. My options are mostly limited to cabbage, chard, parsnips, and rutabaga. None of which is something my children would eat without, say, a canvas restraining system and an electric cattle prod.

It's a complicated issue, in no small part because of our ingrained eating habits and demand for food diversity. Truly supporting the locavore movement basically means committing to a complete absence of certain fresh produce for several months each year—or growing everything in hothouses at great expense to both the consumer and the environment. 

I could probably be persuaded to pass up imported winter berries in favor of the frozen local variety, although that likely would mean my children would stop eating them. (Who hates strawberry shortcake? My weird-ass kids, that's who.) But I'd also need to give up bananas, and those Honeycrisps I adore. Not to mention, oh, practically everything else that comes from the fruit and vegetable section of my neighborhood Safeway this time of year.

I frequently shop at a big supermarket chain, the only foods I grow in my own backyard are tomatoes and sweet peas, and I have zero interest in canning. I'm obviously a big part of the problem, particularly during the winter months. This is definitely one of those environmental topics where I tend to throw up my hands because making meaningful changes seems so hard—but just like any other green-living effort, there must be baby steps a person like myself can take to move to a more sustainable grocery list. 

Which leads me to you, dear reader. I know many of you are dedicated to eating seasonally; do you have any advice for changing my (picky!) family's views of food diversity?

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