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Jane Park/MEDILL

Eat a variety of oranges and other citrus fruits this winter. 

Five tips for recession-proof nutrition: Stretching your dollars on healthful produce

by Jane Park
Jan 14, 2009

Sweet potatoes

 Jane Park/MEDILL

Sweet potatoes are widely available and affordable right now. Store well in cool places.


 Jane Park/MEDILL

Efrai Gutierrez helps a customer in the produce aisle at Whole Foods Market on Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Ask your local grocer which produce is in season and where it originates.

Know what’s in your winter fruits and vegetables.

Get plenty of it this winter.
Found in leafy green vegetables and citrus fruits, this water soluble B-vitamin is especially good for pregnant or breastfeeding women as it helps in new cell production and helps prevent anemia.

Vitamin A
Stave off infections and viruses with this multifunction vitamin.
Found in fruits and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach, vitamin A helps maintain good vision and bone growth as well as an overall strong immune system.


Dark, leafy greens and citrus fruits are good sources of fiber, the indigestible part of plant foods. An adequate fiber intake can help prevent obesity and heart disease in addition to maintaining regularity.

Vitamin C
Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C helps form collagen in bones, cartilage, muscle and blood vessels. It is found in citrus fruits.

Diets rich in nutrients and abundant in variety can be economical as well this winter.

That’s good news for cash-strapped consumers struggling to keep New Year’s resolutions and tight budgets in check.

Local dietitians, grocers and wholesale produce distributors offer simple tips for smart, nutritious winter eating.

1. Buy in-season produce.

In-season produce is often available at affordable prices and usually more flavorful than off-season fare, said registered dietitian Christina M. Fitzgerald, who heads Nourished, Nutrition and Wellness Services in Chicago.

"They’re going to be more ripe, they’re going to be more fresh, they’re going to have a better taste to them. The more ripe they are, the better nutrients you’re going to get out of the fruit or vegetable,” she said.

Explore the variety of citrus fruits available right now. Choose from Clementines, Minneola tangelos, Honey tangerines, and Temple and juice oranges. These are good choices for people craving fresh fruit at lower costs, said Mike Fusco, fruit salesman at wholesale distributor Strube Celery and Vegetable Company.

Leafy greens rich in vitamins are also in season.

“Any of your greens, any of your spinach, any of your collard greens are great options right now,” said Fitzgerald.

Winter squash varieties such as butternut and spaghetti are also readily available at supermarkets and other stores.

2. Buy local.

Be aware of where produce originates.

“We are typically thinking about buying in-season produce that is [grown] somewhat close to the area so that you’re not shipping it in from somewhere like Chile and having the price hiked up on you,” said Fitzgerald.

Peaches, nectarines and cherries lining shelves right now may be shipped from tropical regions and are going to be more expensive than many citrus fruits. 

Though oranges are shipped mostly from Florida and California, they are often more affordable even in winter than summer crops shipped from farther afield.

3. Shop for deals.

“I’ll tell you my wife’s secret,” said Franco Alimondi from Strube’s vegetable department.

Instead of buying fruits and vegetables in bulk, buy whatever is on sale each week in smaller amounts, he suggested. Not only does shopping weekly keep costs down, it often offers a fresher product.

4. Choose frozen over canned.

If you’re looking to maximize nutrition and minimize additives, frozen fruits and vegetables contain fewer preservatives than many of their canned counterparts.

Frozen produce, typically flash frozen, is “essentially fresh,” Fitzgerald said.

“You’ve got all the fiber and all the vitamins and nutrients intact,” she added.

Canned produce, however, often has a higher calorie count due to a high content of salt or sugar.

“A lot of your canned vegetables are going to be extremely high in salt,” Fitzgerald warned.

“You can always rinse them off in a colander, but inevitably some of the salt is going to have seeped into your vegetables.”

Canned or non-frozen packaged fruits tend to be preserved with extra sugar, fruit juice or syrup, which also add extra calories.

5. Use staples as a base.

“Stock up on some of the basics. Get some stuff that’s gonna stay in the fridge for a while – your carrots, your celery,” Fitzgerald said.

Produce that stores well and remains available year-round can ensure fresh food supplies without stepping over  budget.

“Start with the staples, and you can play around with vegetables like your squashes and make some really good, hearty stew that will last for a while.”