The Essential Guide - How to Buy Vegetables

The Essential Guide – How to Buy Vegetables

Let’s dig into how to buy vegetables.  The variety of vegetables available throughout the year is amazing!  With so many colors, textures, and flavors it can be hard to know how to shop for the best quality.

A few things to consider when shopping for your favorite vegetables. 

  • Is the vegetable in season?
  • Is it available locally?
  • What should you look for when buying this vegetable to get the best quality? 

Peak Seasons for Your Vegetables

You may find yourself daydreaming about certain recipes around the same time each year.  Perhaps this is due to the vegetables available during that time or simply due to family traditions. 

Either way, knowing when vegetables are in peak season will ensure you are creating the most delicious meals.  Below you will find a list of vegetables at their freshest (1).

Spring

Spring is a great time to start digging into greens!

Vegetable ready for your plate in spring include:

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Collard Greens
  • Garlic
  • Herbs
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Turnips
Spring Vegetables
A list of vegetables available in spring.

Summer

Summer fresh vegetables can add a little extra crunch to your meal, or can be added to your favorite quick bread recipe (think zucchini bread or brownies).

Your summer vegetables include:

  • Beets
  • Bell Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Green Beans
  • Herbs
  • Lima Beans
  • Okra
  • Summer Squash
  • Tomatillos
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
Summer Vegetables
A list of vegetables available in summer.

Fall

Fall is the season when many vegetables come into full swing!

Consider this list of peak season vegetables for your next tailgate.

  • Beets
  • Bell Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Collard Greens
  • Garlic
  • Ginger (also considered an herb)
  • Green beans
  • Herbs
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Radishes
  • Rutabagas
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Potatoes & Yams
  • Swiss Chard
  • Turnips
  • Winter Squash
Fall Vegetables
A list of vegetables available in the fall.

Winter

Winter vegetables can be comforting in many ways. 

Take a look at in season vegetables during the winter months:

  • Beets
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Collard Greens
  • Herbs
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Rutabagas
  • Sweet Potatoes & Yams
  • Swiss Chard
  • Turnips
  • Winter Squash
Winter Vegetables
A list of vegetables available in the winter.

How to Buy Vegetables Locally

A big part of knowing how to buy vegetables is knowing where to find them.  Depending on the type of food adventure you seek, the USDA Local Food Directories can help you find the perfect fit.

Agritourism

When going on vacation, a foodie, such as yourself, may be interested in touring a local farm or ranch.  This directory can show you where to find them.

Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Consumer Support Agriculture or CSA supports local farms by linking the farmer with community members through money pledges.  As the vegetables are grown, the farmer shares their bounty with those who pledged money to support their farm.

Interested in finding a CSA near you? Check out this directory.

Farmers Markets

Farmers Markets are a great way to support several different farms at once.  Local farmers bring their goods to one central location, and local community members can shop the bounty on these scheduled market dates and times.

This directory can help you find a Farmers Market in your area.

On-Farm Market

These local farms sell their products to community members and consumers directly. 

To find a local On-Farm Market, follow this link.

Farmers Market

How to Buy Vegetables – The Essential Guide

The following ‘How to Buy Vegetable Guide’ will help you in your vegetable buying experience. 

Artichokes

Artichokes should be heavy for their size.  Their color should be green with leaves tightly wrapped.

Avoid brown, dry, wilted artichokes.

Vegetable season: March to May

Asparagus

This vegetable should be green with straight stalks.  The buds at the top of the plant should be tightly closed.

If buds are open or the stalks of the plant are rigid, the asparagus is over mature.

Vegetable season: February to June

Beans

Beans should be crisp, brightly colored, and pods should be plump with no blemishes. 

  • Wax or Green Bean Season: April to October
  • Lima Bean Season: August to October

Beets

Beets should be round, firm, and their surface smooth.  Their color is a deep red.  Beet tops should be bright and fresh looking, not wilted.

Avoid beets with long roots, and those with rough, scaly skin. These beets will be very tough and have a strong flavor.

Vegetable season: June through October

Belgian Endive

Endive with have a slight green color, but mostly white.  This vegetable should be firm with no bruising.

Vegetable season: September through May

Belgian Endive
Belgian Endive

Broccoli

Broccoli stalks should be firm, not soft.  The florets should be closed with a dark green color.

Avoid yellowing broccoli and broccoli stalks that are soft/wobbly.

Vegetable season: October to May

Brussels sprouts

Brussel sprouts look like mini cabbages.  They heads should be bright green, tightly closed, and blemish free.

Vegetable season: October through March

Cabbage

Cabbage is heavy for its size.  They should feel very solid vs. hollow.  Head should be compact and tightly closed.

Vegetable season: All year

Carrots

This vegetable should be firm and crisp.  They should appear brightly colored.

Avoid carrots that are soft, cracked, with rough skin, or green tinged roots.

Vegetable season: All year

Cauliflower

Cauliflower should be firm and with vibrant green leaves that enclose the florets.  The florets should be tightly packed.

Avoid bruised, soft cauliflower or open florets.

Vegetable season:  September to November

Celery

Celery should be crisp with firm stalks.  The color should be light green to green.

Avoid wilted, blemished, rough, or puffy looking stalks.

Vegetable season: All year

Celery
Celery

Corn

Corn kernels should be plump and milky looking.  The husks should be green with bright leaves.

Avoid corn with dented, shrunken, bruised, or partially eaten cobs (signs of pests).

Vegetable season: May to September

Cucumber

Skin should appear bright green and shiny.  Cucumbers should be firm.

Avoid soft or bruised cucumbers.

Vegetable season: May to August

Eggplant

Skin should be a dark rich purple throughout.  Eggplants are firm, smooth, and heavy for their size when ripe.

Avoid bruised or cut/split eggplants.

Vegetable season: July to October

Lettuce

Lettuce heads should be medium weight for their size.  Leaves should appear fresh and green.

Avoid wilted or bruised areas of the lettuce.

Vegetable season: All year

Mushrooms

Mushroom caps and stems should be firm and dry, not soft and wilted.

Vegetable season: April to November

Okra

Okra is best when bright green and tender.  Pods are typically shorter than 4.5 inches.

Avoid bruised, mushy, pale, hard pods.

Vegetable season: May to September

Okra
Okra

Onions

Skin should be dry with a papery texture.  Onions should be hard, well-shaped with crisp green tops.

Avoid green spots or bruised areas.

Vegetable season: All year

Parsnips

Parsnips should be firm, not wobbly, with a smooth skin. 

Avoid cracked, bruised, or soft parsnips.

Vegetable season: October to April

Peas

Pea should be bright green and plump.

Avoid peas that are swollen, light-colored or gray.  These peas with be tough.

Vegetable season: April to July

Peppers

Pepper skin should be glossy with a bright, fresh color.  These vegetables should be firm with a thick flesh.

Avoid soft, bruised, or blemished peppers.

Vegetable season: All year

Potatoes

White potatoes

Skin should be fairly smooth. 

Vegetable should be firm with minimal blemishes.

Vegetable season: All year

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are thick, medium sized vegetables.  They should taper at the ends.

Avoid bruising, moldy, or decaying sweet potatoes.

Vegetable season: September to December

Radishes

Radishes have a nice red color.  They should be round, crisp, and firm with bright, fresh green tops.  They range between ¾-1 inch in size.

Vegetable season: May to July

Radishes
Radishes

Spinach

Spinach leaves should be a rich green color.  Leave should be large, buttery, and blemish free.

Avoid yellowing spinach or leaves w/ coarse stems.

Vegetable season: March to May, but available all year.

Squash

Summer squash (zucchini or yellow squash)

These vegetables should be firm, bright in color with a glossy, smooth skin.  They should feel heavy for their size.

Vegetable season: June to August

Winter squash (butternut or acorn squash)

Winter squash should have a hard, unblemished rind.  Rind should be a good color.  Winter squash are heavy for their size.

Vegetable season: September to December

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the summer darlings.  They should be bright, smooth, slightly soft, and plump.  They should be blemish free.

Vegetable season: May to August

Turnips and Rutabagas

These vegetables are small to medium in size.  They should be smooth, firm, and heavy for their size. 

  • Turnips are white with a purple tint.
  • Rutabagas are yellow with large roots.

Vegetable season: September to March

image of vegetables

Final Thoughts on How to Buy Vegetables

If you live in an area where vegetables are not available through local farmers, this ‘How to Buy Vegetables Guide’ can still help you find the best quality vegetables at your local store. 

Also, keep in mind, you can find many delicious and nutritious vegetables in frozen or canned forms throughout the year.

Interested in learning about How to Buy Fruit? Check out this blog!

For more information about The Dietitian Resource, visit our site or check out the blog.  Thanks for visiting!

References

1. U.S Department of Agriculture SNAP Ed Connection. Seasonal Produce Guide. [Online] [Cited: Aug 26, 2022.] https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide.

2. Tennessee, University of. A Guide to Buying Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. [Online] [Cited: Aug 26, 2022.] https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/SP527.pdf.

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More About Rochelle

Rochelle Inwood MS, RDN, ACSM EP-C

Hello there! I’m Rochelle Inwood, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Exercise Physiologist (ACSM EP-C). With over 14 years of experience, I have sharpened my expertise through diverse roles, including weight management program co-coordinator, patient/employee gym supervisor, outpatient dietitian, program manager, dietetic internship preceptor, and more. I am passionate about learning, creating, teaching, and supporting personal growth and development.