10 Tips for Shopping Farmer’s Markets Like a Meal Planning Pro!

10 Tips for Shopping a Farmer's Market Like a Meal Planning Pro. The first full week of June each year is Local Food Week in Ontario, Canada. And personally, I like to make a pretty big deal about Local Food Week, in part because I grew up on a farm. As a family, we’ve been needing an activity that gets us outside and enjoying the fresh air. We love celebrating Local Food Week by visiting a farmers market stand or two, and building all of the fresh ingredients into our weekly food and meal plan. These 10 tips will help you determine how to build a flexible grocery list that uses seasonal ingredients, and allows you to shop for your groceries at the farmer's market without feeling over-purchasing or feeling overwhelmed. 

If you've been following me on social media you will know two things - my little family and I have had our share of viruses in the past six months (thank you so much, day care!), and the first full week of June each year is Local Food Week in Ontario, Canada. And personally, I like to make a pretty big deal about Local Food Week, in part because I grew up on a farm (which is not an easy life), contributing to the food system. I've seen my family grow everything from pork, to beef, to poultry, and now lamb as my brother takes over for the next generation.

It has taken awhile, but it is slowly beginning to feel like spring here in Ontario, Canada. There are still plenty of cool and damp days, and we’ve been needing a family activity that gets us outside and enjoying the fresh air. Fortunately, with spring also comes one of my favourite seasonal activities – shopping at the farmer’s market! And I love celebrating Local Food Week by visiting a farmers market stand or two, and building all of the fresh ingredients I find into my weekly food plan. Because as we know, having a meal plan makes life so much easier as a busy family. 

What I love about markets first and foremost are that they support our local farmers and businesses. But they also provide a much more family friendly atmosphere, often have food samples, and they help get kids excited about food. My little guy loves running around our local markets, saying hello to all of the friendly people, and as a bonus he get his fresh air and often some time at the park located next to the vendors.

What I’ve struggled with in the past at farmer’s markets, is my own excitement at all the food, and trying to restrain myself from buying everything all at once! Because, as we know, it won’t stay fresh indefinitely. So I’ve some up with a system. To give you an idea of how I plan, I'm sharing a sample two-week seasonal meal plan. This helps me plan out an idea of what types of produce (and how much) I would need prior to market shopping to ensure I only buy what we need for maximum food enjoyment, and to avoid having food waste. And if you're looking for more meal planning resources, including a free menu planner template and shopping list, sign up for my FREE Meal Planning Resource Library and you will have access to those freebies as well as an amazing Summer e-Cookbook!

10 Tips for Shopping Farmer’s Markets Like a Meal Planning Pro!

1) Be familiar with what produce is in season.

If something is currently “in season’, it should be more readily available and won’t be imported (including additional transportation fees), meaning you can likely get locally grown food at better prices. Not only will you get fresh options that are more locally grown, but this is more budget friendly as well! Find out more about what's in-season during each month here.

2) Make a general meal plan before you go to the market.

You meal plan can incorporate the seasonal produce that you anticipate purchasing, or you can create a meal plan that allows flexibility based on the produce and foods you will find (e.g. a quiche or pizza could have ingredients substituted based on what’s available from vendors). Also, by having an idea of what meals you are shopping for, this will allow you to stay focused as opposed to feeling overwhelmed. As part of this plan, keep it simple! Some of the best sides are just fresh produce enhanced with a flavour from your pantry (oil, vinegar, seasonings, etc.)

SAMPLE SPRING & SUMMER MEAL PLAN IDEAS (2 WEEK ROTATION)

Monday
a. Crustless Quiche and a Garden Salad
b. Skillet Macaroni & Cheese with a Garden Salad

Tuesday
a. Slow Cooker Roast Beef with Roasted Potatoes or Quinoa, and Cucumber Salad
b. Slow Cooker "Rotissarie" Chicken with Brown Rice and Ceasar Salad

Wednesday
a. Mexican Shredded Beef Salad (using leftover beef)
b. Cobb Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing (using leftover chicken)

Thursday
a. BBQ’d Beef Kofta Burgers (from the freezer) with Rice & Grilled Peppers & Zucchini (cut & mixed in a foil pack on the BBQ)
b. BBQ’d Chicken Burgers  (from the freezer) with Corn on the Cob & a Garden Salad

Friday
a. Pasta Toss with Sausage/Chicken, Tomato Sauce and Chopped Chard, and possibly even Peppers, & Sautéed Mushrooms (whatever is available.. yum!)
b. Tortellini Pasta Salad with Peppers, Cucumber, Tomatoes & Feta with Greek Dressing

3) Check out what ingredients you already have at home.

This can include looking at what foods you have in your freezer that need used up, your pantry, or even a quick peek to see what’s ready for harvesting in your garden (if you have one).

4) Limit your shopping bags!

Only bring the number of fabric grocery bags you will need for your pre-planned market purchases. This will serve as a good reminder to not splurge, and it will reduce waste by requiring plastic bags from the market vendors.

5) Don’t over buy too many fresh ingredients & stick to your plan!

It’s easy to get excited and overwhelmed by all of the amazing food in front of you, and then end up buying too much! But food waste doesn’t help you, the planet or your pocket book. Keep in mind a handful of things that you actually need for the upcoming week, and having a meal plan will really help to narrow that down so it doesn’t become a case of your eyes being bigger than your stomach.

6) Buy at least a couple of fresh food items you are able to freeze.

Doing this helps in the event that you do overindulge, or if other events come up during the week that throws your meal plan off track. It never hurts to have produce that is a bit more flexible. You might be surprised at the number of veggies and fruits that are freezable for everything from awesome stir-fries at a later date, to smoothies in the morning. This Freezing Vegetables resource is invaluable, as are these tips on how to Freeze Fresh Summer Fruit

7) Shop around!

Get to know the farmers, find out where and how things were grown, and ask them about their produce. At my local market there about really only 2-3 vendors I’ve started to focus on based on the quality of the produce, and because I know for certain that I’m supporting a local business (not a vendor with imported food). I can attest that my local farm’s heads of lettuce always stay fresh longer because they were picked just before coming to the market!

8) Involve your kids.

Ask your family to look around and try something new. This helps to engage kids in finding flavours they will enjoy and be excited about in your meal plan. They may also be excited about buying a few plants for the garden and planting and caring for these throughout the season. Kids who are involved in growing and making their own food are more likely to eat it!

9) Shop earlier for selection, or shop later for deals.

As a mom, I’m always cognizant of the ever-important nap-time window. Shopping earlier during the market hours will ensure you have prime choice of whatever vendors are selling that week. But, if it’s at all possible you may want to consider shopping closer to closing time at your market. Vendors don't want to take food time and have to store it, as it may spoil. They will offer discounts closer to closing time to ensure nothing comes home with them.

10) Plan for an end-of-the-week food clean up!

At the end of the week, set a reminder on your phone or calendar to do a fridge clean up! That may mean freezing some unused produce for the near future, having an omelette, stir fry night or leftovers night (with pre-cooked food). Get creative with your leftovers, and don’t let them go to waste before your next trip to the market!

How often do you go to the farmer's market? What are your favourite ingredients to buy and meal plan with? Leave me a comment below!