Fruit. It’s the best kind of dessert, wrapped up by nature in a convenient and wholesome package. And summer is the best time to find the sweetest, freshest, seasonal local pickings. So many great fruits are grown right here in the Westchester region; they don’t have to travel thousands of miles, losing quality and nutritional value along the way. With the variety of fruits available now, this is the perfect time to encourage children to try all the colors of the rainbow.
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables daily can help reduce the risk of many leading causes of illness and death, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The USDA suggests that adults eat at least 1½ to 2 cups of fruit per day as part of a healthy eating pattern. For ages 1 to 3, the recommendation is 1 cup per day, rising to 2 cups for teens. In fact, fruit is a useful way to help teens meet their increased caloric needs, while providing essential nutrients at this critical growth stage.
With the exceptions of avocado, olives and coconut – which contain fats that are healthful in moderation – fruits are low in fat, sodium and calories. All fruits contain fiber – the broom that sweeps out your digestive tract and a variety of micronutrients. Fruit helps with hydration, too. When your child refuses that lovely clear glass of water, spruce it up with a fruit infusion, or offer a piece of fruit (without the vessel). Made up of up to 92 percent water, fruits can help satisfy our extra hydration needs during the warmer months.
Here’s a seasonal timeline of some of the best fruits grown in the area, so you can be sure to find your food at its freshest peak!
While dried apricots are available year round, the season for the fresh type is short and sweet; maybe that’s what makes them so special. Most apricots are imported from warmer climes, starting in May. In New York state, they are often crossed with plums to produce pluots, or plumcots. Apricots are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, and, like most fruits, a good source of potassium and fiber.
Anthocyanins in cherries, the pigments that give them their rich color, may reduce pain related to inflammation. Studies suggest that stone fruit like peaches, nectarines, plums and cherries, can help combat obesity. Their size and pit help limit portions. Don’t forget to remove the pit when serving to small children.
With the average American eating about 8 pounds of these per year, strawberries are certainly popular. A cup of strawberries contains about 160 kilocalories and more than 150 percent of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin C. They’re also a good source of folate, fiber and potassium. Together, these nutrients aid in digestion, boost your immune system and support healthy growth. These fun-size treats also are the only fruit with “seeds” on the outside and technically not a berry at all!
These little blue powerhouses have been implicated in everything from heart health to brain function. A variety of powerful antioxidants contribute to its superfood status. Local and plentiful, they are a sweet addition to your fruit platter.
A tasty follow-up to your summer barbecue, watermelon packs more than 90 percent water and a few other nutrients too. With one third of the daily value for vitamins A and C, watermelon (and other melons) is a great choice for immune function, vision, healthy hair and skin. Potassium in watermelon helps regulate blood pressure by counter-balancing sodium in other foods.
These berries have plenty of vitamin C and are an excellent source of both kinds of fiber – soluble (protects against heart disease and diabetes) and insoluble (keeps your digestive system humming).
Whether you prefer fuzzy or smooth, there’s no denying the appeal of these genetically similar fruits. Like other stone fruit, they help with weight management. It seems their polyphenols are prebiotic, improving bacterial conditions in the gut and helping to ward off both weight gain and disease.
At 8 grams of fiber per cup, raspberries are an excellent choice for keeping you and your children regular. Their convenient size makes them a fabulously fancy dessert alternative for kids of all ages.
Of course, there are some fruits that cannot be grown in the northeast. When the fruit of your dreams is out of season, you can also turn to frozen fruits. In fact, compared to some supermarket offerings with lengthy farm-to-shelf delays, frozen produce may retain more of their important nutrients.
Some ways to encourage your kids to try the bounty of fruits:
• Keep it in sight – make sure washed and cut fruit is always available at eye level in the fridge.
• Dip it! Serve chunks of fruit with a tasty dip (try yogurt and peanut butter).
• Make your own flavored yogurt (with no added sugar!) by combining nonfat plain Greek yogurt and chopped fruit.
• Pop it on the grill or throw it in a smoothie.
• Visit a farm, see how they grow, Pick Your Own (see sidebar).
Start your children out with the healthy and delicious habit of eating fruit and they will reap the rewards over a lifetime.
Elisa Bremner, MS RDN CDN, is a Westchester-based nutritionist and freelance writer with a mission to see all Americans gain access to nutrition education and wholesome foods.
Hemlock Hill in Cortlandt Manor, Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills and Hilltop Hanover in Yorktown Heights all offer a chance to get up close and personal with the growing process. Showing your kids where food comes from helps cultivate an appreciation for it. Getting them involved in the picking may be even better.
Show your kids that pick-your-own involves more than a trip to the supermarket! Call ahead to find out what’s ripe.
9 Fishkill Farm Road, Hopewell Junction
Strawberries in June, cherries and berries in July, peaches and nectarines late July to August.
227 Pitcher Lane, Red Hook
Strawberries, blueberries and blackberries with U Pick starting in June and running throughout summer
Rose Hill Farm
19 Rose Hill Farm, Red Hook
Cherries in June to early July, blueberries July to August, peaches & plums in August
Stuart’s Fruit Farm
62 Granite Springs Road, Granite Springs
Peaches available mid-August, apples in the fall
Wilkens Fruit & Fir Farm
1335 White Hill Road, Yorktown Heights
Starting mid-August (call to confirm) you can pick your own peaches and nectarines