Children can help pick vegetables during nutrition month
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Savor Michigan Flavors During Nutrition Month

March is the perfect time to celebrate National Nutrition Month in Michigan! Now that gardening season is right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to remind ourselves to stop eating all that frozen, processed food and to put more fresh fruits and vegetables on our plates. There is no better place to find these delicious additions to any meal than in our awesome little mitten, which happens to be one of the biggest agricultural producers in the country. Not only is March National Nutrition Month, it’s also Michigan Food and Agriculture Month. Below is a list of fresh foods and drinks made locally, and organically right here in Michigan. They are listed by Michigan’s national ranking in production,  so be sure to add these nutritious treats to your next shopping list.

Picking blueberies for nutrition month
Picking healthy fruits is a family affair at Montrose Orchards. Photo courtesy of Margaret Clegg.

1.) Blueberries

The Mitten produces more blueberries than any other state in the nation. According to the USDA’s Annual Statistical Bulletin, Michigan farmers grow more than 99,o00 lbs of these ripe, juicy berries each year. Every blueberry season I pick them straight from the bush at Montrose Orchards. We always make it a group experience, involving friends and their children to remind and teach them that the food we rely on comes from people who worked hard to grow it. These tasty blueberries aren’t just for jazzing up pies and muffins. They provide the highest antioxidant level of any fruit and a high portion of your daily value of vitamin C. While they’re a delicious addition to many baked goods, my favorite way to eat them is fresh in a blueberry-pineapple parfait.

2.) Dry Beans

Producing over 530,000 lbs according to the USDA, Michigan comes in second in the country for growing these nutritional powerhouses. Dry beans can double as a vegetable and an excellent source of protein. They are great sources of fiber as well. Fran Arbogast-Carlson, dietitian and operator of Carlson-Arbogast Farms, suggests eating half cup of dry beans a day due to their many health benefits. My best tip for using dry beans is to boil a whole bag in a large pot until they are soft. After you’ve drained them well, place them in a freezer bag and store in your freezer. This is great for when I am in a lunch rush. I make myself a burrito bowl by mixing a handful of thawed black beans, some corn, salsa, fresh veggies, and a dollop of fat-free Greek yogurt.

Michigan apples are great source of fiber during nutrition month
Michigan apples are great source of fiber during nutrition month. Photo courtesy of Margaret Clegg.

3.) Apples

According to the USDA, Michigan orchard owners raise more than a million pounds of apples per year with only Washington and New York producing more. When I toured Al-Mar Orchards with owner Jim Koan, I was blessed to try some of the sweetest fruit I’ve ever tasted. It was amazing to hear of the many ways they keep their crops healthy and growing without the use of pesticides or chemicals. Apples help keep us healthy and growing. Packed with fiber and flavonoids, apples have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. They might even help in preventing memory loss. What’s your favorite way to eat apples? I like Gala apples sliced thin, served with a protein-packed dollop of Sunbutter, a great alternative for those allergic to peanuts.

Michigan Sweet Cherries are a Nutrition Month favorite
Cherries actually belong to the rose family and are related to peaches. Photo courtesy of Goran Anicic.

4.) Sweet Cherries

Traverse City wasn’t nicknamed the “Cherry Capital of the World” for nothing. This 8.5 square mile city produces most of the Michigan’s sweet cherries—22.9 tons. I disliked cherries as a child until I tasted them fresh from the tree in Leelanau County. Now I can’t get enough! According to the USDA, people around the country eat on average 1.5 lbs of apples per person per year. Cherries are full of vitamin A and fiber, and are versatile in terms of cooking. Cherries can be used in savory dishes like salsa but they are also delicious in numerous sweet dishes including smoothies, baked goods, and ice cream. Looking for an interesting twist on eating healthy grains this nutrition month? Try a couscous salad using Michigan sweet cherries.

The Awesome Mitten- The 11th Annual Harvest Stompede Vineyard Run and Walk and Wine Tour
Grapes come in many colors including green, red, black, yellow, pink, and purple. Photo courtesy of the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association.

5.) Grapes

According to the USDA, Michigan vineyards grow more than 63 tons of grapes per year. While most people think of Michigan wine when they think of grapes, it’s important to remember that fresh grapes are a great addition to a healthy diet plan. They are high in vitamin C and antioxidants, which helps to keep our immune systems strong. Grapes can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. While they’re delicious to eat on their own, I look forward to red grape season so I can add them to my tossed salads. Fruits & Veggies More Matters has a great “Chopped Green Salad” recipe, loaded with spinach, grapes, and fiber-rich edamame. It also includes a great homemade salad dressing that is free of preservatives and added sodium.

Pumpkins are a great vegetable for nutrition month
Pumpkins get their orange hue from beta-carotene. Photo courtesy of Margaret Clegg.

6.) Pumpkins

When most people think of pumpkins, they think of jack-o’-lanterns and Halloween. However, pumpkins are a great source of nutrition as well. According to the USDA, Michigan farmers grow over 108,000 lbs of pumpkins every year. They are loaded with beta-carotene, which causes their orange coloring. Our body turns beta-carotene into vitamin A for our eye and skin health. While most people put pumpkin in sweet baked goods, pumpkin can be great in savory items too. I love the idea of Fruits & Veggies More Matters’ recipe for “Pumpkin and Bean Soup” as it uses three of the top five Michigan exports.

Dairy is an important food group during nutrition month
Day old twin dairy calves born at Paulen Farms. Photo courtesy of Margaret Clegg.

7.) Milk

According to the USDA, Michigan dairy farmers produce more than 4,804 tons of milk each year. On average, one dairy  cow alone produces more than 2,000 gallons of milk a year. Even though Nutrition Month tends to focus on eating more fruits and vegetables, dairy is an important part of  a healthy diet. Just one glass of Michigan milk provides 30% of your recommended daily value of calcium and eight grams of protein. Plain Greek yogurt is a great substitute for sour cream in many recipes. I recommend adding a dollop to this “Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili” recipe from the United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

Photo Credit: The Canning Diva®
Peaches are a natural diuretic, helping to cleanse the kidney and bladder. Photo courtesy of The Canning Diva.

8.) Peaches

The Romeo Peach Festival has been celebrated in Michigan every Labor Day weekend since 1931. Producing 8.9 tons, according to the USDA, of this sweet juicy fruit is truly cause for celebration! There’s more to peaches than pie and cobbler. One medium peach is a good source of vitamins A and C and contains less than 100 calories. My family frequently enjoys them sliced, served over cottage cheese. Their flavor is greatly enhanced with grilling as well. Try Fruits & Veggies More Matters recipe for “Grilled Peach Salad with Spinach and Homemade Red Onion Vinaigrette“.

Aside from these eight produce items, Michigan is known for growing an abundance of other fruits and vegetables that are perfect for celebrating this month in all its nutritional glory.

The Awesome Mitten wants to know, what’s your favorite recipe for enjoying Michigan produce during nutrition month?


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