Throughout the first 5 years of my daughter’s life, fruit was exceptionally exciting. Like most everything up to that point in June’s little life, fruit was still new. A bowl of berries or slice of melon would light up her face like it was Christmas morning. Watching these exuberant reactions charged me up too-I loved how she loved fruit. Simple, unadorned fruit was all that was needed to get June fist-pumping and doing the happy dance every single time.
Sometime between her 5th and 6th year, however, I noticed that fruit began to lose a little of its luster. While June still proclaimed a passion for fruit, I noticed a different, lower level of excitement. A number of my friends saw the same thing in their own kids around this age. Yes, they still loved their fruit, but not with the enthusiasm seen in the good ol’ days of toddlerhood and preschool. It seemed to me that June had accumulated enough fruit years for the newness to wear off. She’d also been exposed to just about all the exotic, strange fruits I could find in our supermarkets around here. I found myself bummed that fruit was no longer the magical, mystical food that it once was.
Fresh Fruit Ideas
Like most parents, I’m concerned about the amount of sugar in our family diet. Because fruit and fruit desserts can be such a great substitute for sugary desserts, I was very motivated to find a way to maintain a buzz about fruit. How can I get fruit to be seen as a treat and savored like when she was a preschooler? I wanted to see the return of her fabulous fruit dance.
After putting some thought into it, I sunk my energies into 2 major strategies to combat this fruit fatigue:
Strategy #1: Presentation. I started serving fruit in more creative and attractive ways. I still do serve fruit in its simplest form, but now have greatly expanded my recipes and put more thought into its “wrapping paper.” As my husband reminds me, “Eye appeal is half the meal.” Although I’m not going into details about this strategy today, it is a subject for future posts, and you’ll see this strategy in practice with the desserts on this blog.
Strategy #2: Seasonal Fruit Boundaries. This second strategy is the one I’m focusing on in today’s post. Limiting our fruit consumption to a 3-4 month season has been a major change in our household, and has so far proven to be a successful tactic in restoring its allure. By restricting its availability, I’m able to build anticipation and offer fruit as “new” again.
Our best example of eating seasonally is apple season. Even though they are available year-round, I stay away from the apple aisle between February and August. Sometime in late September/early October we begin our annual family Apple Festival. We’ll go apple picking and have taste tests of the different types of apples. I buy unsweetened apple butter to use as a topping for waffles or desserts, and Jake will make his awesome apple pancakes. Apples will show up in main dishes, side dishes, and of course, desserts. I look forward to the rousing applause I get from Jake and June when I present my first applesauce batch in the fall, which I use liberally as snacks and desserts for school or work.
Even though we went apple picking and made applesauce years before we started this seasonal eating approach, because apple season is now consciously limited to just 3 or so months, it has pushed all of us to come up with more creative ways to use apples. I’m sure we are eating many more apple dishes than we would have without our seasonal boundary line. As hard as it is to say good-bye to our apple season in January, the joyous and exuberant autumn welcome makes it worth the wait.
In the spring we have a similar Berry Fest. We get to pick blueberries from our own patch, and find other berries from farmers’ markets to ring in berry season. That first bowl of fresh berries after going without is very festive and exciting. I like to make a ceremonial “unveiling of the berries!” Granted, it can be hard for me to resist a beautiful quart of strawberries in February, especially when winter fruit options are not as plentiful. But my seasonal resolve is reinforced when I do hold off and see the response to our grand presentation in the spring.
Some fruits appear in stores only during certain seasons, like cherries or peaches. But there is an abundance of fruit on the market nearly year round, like berries, apples, oranges, pears, and grapes. My goal has been to limit any particular fruit to a 3-4 month window. For example, even though watermelon and cantaloupe are available in earlier spring and stay into the fall, I only purchase them June-August. Melon season! We do make exceptions at parties and friends’ houses, but otherwise each fruit (with the exception of bananas) has its own phase to shine.
Nutrition and Variety
I did consider the nutritional consequences of limiting fruits in this way. Would I be shortchanging June’s vitamin intake by limiting her diversity each season? After all, it’s diversity that brings more nutrition to our plates. I counter this potential problem by challenging myself to come up with interesting alternatives and options, especially in the late fall and winter months.
First and foremost, I try to expand our selection of fruits from the fresh produce aisle. In the winter, I look for pomegranates or papayas, two of my all-time favorite fruits. I’ll even occasionally get fruit that may not be favorites, like persimmons and pomelos, but that I could cut up and serve as part of a winter fruit salad that includes yummier fruit, like kiwis, pears, and oranges.
Along with apples, autumn is also the beginning of our frozen fruit season. For June, frozen fruit seems completely different from fresh. In the fall, when we leave many fresh fruits behind, June is excited to start her frozen fruit routine. She usually eats her slightly thawed frozen fruit with yogurt; either with breakfast, or as a dessert after dinner. There is a wide selection to choose from in the frozen fruit section of the grocery store: cherries, sliced peaches, and blackberries are some of June’s favorites.
I also try to reserve dried fruits only for winter and fall months. As long as there is no added sugar, I look for a variety of dried fruits: figs, dates, apricots, prunes, raisins, golden raisins, pineapple, and mango. June calls them her candy, and they are some of her favorite winter treats.
Seasonal Fruit Rewards
We are now 2 years into using this seasonal calendar to guide our fruit selections, and I continue to tweak it. It’s at a habit level for me now, and no longer a challenge to resist buying fruit out of season. I’m pleased to say that I’ve been rewarded by my restraint and newfound creativity in presenting fruit. Fruit’s glory has been restored in June’s eyes and fruit dancing has resumed. The unintended bonus is that my husband and I are now doing the fruit dance too! We’re not just enjoying it through her eyes but have both personally experienced greater excitement with our fruit and fruit dishes. The anticipation of each upcoming “season” and its celebration has become a fun family ritual.
What is your approach to eating seasonally? And what else have you tried to keep fruit exciting in your home? I’d love to hear your feedback and ideas.
See my list of Fruits and Vegetables By Season in the Quick section of this blog.