by Bana Jobe

Four friends share a tabletop meal featuring winter squash varieties.

Cooking with in-season produce can offer a bounty of benefits for your budget, health, planet and taste buds.

Harvest season is a great time to shop for delicious, nutritious fruits and vegetables — and for many parts of the world, all four seasons bring something new and tasty to the table.

You can usually tell which seasons yield which foods by looking around your local grocery store. For example, in the spring, you might see cases overflowing with leafy greens and strawberries. In the summer, indulge in juicy melons. And when things get chilly, look for fall and winter season vegetables and fruits like apples, turnips and pumpkin.

But why should you choose peak produce? And how can you work these seasonal wonders into meals anyone will love? This guide has you covered.

The benefits of in-season produce

People turn to seasonal fruits and vegetables for a few different reasons. For one thing, in-season produce tends to be better quality, as the foods are grown in optimal conditions. Buying in-season crops can also save money since seasonal varieties may be cheaper. There are many nutritional benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables too, as newly harvested foods that aren't stored often have the most nutrients.

When you choose foods at their peak season, you're also doing a good thing for the planet. Crops grown during their natural season may require less energy when they don't need artificial heating or cooling to stay fresh and ripen. Additionally, eating what's in season locally means less transportation from farm to market, further contributing to environmental sustainability.

It's for all of these reasons and more that holiday traditions are deeply rooted in seasonal foods, from pumpkin pies during Thanksgiving to potato latkes and applesauce at Hanukkah. If you're looking for some holiday meal inspiration to make the most of the season's produce, your old family recipes may already be doing just that.

Still, it never hurts to change things up with a new seasonal twist. These five recipes offer some delicious meals worth trying this holiday season.

5 recipes featuring winter season vegetables and fruits

1. Mom's Roasted Turkey with Butternut Squash (American Heart Association)

Winter squash varieties include acorn, spaghetti and butternut squash. This heart-healthy meal from the American Heart Association features the sweetness of butternut squash, a Thanksgiving fan favorite. With 36 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, this recipe is sure to be a dinner winner.

2. Sweet Potato and Apple Bake (United States Department of Agriculture)

Pack in the power of two winter picks with this sweet potato and apple bake, which does best with Granny Smith apples. If you happen to live in a climate fit for apple orchards, consider a family apple picking trip to round up fresh ingredients for this fun-to-make meal.

3. Parsnip-Potato Latkes with Cinnamon Applesauce (Food Network)

Make this Hanukkah tradition with a latke and applesauce duo featuring fresh herbs and in-season picks like parsnips and apples. With just 20 minutes of prep and a 40-minute cook time, you might even find yourself turning to these delicious latkes as a weeknight go-to.

4. Greens with Pomegranate (Produce for Better Health Foundation)

Make the most of the winter favorites pomegranate and grapefruit in this bright and jolly side salad, which can freshen up meaty mains like turkey or ham while offering a fantastic source of vitamins A and C. Best of all, you'll get the benefit of leafy greens, too!

5. Pear Breakfast Popovers (USA Pears)

What do you make for out-of-town guests the morning after your big holiday meal? These delicious popovers! Featuring cinnamon-spiced pears, a delicious wintry treat, this easy breakfast takes just 15 minutes to prep and 25 minutes to cook, and it can even be made portable for guests with an early plane to catch.

Eating up what nature brings

Cooking with in-season produce can offer a bounty of benefits for your budget, health, planet and taste buds — and there's no shortage of delicious mains, side dishes, desserts and snacks that pack in all the deliciousness of each season.

Next time you're at the grocery store, browse what's featured and see what's new. Or better yet, check out your local farmer's market for the most local peak-season produce around. After all, nothing beats high-quality fruits and vegetables picked at just the right time.

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