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How to Shop Farmers Markets to Prepare Kid & Allergy-Friendly Meals

How to Shop Farmers Markets to Prepare Kid & Allergy-Friendly Meals

Today’s post is courtesy of Nicole Ledoux, co-founder of 88 Acres, a healthy snack company:

I was raised on a farm in Central Massachusetts. It’s where I learned about food and it has had the biggest influence on my philosophy on eating and nutrition. I had a farm stand in front of my house where I sold the produce we grew on the farm. For most city dwellers, the first time they try farm fresh eggs from the farmer’s market is a memorable, if not confusing experience. Mine was the opposite. I was in college the first time I tried store-bought eggs. And I wondered what was wrong with them! Now, as the owner of a vegan and allergy-friendly health food company, I have learned how to make all my favorite classic recipes using egg alternatives, made from ground flax, chia seeds, or chickpea liquid (Google “aquafaba”).

If I had to pick someone in the food world who best represents my values, it would be Michael Pollan. I’m not a vegan, but I do look to healthy plant-based foods, and lean proteins. My husband and I lead an active lifestyle and eating healthy, nutritious foods are important to fuel and sustain it. As a new mom, I’m looking for the best ingredients to feed my son, Emmett. I focus on finding organic, real foods that are as close to their raw form as possible.

Shopping at Farmers Markets: My Best Tips

My philosophy on food is that it should be transparent. I would rather buy local produce over organic, where I have the opportunity to find out from the farmer how the food is grown. A lot of local food is grown organic but isn’t certified because of the cost. A farmers market is a mecca for this. You can learn about local, seasonal ingredients and get to know the farmers.

Shopping the farmers market is like reverse meal planning–it starts with ingredient inspiration. Instead of going to a market with a grocery list, I think of markets as a place to inspire my meals for the week. I talk to the farmers about how they suggest I cook and eat ingredients.

In keeping with the reverse meal plan, I might find local mushrooms and then figure out a recipe to use them. A great way to do this is to use Pinterest or Google to search for recipe ideas using the ingredients I have selected. Because I’m always short on time, I look for recipe results with a short list of ingredients and a cook time under 30 minutes. I find that when a recipe has a short ingredient list, it also cuts down the prep time. And when cooking from farmers’ markets, it increases the likelihood that I already have all the items I need in my pantry which saves an extra trip to the grocery store.

The way I look for produce at the market is simple: I pick up whichever leafy green is more abundant and rotate my other vegetables based on what’s in-season at the time. Carrots with the green still attached are the best. You know they’ve come straight from the farm. I’m inspired by seasonal squashes of all varieties and heirloom tomatoes. I loved caprese salads made from the market before I became dairy-free to accommodate my infant son’s allergy.

Baby boy eating

To feed my son, Emmett, I look for foods that have a dense nutritional profile and can be easily pureed such as sweet potatoes, spinach, and pears. My buying habits have tilted a little bit towards fruits and veggies we know we can also serve Emmett. At daycare he is exploring sensory experiences by playing with new textures. As he gets a bit bigger, we plan to translate this at home by giving him small bites of new foods such as leafy kale or a raw bell pepper that he can either play with or if he’s curious, maybe even eat. My philosophy is that if you let your kids be curious and have fun with food, they will (hopefully) become more adventurous eaters.

Generally, I also pick up herbs I might not have at home to add flavor to basics, such as mint, basil or thyme. I love looking for local berries and apples; both remind me of the farm I was raised on. If there are local vendors, I also bring home-baked bread, honey, and meat. I love baker’s bread as you know it is fresh and made with only a few simple ingredients as opposed to what’s commonly found on grocery store shelves.

3 Farmers Market Recipes for the Whole Family

My favorite kid and allergy-friendly farmers market recipes* are:

Watermelon Salad – I make this with cucumber, mint, and balsamic dressing. To make this meal prep fun for kids, halve the watermelon lengthwise and slice into ½” thick half-moons. Then you can use a cookie cutter to stamp out fun shapes for the salad like stars or hearts. Even though he’s young, Emmett likes to chew on the watermelon shapes.
Taco Lettuce Wraps – Made with ground chicken or turkey, romaine for the wrap (you want a lettuce with some structure to it), diced red onion, fresh bell peppers, taco seasoning (I make my own but you can also buy premade spices at the grocery store), diced tomatoes, cubed avocado, shredded cheese if you can do dairy, and smashed up tortilla chips on top for crunch. Emmett loves playing with the texture of romaine lettuce leaves.
Blueberry Mini Crisps – I make mini blueberry crisps in the summer with fresh berries from the market. I have a set of six mini cast iron skillets that I use but a muffin tin could work just as well. I put the berries on the bottom and then I throw together the topping: gluten-free oats, a seed meal flour made from ground pumpkin or sunflower seeds, salt, cinnamon, olive oil and maple syrup. We steam and puree blueberries for Emmett right now but pretty soon he’ll be able to enjoy raw blueberries cut in half.

*All these recipes are free of dairy, gluten, egg, tree nuts, peanuts and soy.

I love cooking from farmers markets and am always looking for new, healthy convenient meal ideas for my family. I would love to hear what foods you buy and recipes you prepare for your family from the market!

Nicole HeadshotI’m a new mom to a son, Emmett Red, and a foodie both at home and the office. After a decade in finance, I returned to my roots. I grew up on an organic farm in Western Massachusetts and am wife to a husband with nut allergies. My husband, Rob, and I love to travel the world, hike, and crush it at road races. Unsatisfied with the options for healthy, nutritious snacks that Rob could eat on our weekend adventures, we started making our own snack bars at home. Now we are the proud owners of 88 Acres, an artisan food startup crafting small batch snacks made with simple, wholesome ingredients and free of dairy, gluten, egg, soy, tree nuts, and peanuts. I’m excited to share my experiences balancing owning a business and providing for my son as well as how I navigate cooking for a family with food allergies.

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