There's nothing like long, sunny days and warm summer nights to set the mood for seasonal eating. And this summer, grocery stores and farmers markets will be packed with fresh summer produce that's both tasty and affordable.
Seasonal produce tends to be cheaper in the summer because it can be grown locally, eliminating the cost of transporting the produce hundreds or thousands of miles before it reaches your local store. You also will see temporary boosts in certain crops — for example, the three to four weeks that make up strawberry season — which can drive down prices temporarily. And while the prices might vary depending on which part of the country you live in, you're assured to get produce for less in the summer.
Almost any veggie or fruit can be found at a lower cost when it's in season, so shop for your favorites. For starters, here are 15 summer crops to help you eat healthy and save some cash.
Summer Price: $2.27 per pound
Year-Round Price: $3.35 per pound
Almost no fruit or veggie embodies the flavor of summer more effectively than a bright red, juicy strawberry. So, it's no surprise you can get the berries at their best price in the summer months.
And while strawberries tend to go bad pretty quickly, extend their life by making healthy strawberry jam, or freezing the berries for use later in the year. In the meantime, use them to make strawberry shortcake or add them to smoothies.
Summer Price: $1.67 per pound
Year-Round Price: $1.71 per pound
Tomatoes hit their peak of ripeness in the warmest months of the year, and the influx of fresh tomatoes drives down the price in the summer.
Tomatoes also are one of the most beginner-friendly crops to use for preserves, sauces and other dishes that will last you into the fall and winter, said Maat van Uitert, author of "Organic By Choice: The (Secret) Rebel's Guide to Backyard Gardening" and owner of The Frugal Chicken website.
"Tomatoes can be used to create pantry staples such as pizza sauce, soups, salsa and pasta sauce," she said. "They are perfect for a beginner because they can be preserved by water bath canning ― a less-intimidating preservation method that's easy to master."
Summer Price: $2.88 per pound
Year-Round Price: $3.02 per pound
Fresh, in-season asparagus is often one of the first crops to show up at farmers markets, and you can catch a deal on it early in the summer — especially if you find it on sale.
Lightly drizzle fresh asparagus in olive oil and sea salt, and grill it for a low-cost and healthy side dish. Or, use a vegetable peeler to create asparagus "ribbons" that work perfectly as a base for leafy salads.
Summer Price: $1.97 per pound
Year-Round Price: $3.13 per pound
Mid-summer ushers in stone fruit season, and you'll be able to find in-season peaches at a discounted price.
Like strawberries, peaches can be preserved in the form of jam. Consider freezing peeled peaches to use in cobblers or smoothies during the cooler months. If you're a bit adventurous in the kitchen, grill halved peaches and turn them into spicy peach salsa, which you can use to top tofu, chicken or fish.
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Summer Price: $3.69 per pound
Year-Round Price: $4.78 per pound
Bright red and bursting with flavor, a fresh bowl of cherries feels like the ultimate healthy summer treat. You'll also get a bargain when shopping for cherries in season.
Cook cherries on the stovetop with a touch of cornstarch and sugar to make a flavorful pie filling, which you can freeze to use during the cooler months. Or, combine halved cherries with balsamic vinegar and chopped cilantro for an easy cherry salsa that pairs well with pork.
Summer Price: $2.26 per pound
Year-Round Price: $3.61 per pound
As the latter half of August approaches, you'll start to notice deals on late-summer produce, too. What's better than chilled fresh grapes at a cool price?
Late summer and early fall are the perfect times to visit your farmers market for more variety, too. In addition to the classic Thompson table grapes, you might be able to find Concord varieties, which have a vibrant "grape-y" flavor similar to grape juice.
Add halved grapes to your chicken or tuna salads for a sweet twist, or add them to your spinach salads. To extend the flavor, use in-season grapes to make jelly.
Summer Price: $1.29 per pound
Year-Round Price: $1.54 per pound
One of the most versatile veggies of the summer, zucchinis become much more affordable in the warmer months.
As to how to serve them, the sky's the limit. Nancy Snyder, a registered dietitian and culinary dietitian at Healthy Dining, recommends seasoning zucchini spears with parmesan and breadcrumbs or making squash spirals to use in place of spaghetti.
And summer squash, a close relative of zucchini? "Serve it scalloped and use it in place of potatoes for a gratin or casserole."
Summer Price: $2.55 per 6-ounce package
Year-Round Price: $4.30 per 6-ounce package
Summer isn't just strawberry season; you'll also catch a deal on raspberries. You might find it easier to get higher-quality berries in the summer, too. Because raspberries are so fragile, ones that travel only a short distance to your market will likely hold up better than ones transported hundreds of miles.
Fresh raspberries are best enjoyed raw as a decadent-but-healthy snack on their own. But if you're feeling creative, add a handful of berries to your spinach salads for a fresh flavor burst.
Summer Price: $4.62 each
Year-Round Price: $5.30 each
Dining on watermelon brings back memories of summers past, and picking up watermelon in the summer is often easy on your wallet, too.
As for how to use it? Get creative, recommends Snyder. "Combine it with diced tomatoes for a refreshing twist on salsa, or serve watermelon on top of a salad with feta and toasted almonds."
Summer Price: $2.68 each
Year-Round Price: $3.43 per pound
Watermelon gets the most attention during the summer months, but you'll score a generous deal on cantaloupe, too.
Use cantaloupe in any recipe you'd use watermelon. Add it to your fruit salads for flavor, or blend frozen cantaloupe with ice in a high-speed blender for a DIY sorbet. Or, combine diced cantaloupe with olive oil, red onion, pineapple, cilantro and hot peppers for an easy salsa that's perfect to pair with tortilla chips for a summery snack.
Summer Price: 58 cents each
Year-Round Price: 82 cents each
If you're looking for a way to cool down, snacking on a cucumber is it. Cucumbers are intensely hydrating, and their crisp, slightly herbal flavor feels refreshing, too.
Snyder recommends serving sliced cucumber sticks alongside hummus. Or, top spiral-cut cucumber with plain yogurt and fresh dill for an affordable summery side dish. Alternatively, add cucumbers to your smoothies to make them extra refreshing.
Summer Price: $2.19 per pound
Year-Round Price: $2.90 per pound
Stone fruit season isn't just about peaches. You'll also get a great deal on plums.
Plums can range in flavor from extremely tart to sugary sweet, so hit up the farmers market to pick up a variety of plums and enjoy their broad range of unique flavor. Use them in salads, tarts or galettes during the warmer months. To extend your savings into the fall and winter, pickle or dry your plums for affordable snacking in the cooler months.
Summer Price: $2.07 per pound
Year-Round Price: $3.23 per pound
Crunchy, sweet and ultra-versatile, bell peppers also are more affordable in the summer. You'll be able to save on regular green bell peppers, as well as other color varieties.
Bell peppers offer plenty of natural sweetness, so you can enjoy them on their own or paired with low-cost dips, such as hummus. Or, take advantage of the summer discount and pick peppers up in bulk. You can roast them on your barbecue, or grill and freeze the roasted peppers to use all year round.
Summer Price: 42 cents per ear
Year-Round Price: 69 cents per ear
Corn on the cob is at its sweetest when just after picking. Freshly harvested corn is great for your taste buds and your wallet.
While boiled corn on the cob is simple ― and delicious ― add more flavor cheaply by seasoning your corn with spice blends instead of the typical salt and pepper. Go for a smoky flavor by topping your corn with a chipotle seasoning, or use a chili-lime blend to add citrusy heat.
Summer Price: $1.36 per bunch
Year-Round Price: $2.06 per bunch
Hearty greens such as kale start to come into season late in the summer, and you can find a deal on these greens in the warmer months.
Use kale as the base for bright summer salads, topping it with strawberries, peaches or even sliced plums for a savory and sweet side dish. Include thinly sliced kale leaves in your coleslaw, or use kale in place of romaine in your Caesar salads.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided the average summer prices listed throughout this article.