You’ve got to hand it to the cooks around the world who prepare their daily meals according to the seasons of the year. Here in America, we’re so used to buying frozen foods and prepared dishes, without regard to the season. However, now we’re feeling the pinch of rising food costs, making us more thoughtful of how we might cut our food costs, without downsizing the quality and taste of the meals we serve. So what’s the answer?

One excellent solution is to plan meals that use foods that are in season now.¬† Produce is becoming so costly, yet is a mainstay of a healthy diet. Planning your meals with produce according to the seasons of the year saves you money and delivers more nutrition than out of season foods. For example, in summer, zucchini, tomatoes and corn are plentiful and relatively cheap, while broccoli and cauliflower are pricey and not of top quality. You’re money ahead to serve meals which include the produce that’s in season.

Cooking according to the seasons of the year guarantees variety throughout the year. In winter, hearty stews and soups, which include potatoes, winter squash, broccoli, fennel and early carrots serve your family’s nutritional needs, taste buds and your wallet. In spring, salad greens thrive, with green onions, radishes, lettuce, mesclun and a host of other delicate and nutritious salad additions available, at the best price and the height of freshness.

Take a look at ethnic and regional cookbooks from around the world. You’ll find that many are organized by the seasons of the year, rather than ingredients. This style of cookery uses ingredients that are currently plentiful, and therefore cheap as well. Mother Nature does provide an array of foods which, when artfully combined with complementary seasonings, turn out meals everyone enjoys and doesn’t tire of before the advent of the next season.

If you aspire to serve gourmet-quality dishes at home, planning your menus around the seasons of the year will get you where you want to go. You’ll be serving food that is packed with all of the vitamins and minerals that are supposed to be there, at the peak of freshness and taste, all the while providing the variety that keeps your menus interesting.

The only down side to this strategy is that it involves a hands-on approach and a little extra time to prepare your meals. Here we have a case of the glass which is half empty or half full. On the one hand, you can’t just pop a box in the microwave and eat five minutes later. On the other, cooking meals according to the seasons of the year is a thrifty strategy that serves the needs of your family’s satisfaction and a happy wallet.