Key Takeaways

  • Spring is a great time to refresh your diet and add variety to your plate with readily available, nutritious produce.

  • Are you interested in busting out of your mealtime routine but not sure where to start? Use this springtime recipe guide to inspire your creativity.

  • These recipes use affordable ingredients, even for older adults who rely on SNAP assistance. Wondering if you qualify? Use NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp.org to find out..

Almost everywhere you look, farms and fields are waking up from their long winter’s nap. Rhubarb is ripening, peas are producing, and grocers of all stripes—from local roadside stands to larger regional supermarkets—are beginning to stock fresh spring fruits, vegetables, herbs, and proteins.

If this news inspires a hankering to shake things up in the kitchen, you’re not alone. Professional chefs and home cooks alike love to incorporate spring’s bright new flavors into their dishes, and for good reason. Seasonal produce simply tastes better.

More reasons why refreshing your diet right now can be a good idea

  • Better nutrition. Because they’re freshly picked, seasonal fruits and vegetables retain more vitamins than those that are harvested early for long-distance transport.
  • More variety. Planning your meals according to the seasons helps you incorporate a broad selection of healthy choices into your diet—and it keeps you from being bored with food.
  • Lower cost. In many cases, seasonal produce can cost you less because it’s more easily and readily available.

Even if you live on a limited income, it’s still possible to enjoy (and afford) the flavors of spring. Just ask Jackie S., a 64-year-old, who relies on monthly SNAP assistance to eat well on a budget.

I buy vegetables with SNAP so I can eat healthily,” she told one of her benefits counselors. “I love to cook!”

Are you ready to cook like Jackie but need some inspiration? NCOA has you covered. Boost your health and well-being—and have some fun in the kitchen—with this guide to creating nutritious, affordable, tasty meals using ingredients you can buy with your SNAP benefits.

How to boost your health and well-being with nutritious and affordable tasty meals

First thing's first. When planning your meals, "you should divide your plate into three sections," said Bertha Hurd, administrative nutritionist with the Los Angeles Department on Aging. “Half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, and they should be colorful." 

You should split the remaining half equally between proteins (like lean meat, fish, and beans) and whole grains (like wheat, oats, and brown rice), she says.

With these things in mind, you can use the recipes below—sourced from MyPlate.gov—to assemble your own healthy plates this spring. Not sure what’s in season in your area? Check the USDA’s seasonal produce guide to search for your favorite foods—and discover some new ones, too.

Highlighted recipes from USDA's MyPlate: 

  • Broccoli Strawberry Orzo Salad (ingredients needed: orzo pasta (uncooked); fresh broccoli (chopped); fresh strawberries (diced); sunflower seeds)
  • Confetti Grain Salad (ingredients needed: brown rice (uncooked); lemons (juiced); green onions; parsley (minced); olive oil (or other vegetable oil); vegetables (your favorite, cut into small pieces)
  • Kale and Cranberry Stir-Fry (ingredients needed: vegetable oil; onion (chopped); dried cranberries; garlic or garlic powder; kale (chopped); orange juice
  • Lemon Spinach (ingredients needed: spinach (fresh); lemon juice)
  • Mushroom Barley Soup (ingredients needed: olive oil (or other vegetable oil); onion (chopped); celery (sliced thin); carrot (peeled and sliced thin); mushrooms (sliced); barley (quick cooking); garlic powder; thyme (ground); chicken broth; parsley (chopped fresh)
  • Pasta Primavera (ingredients needed: noodles; vegetable oil; mixed vegetables (chopped); tomatoes (chopped); margarine; garlic powder; Parmesan cheese)
  • Pea Pesto (ingredients needed: frozen peas (can also use fresh or canned); grated Parmesan cheese; basil leaves; spinach (fresh, frozen, or canned); walnuts; garlic; extra virgin olive oil)
  • Spring Vegetable Sauté (ingredients needed: olive oil; sweet onion (sliced); garlic (finely chopped); new potatoes (tiny, quartered); carrot (sliced); asparagus pieces; sugar snap peas, or green beans; radishes (quartered); dill (dried)

Using SNAP benefits to help you afford healthy meals

Are you excited to try these recipes but not sure you can afford the ingredients? You might consider applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits.

Each year, this vital food assistance program helps millions of income-eligible older adults buy the groceries they need to maintain good health and well-being. And as many as 5 million more may qualify but don’t know it. Could you be one of them? Use NCOA’s BenefitsCheckup.org to find out.

“The guidelines can change from year to year,” said Brandy Bauer, director of NCOA’s MIPPA Resource Center, “so it’s always a good idea to see whether you may be eligible.”

Even if you only qualify for $20 in minimum monthly assistance, you may be surprised to learn what you can use your SNAP benefits to buy. In fact, some grocery delivery services accept SNAP, though you may need to pay the delivery fee out of pocket. If you don't qualify for SNAP, check out meal delivery services. Many meal delivery kits are surprisingly affordable for the nutritious ingredients and chef-inspired recipes they offer.