How to Shop the Farmers Market for Dinner

How to Shop the Farmers Market for Dinner How to Shop the Farmers Market for Dinner

The farmers market is my happy place for meal inspiration. When I feel really stuck in a cooking rut, I head to local weekend markets. Collecting fresh seasonal produce always helps me combine flavors in interesting ways (what grows together goes together), BUT it can be a little daunting to think on the fly at the market… especially if your goal is to come out with the ingredients to make that night’s meal. In the past, I’ve written about stocking up on produce and making a cooking plan for the week, but this time I’m going to focus on one task: how to go to the farmers market and gather ingredients for dinner that night.

For this post we’ve partnered with Sub Zero’s Fresh Food Matters initiative to share these ideas for cooking and eating real, fresh, locally-grown food – obviously a topic that I’m passionate about! Shopping local markets is my favorite way to connect with local growers and to support the community around me.

Now about dinner… A few Sunday’s ago, Jack and I headed to the Logan Square Farmers Market in Chicago. Having just moved from Austin to stay in Chicago for the summer, this market is pretty new to me (as is getting used to the midwest climate again) so I had no idea what produce to expect once we got there. During this little trip, I stuck by these guidelines, which work no matter where you are:

1. Have a plan, sort of.

Before you go to the market, have in mind some super basic meal formats that are adaptable to a wide range of produce. Things like pasta, pizza, tacos, frittatas, and big grain salads. Of course, you don’t have to stick to these exactly. Let inspiration hit you. But I find it helps to have a framework in mind so that my mind isn’t all over the place. For example, tons of spring vegetables can be grilled and tossed into a lemony pasta. Tomatoes, peppers, herbs, leeks, etc. can be baked into a big frittata. Lots of vegetables can be chopped and creatively combined atop a pizza. You don’t have to reinvent the meal wheel to feel creative while cooking.

How to Shop the Farmers Market for Dinner How to Shop the Farmers Market for Dinner

2. Walk the market once before making purchases.

This might sound obvious, but once I start seeing pretty vegetables, I get tempted to start collecting. Resist the temptation! It helps to take one inspirational lap before you start narrowing down a plan. This is also a great chance to talk to the vendors – you can ask where and how their produce was grown or ask them how to cook a particular ingredient that you’re not familiar with. In my case, I asked the guy at Sandbox Organics – “how do I use these gorgeous chive blossoms?” It turns out, you can use them just as you would the chive stems, they have a mellow onion flavor.

How to Shop the Farmers Market for Dinner How to Shop the Farmers Market for Dinner How to Shop the Farmers Market for Dinner

3. Build a meal around the 1 or 2 ingredients that look the best and that you were initially drawn to.

On this particular day – those chive blossoms had my heart the second I saw them, so I knew I would get those. At the same stand, the radishes also looked amazing, and later I came across some beautiful asparagus. Once the meal came together in my head, I went back and got them all.

How to Shop the Farmers Market for Dinner

4. Stop for a snack if you need a few minutes to jot down ideas.

If you feel stuck, grab a beverage, snack or lunch at the market (during our trip, we took a falafel break and enjoyed some music) and give yourself a few minutes to collect your thoughts. I like to write down all of the vegetables I was just inspired by before narrowing down to what I actually want to buy.

How to Shop the Farmers Market for Dinner How to Shop the Farmers Market for Dinner

5. Finalize your plan and choose supporting items.

At this stage, I was thinking about perhaps an asparagus Niçoise salad with fresh eggs and chive blossoms. I remembered some potatoes that looked good that could fill out the meal. Asparagus soup with chive oil also sounded good – I had seen a vendor with some great baguette that would be yummy on the side. I also thought about a big veggie pasta dish (similar to this one), or a strawberry grain salad. Decisions, decisions…

How to Shop the Farmers Market for Dinner

Stay tuned for Thursday’s post to see what I made!

This post is in partnership with Sub Zero. Check out for some great seasonal guides to buying, storing, and preparing fresh produce and join the online conversation using #FreshFoodMatters!


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  1. Amanda from

    Gorgeous produce! Is this in Austin? If so, which market, please and thank you!

  2. Nicole from

    Lovely. Everything looks so fresh. I wish we had farmers market in our country.

  3. Kari from

    I love going to the Farmers Markets on the weekends. I always end up buying more than we can eat though. Everything looks so fresh!

  4. Mary

    I so wish that this was what my farmers market looked like.

  5. William from

    Great Information. I have had to train myself to just relax and only get what I can use within a couple of days. We do have two farmers markets within a mile or two. One is one Tuesdays and the other on Saturdays so with a little planning we can purchase what we need without buying too much. It did take me a little time to get this into my head. Farmers markets are indeed the must go shopping place for those of us that are enjoying a clean eating lifestyle. I am looking forward to your recipes. Great photos.

  6. Alexis deZayas

    I love the farmers market! Love the tip about looking at everything once before buying anything!

  7. Caitlin from

    This is a great post! I love your tip about doing a walk though first. I’m so guilty of getting overly excited and just buying way too much at first and then regretting it when I see what else there is further on. As much as I love a good local farmers market, I always have a hard time keeping produce fresh through the week – any suggestions?


    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Thanks! I get overly excited too :). Others may disagree, but I find that not washing my produce until I’m ready to use it helps things last longer (once wet, vegetables start to go limp unless they’re really well dried). I also try to use the more perishable veggies first (lettuces, basil), and the sturdier veggies later (radishes, potatoes, kale). But since I’m constantly testing recipes, my produce tend to get used up pretty quickly!

  8. Fernando @ Eating With Your Hands

    I love taking my time in my favorite market here in Berlin, the one located in Kollwitzplatz. Nothing is better than taking in the whole atmosphere first and then get down to business. This particular market has also a MAJOR hangout factor, with everyone sipping on some wine and bringing their kids out. Market life is awesome.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      I want to visit your market! It sounds so fun 🙂

      • Fernando @ Eating With Your Hands

        Make sure to say hi if you ever come around these parts!

  9. I absolutely make a turn around the entire market before buying. Otherwise I will kick myself for paying far too much for inferior produce when I find something better later. The only exception is M. Fraise: there’s a line for strawberries, and they sell out. I do the line first thing, and, as I’m such a loyal customer, he holds them for me, so they don’t get smashed as I run around buying other things.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Those sound like the best strawberries! You have me missing France now 🙂

  10. Savvy

    I feel as tho I’ve just come back from the market- reality is my foot is propped up on wine chiller!! and ready for an epsom salt soak!! SO THANKS for taking me along!!

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      aw, you’re welcome!

  11. Looove this beautiful how-to with gorgeous supporting photos! My favourite part of the marketing is definitely taking a break to have a snack with some music. And perhaps coming home with fresh bread <3 !

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Thanks Meredith!

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.