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Instagram Foodie Star Lee Tilghman's Farmer's Market Shopping Guide

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No matter how many calories you're burning during your cardio-du-jour, having your healthiest and Best Year Ever also has a tremendous amount to do with what you put in your mouth. And part of the reason we've had a serious Instagram crush on health foodie/blogger (and Granolee maker) Lee Tilghman is that she makes good-for-you foods look just plain good.

Master of piled-high superfood parfaits, mood-boosting bliss balls, and mandala-esque bowls of goodness, Tilghman was the obvious choice when we looked for a guru to guide us through a grocery shopping trip to the local farmer's market (you can use this handy guide to find one nearest to you or search by the day of the week). We asked Lee to share her tricks of the trade when it comes to selecting perfect produce or making your homemade dishes pop with freshness.

lee-tilghman-persimmons

1. Buy in season. Here in Los Angeles we are blessed with 365 days a year of wonderful weather. We can grow all sorts of plants in this climate and while that's great news, that doesn't necessarily justify buying strawberries in December. California still has seasons! Pay attention to them, and buy what's good right now. This is the best way to ensure you're getting the highest quality stuff. Trust me, the strawberries are way better in July. They're also more affordable in their high season because there's more of them.

The best way to check what's in season now is by heading to your local farmer's market and walking around, looking for the rotating produce. In winter I love to use persimmons in my smoothies, grapefruit in my avocado salad, meyer lemon in my vegetable roasts, and pomegranates just to eat because they are so good and their season is so short.

lee-tilghman-greens

2. Do a walk-through. As soon as you get to the market, walk through the entire thing two times. Make a mental note of everything you want, and then compare prices and quality. It's always annoying when you buy apples from one vendor for $3.99 a pound, then walk down three more tents and find them for $2 bucks a pound!

lee-tilghman-herbs

3. Herbs are your best friends. (Repeat this five times). Herbs are by far the easiest and quickest way to lighten and brighten up your dishes. They help bring a dish together by adding dynamic flavor profiles to seemingly simple dishes. They are the final and most important aspect of your meal.

Top your avocado toast with fresh dill. Add cilantro to your guacamole and black bean breakfast bowl. Add basil to your smoothies. Add tarragon to salad dressings. Roast vegetables with thyme. With almost no time, you've taken a great dish and made it stellar. And keep your herbs in a plastic bag; they'll last twice as long.

lee-tilghman-oranges

4. Make friends with your farmer. This isn’t a grocery store or a mall, so don’t rush in and out. Farmer’s markets are about community. You are supporting your community by shopping here, so make use of your time. Say hi to people. Try not to be on your phone the whole time. Look at what sort of produce is missing from last week, and notice what's new. You’ll start to recognize the same faces, too. Make time to get to know the person who is selling you your food. Ask them what everything is. Ask them for recipe inspiration. Ask them how their day is. And bring a recyclable bag.

lee-tilghman-blueberries

5. Know what's organic, but don't be too limited by it. Do we need to be buying organic? Isn’t it already good enough that we are shopping locally at the farmer’s market? Yes and no. Many stalls at the market aren’t organic because they can’t afford the certification (it’s a long, lengthy, and costly experience) but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them.

The Environmental Working Group puts out a Dirty Dozen list of produce with the highest percentage of pesticides. This is a good reference for when to buy organic or not. Top produce with pesticides in 2015 included apples, grapes, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and potatoes. There’s also the Clean Fifteen which is a list of produce least likely to hold pesticide residue. The cleanest fruit with the smallest amount of pesticide residue? Avocados.

If I can swing it financially, I’m buying organic. That may mean buying less (I’m usually only cooking for one or two) but at least I know that I’m not putting any unnecessary toxins into my body!