How to make summer meals healthier

How to make summer meals healthier

The summer is a wonderful time to lighten up your meals and make your favorite dishes even healthier.

“In the summer, we have access to more fresh produce, whether it’s from your own garden or the local farmers market,” says Corey Tolbert, RD, LD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “We’re often fixing more salads or doing more grilling. And we’re generally eating fewer comfort foods, like casseroles or chicken and dumplings.”

Healthy summer recipe swaps and tips

Here are Tolbert’s favorite ways to make your summer meals lighter and more nutritious:

  • Aim to fill at least half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables at every meal.

  • Instead of using sugary mixers, make a lower-sugar, lower-calorie cocktail with seltzer water and a splash of juice for flavor.

  • Trade soda for sparkling or flavored water.

  • Have fresh fruit for dessert instead of baked goods. Just be sure to keep your portion in check since fruit still contains sugar and calories. “If you just eat fruit, your blood sugar will get really high and then crash, which will increase your cravings for sugar and carbs,” says Tolbert. “You always want to balance fruit with protein, like a handful of nuts or a spoonful of peanut butter.”

  • Use avocado or Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise in recipes.

  • Blend frozen bananas and cinnamon or coconut flakes for an ice cream-inspired treat.

  • Enjoy a frozen fruit bar instead of a popsicle. Choose a bar that has as few ingredients as possible.

  • Swap a beef burger for a turkey burger, veggie burger or portobello mushroom cap.

  • Instead of adding more salt to your recipe, use chopped fresh herbs like basil, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage or cilantro.

  • Rather than purchasing store-bought salad dressing that may contain excessive ingredients, salt or sugar, make your own dressing at home.

  • Add protein- and fiber-rich ancient grains—like quinoa, kamut or farro—to your salad instead of pasta noodles.

Summer foods to enjoy in moderation

It’s OK to enjoy a burger, slice of cake or potato salad at a cookout or pool party—you just don’t want to eat these foods every day or even every week. Tolbert recommends consuming the following foods and drinks in moderation:

  • Alcoholic beverages.

  • Red meat.

  • Processed meat (like bacon, hot dogs, sausage and salami).

  • Grilled meat.

  • Mayonnaise-based salads.

  • Desserts.

Healthy grilling tips

While grilling can be a leaner way to prepare meat than frying, it has been shown to lead to the formation of possible carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). Here are some tips for making grilling healthier and safer:

  • Choose lean meat (such as chicken breasts or turkey burgers), fish or seafood when grilling.

  • Grill smaller portions of red meat and limit or avoid processed meat.

  • Marinate your protein before grilling it.

  • Pre-cook meat before putting it on the grill to decrease the amount of time it’s exposed to the flames.

  • Cut your meat into smaller pieces before grilling (for example, try chicken and vegetable skewers).

  • Grill vegetables and fruit. Grilling produce has not been shown to cause the formation of possible carcinogens, so it’s an excellent option for grilled recipes.

How to feel healthier during the summer

In addition to a consistently healthy diet, Tolbert recommends to:

  • Get regular physical activity. Enjoy the opportunity to get outside and swim, kayak, cycle, walk, hike or sightsee on foot. 

  • Stay hydrated. If you’re going to be active in hot weather, alternate regular water with coconut water, which can help with electrolyte replacement.

  • Allow for downtime. “Summers can be go-go-go, so give yourself plenty of breaks to rest and recharge,” says Tolbert.

Check out more nutrition tips from Cancer Wellness experts.

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