Nourishing Thoughts: Summer Eats

grillSummer has fallen upon us, and ushered in the year’s best eats. The warm, sunny days take us out of hibernation mode and our bodies welcome lighter, fresher fare. The produce department overflows with exciting fruits and vegetables we haven’t seen fresh versions of in months (like corn!) or ever (what’s a plumcot?).

Gone are the months of rich creamy comfort food, replaced by grilled meats and lots of fresh salads. It seems like clean eating should be a walk in the park during the summer, and yet people often bemoan the difficulties. Because while grilled meats and fresh salads can be amazingly nutritious and satisfying, there are plenty of less nutrition choices to be made.

To help navigate the summer barbecue season healthfully, check out these great tips:

Decide what’s important
Everyone has their non-negotiable summer treats. Do you love a cold beer on a hot night? Do you crave ice cream? Or s’mores? Identify what really matters to you, and go ahead and enjoy it. But not every day! Watch your portions and make it good. For example, have a small bowl of premium ice cream and savor every bite, instead of noshing on some cheap and unsatisfying version. The flip side of this, however, is that if a food or beverage isn’t especially important to you, there’s no need to bother consuming it!

Make smart choices
Grilling is one of the healthiest cooking methods, but the food you put on top of the grates matters. Whole foods like chicken, steak, chops, and fish are going to be better choices than hot dogs, sausages, and packaged hamburger patties. As for sides, make good use of all the fresh vegetables and herbs available in stores and gardens. Choose light, crisp, oil- and vinegar-based salads rather than carby pasta or potato salads coated in mayonnaise.

Ditch the bread
There is nothing as controversial in the nutrition world these days as bread, with one side saying you need your “healthy whole grains” and the other crying that gluten is poison. One thing that’s not debated, though, is that white bread offers few nutritional benefits, and all breads offer up tons of calories. That hearty bun may add another 250 calories to your burger or brat! Skip the bread and grab a knife and fork instead.

Hydrate the right way
You may be craving a nice piña colada, but fruity tropical drinks are full of sugar and calories. Same goes for slushies, sodas, juices, beers, and many other summery drinks. Instead, toss a few slices of fruit into some cold sparkling water for a crisp and fresh drink. You can even go beyond the lemon! Try cucumber, peach or apple slices, or even herbs like basil or mint.

Go for natural sweets
Summer’s fruits are full of natural and healthy sugars. Choose ripe, juicy fruits for your sweet tooth instead of cookies, cakes and ice cream. Get excited about all the different choices you have and try something new. Try “ice cream” made from frozen bananas—just slice up a frozen banana or two and puree it in a food processor until it’s smooth and creamy. You can puree it with any other frozen fruits, or stir fresh fruit, peanut butter, or even shaved dark chocolate into the “ice cream”.

With a bit of planning and awareness, you will get the most out of your summer menus without adding unnecessary calories or unhealthy processed foods. Choosing fresh, whole foods and preparing them simply will keep you full of energy to enjoy the lovely sunny days ahead.

Nourishing Thoughts is written by Julie Miller, an expert on nutrition and fitness instructor at the C.W. Avery Family YMCA. She is awesome.