Whether you realize it or not, the seasons have a big impact on our eating habits. For instance, winter signals a time to slow down, with shorter days and cold air driving many people to reach for warm and hearty meals like oatmeal, soups, and roasts. As the days get longer and the air gets warmer, though, we naturally grow more active and crave different foods and beverages. We ghost our ovens in favor of backyard grills, dial up the hydration, and go heavier on ice cream, iced lattes, and frozen cocktails.
So, what are the healthiest choices to make during long, hot summer days? Here, nutrition experts share their favorites.
1. DIY Salsa
When fresh fruit and vegetables abound, get creative and think beyond the chips-and-dips aisle for your salsa fix. Combine fruit, vegetables, and herbs for DIY salsa with amazing flavor and a boost of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Some great combinations include:
- black beans, corn, tomato, cilantro, lime, sea salt
- peaches, red onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, cilantro, lime, sea salt
- avocado, tomato, jalapeño, cilantro, lime, sea salt
Think beyond just chips, too! Pile your salsa onto grilled shrimp, tofu tacos, or a salad with greens and grilled chicken, or use other veggies like celery, jicama, and cucumbers to scoop it up. This way, different salsas become summertime staples that go far beyond snacking.
2. Yogurt Parfaits
Warm mornings mean it’s time to ditch your usual hot oatmeal for a yogurt bowl. A plain, Greek-style option offers the lowest amount of sugar and the highest amount of protein, which will keep you full and satisfied (and your blood sugar stable)—a really smart way to start your day.
Read More: 5 Ways To Get More Protein At Breakfast
Top your yogurt with some fresh, in-season berries like raspberries, which are high in fiber, or wild blueberries, which are high in antioxidants. Then, add some crunch with either a simple muesli or granola. Granola can be high in added sugar and oils, so look for lower-sugar or paleo options (which are fairly easy to spot these days) and stick with one portion.
3. Fresh Salads with Homemade Dressing
While you might usually stick to a little side salad of greens with maybe some carrots and celery, summertime is the perfect opportunity to make salads the star of the show. This time of year, lots of local farm stands sell seasonal produce that you can use to build epic salads with. (Don’t overlook adding herbs, which can add depths of flavor, too.)
Just make sure to incorporate some protein into your salad so that it’s hearty enough to really count as a meal. Easy options there include beans, lentils, grilled chicken, or shrimp.
Need a little inspiration? Here are a few filling and nutrient-packed salad combos:
- tomato, cucumber, white beans, and fresh basil
- kale (massage it with olive oil and lemon to break down the leaves) with avocado, berries, goat cheese, and edamame
- basic Cobb with romaine, grilled chicken, hardboiled egg, bacon, blue cheese, tomato, and red onion
- cocktail-style with pre-cooked and chilled shrimp, tomato, basil, peppers, corn, and feta
When it comes to dressings, be aware that many are filled with undesirable oils, like canola oil and soybean oil. While oils such as extra-virgin olive oil are minimally processed and offer antioxidants and healthy monounsaturated fats, vegetable and soybean oils (among others) are more highly processed and have an undesirable fatty acid profile, potentially leading to inflammation in the body. Often, these oils are used because they are a lot cheaper for a manufacturer.
Similarly, food companies often add a lot of added refined sugar to dressings to make them taste better. And while it’s true that a little sugar can balance a flavor profile, dressings often contain unnecessarily high amounts of sugar per serving.
Your best bet? Whip up your own simple dressing? A really easy and basic go-to recipe that works on all sorts of salads is a combination of apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper.
4. Grilled Vegetables
Vegetables increase your intake of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and many other nutrients that help support a healthy body. It’s always best to try and fill half your plate with vegetables, and in the summer you can take a break from the oven and start eating your vegetables off the grill.
In addition to the fact that it takes your meal-prep routine outside, grilling also requires very little added oil. With just a light coat of something like avocado oil and a little salt, you’re all set! While you can get fancy and use skewers, a grill basket also makes it fast and easy to toss and cook a bunch of vegetables together.
Though lots of veggies work perfectly on the grill, a few classic options worth trying include:
- Bell pepper, onion, and mushroom kabobs
- Fennel and asparagus
- Summer squash, zucchini, and white onion
- Corn (try wrapping in foil)
5. Fruit Smoothies
Smoothies are probably on your radar all year long, and that’s understandable considering they’re a great way to pack a lot of nutrition into a quick and easy-to-drink package. That said, the warmer summer months are a perfect time to expand your smoothie repertoire. Not only can smoothies make great anytime snacks but they can also be swapped in for full meals.
If you’re going for a full-meal smoothie, include a balance of protein, fat, fiber, and carbs, as well as a good mix of vitamins and minerals. Start with a base of fruit, layer in some leafy greens (they’ll be undetectable, don’t worry), add in a healthy fat like nut butter, and pick a protein like protein powder or plain Greek yogurt. To put a spin on your usual blends and pack in some extra nutrients, try adding any of these overlooked and underrated ingredients:
Whether you’re heading out for summer adventures or want a snack or meal that’s as refreshing as it is nourishing, consider smoothies your go-to.