By Johannah Sakimura, RD
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of summer always being linked to the dread of bathing suit season when there are so many healthy aspects to celebrate this time of year.
Fresh produce is abundant, beautiful, and more affordable. The weather (at least in most parts of the country) is perfect for outdoor walking, biking, hiking, and swimming, and the days are longer so you have more time to fit in physical activity. Vacations allow you time to relax, de-stress, and get active with friends and family, and your schedule may be more flexible, allowing you more time to focus on healthy habits.
With summer upon us, it’s the perfect time to set some health goals and embrace new opportunities to eat smart and get fit. Here are 18 ideas to motivate and inspire you throughout the sunny months ahead:
Head to the Farmer’s Market
Loading up on summer’s best and freshest produce, including leafy greens, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, green beans, berries, and stone fruits will make it easier to gobble up more vegetable and fruit servings. Visit localharvest.org to find greenmarkets in your area.
Make salad your main course a few times a week.
Take advantage of farm-fresh lettuce and the bounty of seasonal produce to concoct creative salad bowls. For a quintessential summer meal, top your greens with sweet corn, diced tomato, avocado, and crumbled feta.
Swap sugary desserts for delicious seasonal fruits. Instead of reaching for cookies, pastries, or chocolate after dinner, dig into a bowl of naturally sweet, ripe fruit. Best bets include berries, watermelon, cantaloupe, apricots, peaches, and plums.
Lay out a healthy, no-cook summer spread.
If it’s too hot to cook, throw together a picnic-style meal of sliced raw veggies (carrots, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, etc.) with hummus, sliced whole-grain bread or crackers, cheeses, olives, fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, and other tasty nibbles.
Get grilling. It’s a terrific way to infuse flavor into lean proteins like skinless chicken breasts and thighs, turkey burgers, fish, shrimp, and pork tenderloin, especially if you start with a tasty spice rub or marinade. If you cook extra, you’ll have ready-to-eat proteins to add to leafy green or grain-based salads for simple meals later in the week.
And don’t forget the grilled veggies.
Whenever you fire up the grill, toss on some sliced zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, bell peppers, and/or mushrooms. Chop them up and toss with pasta or cooked whole grains like brown rice, farro, and quinoa for a simple meal. Or, layer grilled vegetables on whole-grain bread spread with goat cheese or hummus for a tasty vegetarian sandwich.
Cool down with fruit smoothies. Blend your favorite summer fruits — and veggies like carrots, spinach, and beets — with yogurt and your milk of a choice for a hydrating breakfast or snack. The fruit will add plenty of sweetness, so you can skip added sugars like maple syrup and honey. Make extra and pour into ice pop molds or small paper cups with popsicle sticks for a fun frozen dessert.
Start your day with a hearty, refreshing breakfast.
Overnight oats are a great choice this time of year (they’re the more seasonally appropriate counterpart to a hearty bowl of hot oatmeal). Or, top fresh fruit with a dollop of protein-rich yogurt or part-skim ricotta cheese and optional chopped nuts. I can’t wait to dig into my first bowl of fresh cherries, peaches, or nectarines with ricotta!
Go skinny-dipping. Whip up a tasty new dip each week to enjoy with all of the deliciously dunkable summer produce. Try Greek yogurt with mixed fresh herbs, artichoke pesto (you have to try this recipe!), or any number of unique hummus variations, including roasted red pepper, beet, edamame, and carrot-based blends.
I don’t endorse a lot of single-use kitchen gadgets, but I’m pretty fond of the vegetable spiral slicers that are all the rage right now. The price is right at about $15 to $25 per machine, and you can use it to make low-cal veggie pastas and salads out of all of the inexpensive summer bumper crops like zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, carrots, and even beets. Check out this recipe for zesty Carrot Noodle Stir Fry from the blog Inspiralized.
Sip on iced tea.
To help you stay hydrated in the hot weather, I suggest keeping a pitcher or two of unsweetened iced tea in the fridge at all times. Switching up the flavor from week to week will prevent you from getting bored in the beverage department. Mint green tea is a classic summertime brew, but I also love fruity combos like pomegranate and raspberry.
Plant something … anything!
Never grown anything edible before? Don’t let that stop you; starting a simple garden in pots or other containers is actually really easy. Go to the nearest hardware store and pick up a large planter, a bag of potting soil, and a small potted plant, like any fresh herb or one of the vegetables listed here. Consider starting with basil or a cherry tomato varietal; they’re both easy to grow and versatile in the kitchen.
Go on a pick-your-own adventure!
Don’t wait for apple picking in the fall. Make a date with family or friends to harvest summer produce at a local orchard or farm (visit pickyourown.org to find a site near you). If you’re willing to put in the labor, you can buy buckets of berries, stone fruit, and other seasonal items at a great price.
Sit down and enjoy meals outdoors.
So many people I know own lovely patio sets but rarely use them. Make a plan to sit down to a family meal in your backyard once a week. You’ll likely eat more slowly and mindfully when you’re dining al fresco. If you don’t have access to an outdoor eating space, plan a fun picnic at a local park.
Master a few healthy recipes for summer cookouts.
Finding lighter fare at barbecues can be a challenge, but if you volunteer to bring a healthy dish, you know you’ll have at least one good option to pile onto your plate and dilute some of the heavier entrees and sides. To keep things simple, bring a big bowl of fruit salad or pick up a crudite platter from the grocery store. If you don’t mind doing a bit more prep, I recommend throwing together a pasta salad with lots of veggies, like this colorful soba noodle salad with edamame, red pepper, and purple cabbage.
Go for a daily walk.
Now that the days are longer, it’s easier to squeeze in a short walk at the start or end of your day. Aim for at least 30 minutes most days of the week (but if you can only commit to 15 or 20, that’s still well worth the effort). When things start to heat up, schedule an early morning or late evening walk when temps are cooler.
Hit the trail.
For a change of scenery, seek out some local walking and hiking trails in your area using sites like alltrails.com and traillink.com. Pack a healthy lunch or snacks and make a day of it!
Take a hiatus from TV. With all the network hit shows on summer break, it’s the perfect time to reduce your screen time. Cut down on evening television viewing and spend that time outdoors walking, biking, doing yardwork, or playing with the kids or grandkids.