Healthy Meals for Hot Summer Days

By Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, CSSD, LD

Summer and the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables are finally here. These nutrient-packed foods can be part of an infinite number of delicious combinations for your health and eating pleasure. They can be included in everyday fare or in recipes used for cookouts, picnics and other summer events.

Ideas for Sumptuous Dishes That
Don’t Require Heating Up Your Kitchen

Many of these colorful additions to meals and snacks work well in combination with other healthful foods such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins. By combining several food groups in one recipe you can create one-dish meals that mimic the proportions of the recommended image of “My Plate” – half the plate for fruit and vegetables, a quarter of the plate for some form of whole grain or high-fiber starch, and the other quarter for protein.

Although many of these dishes can be served warm, on hot summer days, they are great when chilled. They work well for both lunches and dinners. Another benefit is that you can often make them in bulk for use over several meals, which can be a real time saver, especially in a hot kitchen. They also come in handy if family members are eating at different times. Cold versions can be scooped right out of the container, and hot versions just need a quick heating.

Some possible whole grains to use in these recipes might be different shapes of whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur or barley. These can be cooked in water or possibly low-sodium broth. The liquids can be flavored with herbs (dried or fresh), curry powder, chili powder, cumin, Chinese five spice, or any other seasonings (preferably all low in sodium).

Starchy vegetables like corn, potato, butternut squash, or sweet potato can be used in addition to or in place of the grain. Roasting the potatoes or squash, can add more flavor. All provide fiber and numerous nutrients.

Protein options could be chicken, turkey, fish, shrimp, scallops, beans, pork, beef or cheese. Some of these can be grilled, poached, sautéed, or steamed and cut into bite-sized pieces. Marinating them first can provide additional flavor. It is also a great way to use leftovers.

Using beans instead of other protein sources can help to ensure food safety, as they are less perishable in warm temperatures. Beans are also a star player when it comes to fiber and they are inexpensive compared to other types of protein sources, making them most cost-effective when you are feeding a crowd.

When it comes to adding fruits and vegetables to your one-dish meals, generally think of color and variety for maximum nutrition. Take advantage of the types of produce in season, especially if you can get locally grown ones. Farmers markets are a wonderful resource for fresh produce and herbs, plus many small farms grow food organically.
Produce used in mixed salads or main dishes can be raw, steamed, grilled or roasted. Roasting caramelizes fruit and vegetables, so they taste a little sweeter. It can also intensify the flavors. For roasting or grilling, toss vegetables with a little olive oil. You can also sprinkle on some herbs seasonings. Another idea might be to sprinkle the oiled vegetables with a little balsamic vinegar. A quick and easy marinade can be a bottled Italian salad dressing.

Members of the onion family can also add flavor – like yellow, white, or red onions, shallots, garlic (raw or roasted), chives, or scallions.

Some flavorings can be added after the dish is tossed together. This can include lemon, orange, or lime zest. Try tossing with a vinaigrette made with olive oil and vinegar (red wine vinegar, balsamic, champagne vinegar, etc.), or juice (citrus, pomegranate, etc.), possibly some mustard, or maybe a light grating of a flavorful cheese. To “heat” up a dish, you can add minced hot peppers, cayenne, red pepper flakes, or any of the many bottled hot sauces.

If the salad consists mostly of greens, choose the more colorful versions because they have more nutrients (and they look nicer). You can still add a variety of fruit, vegetables and protein sources, but serve the whole grain on the side – like some nice whole-grain bread, toasted whole-grain pita wedges, or some low-sodium, high-fiber crackers. For a contrasting crunch, protein, fiber, and many other nutrients, sprinkle on some nuts or seeds.

Here are a few ideas for combinations to get you started:

How about cooking quinoa in low sodium chicken broth? Add grilled shrimp or chicken and assorted raw vegetables. Toss with olive oil and minced fresh rosemary, balsamic vinegar, and some roasted cashews.

Another might be assorted leafy greens, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped avocado, pieces of grilled salmon, and a lemon or lime vinaigrette, with a side of whole-grain bread.

Try some whole-grain pasta with edamame (green soybeans) or other beans, assorted raw or roasted vegetables, maybe some sliced black olives, a basil vinaigrette, and a sprinkle of feta cheese.

How about bulgur cooked in low sodium broth with cumin, minced fresh parsley and cilantro, assorted grilled vegetables, chickpeas, and a lime vinaigrette?

For some Mexican-style flavor, combine brown rice, black beans, corn, chopped sweet peppers, sliced scallions and your favorite salsa.

Be creative. Invent new combinations. Check online for new recipe ideas. If you have a surplus of produce from your own garden, do a search for recipes using these ingredients.

The goal is to combine a variety of basic, healthy foods for easy, quick summer meals. And don’t forget to plan for leftovers.

Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a Registered, Dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, Maine, and Portsmouth. She is also the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy. For more information, please visit

This article was first published in the Seacoast News and is reposted here with permission.

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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