Ahhh, summer! As the season approaches, I look forward to getting my fill of local succulent strawberries and blueberries, tender asparagus, tasty tomatoes, juicy peaches and watermelon and sweet summer corn.
One of my favorite aspects of the long-awaited summer season is the opportunity to visit local farms and enjoy this fresh produce that not only tastes extra-delicious but is loaded with healthful plant compounds that can help fight disease. In fact, while it hasn't been scientifically proven, I think locally grown produce is likely more nutritious than the conventionally grown kind.
And while you can, by all means, savor them solo, farm-fresh fruits and veggies also make for winning ingredients in light summer meals and snacks that are healthy and waistline-friendly.
So there's no arguing that summertime is an easy time to consume your 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit per day and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables each day. (One cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or ½ cup of dried fruit count as 1 cup of fruit, while 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens count as 1 cup of vegetables).
If you're looking for new ways to enjoy your favorite seasonal produce, below are seven simple and delicious summer recipes that are loaded with health and sun-protective benefits. Chances are, they are probably not only a treat for your taste buds -- your kids just might enjoy them, too!
Watermelon mint gazpacho
This refreshing summer soup is similar to a classic gazpacho but has added sweetness from watermelon and coolness from mint. It has only 73 calories per serving and about 3 grams of fiber, making it a slimming and satisfying treat.
Tomatoes and watermelon in the gazpacho are loaded with lycopene, a red pigment with antioxidant properties that may help protect skin from sunburn and skin aging. And cucumbers are a water-rich, low-calorie food that can help you stay hydrated during hot summer days.
1 lb. tomatoes (about 4 large tomatoes)
5 cups cubed watermelon
1 English cucumber, peeled
3 cloves garlic
1⁄2 cup red onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4-cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste
1⁄2 packed cup fresh mint
Pepper to taste
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
Per serving: 73 calories, 2.3 g protein, 17.4 g carbohydrates, 2.6 g fiber, 11.2 g sugars, 0.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 396.8 mg sodium, 45.6 mg calcium, 0 g omega-3 fats, 1697.8 IU vitamin A, 27.6 mg vitamin C, 0.5 mg vitamin E, 1.6 mg iron, 0.5 mg zinc
Portobello burger with tomato-onion jam
Looking to eat less meat and more plants? This juicy portobello mushroom burger is a tasty meat-free alternative to a hamburger and can serve as a vegetarian option for a summer barbecue.
Mushrooms are low in calories, rich in antioxidants and are one of the few natural foods sources of vitamin D. Roasting the mushrooms helps to give them a meaty and juicy flavor.
The tomato onion jam replaces traditional ketchup and is rich in lycopene, which is more readily absorbed when the tomatoes are cooked. The jam is sweet while infused with tomato, onion and garlic flavors. You can use 1 cup of canned diced tomatoes in place of fresh.
For the tomato-onion jam:
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. tomatoes (about 5 large tomatoes), chopped
1⁄4 packed cup brown sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
For the portobello burgers:
4 portobello mushrooms, stemmed and patted dry
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1⁄2 tablespoon honey
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup arugula
4 whole wheat buns, toasted
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until browned. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add in tomatoes, brown sugar and salt, and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil. In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, olive oil, Dijon mustard, honey and garlic. Pour this mixture over the mushrooms, spreading it on both sides.
Place mushrooms on baking sheet stem side up and bake for 15 minutes. Flip and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes.
Place arugula on bottom half of bun, followed by mushroom and a large spoonful of tomato-onion jam. Top with the other half of the bun.
Per serving: 309 calories, 4.4 g protein, 52.1 g carbohydrates, 6.5 g fiber, 24.4 g sugars, 6.7 g fat, 1.2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 0.5 mg cholesterol, 833 mg sodium, 156.9 mg calcium, 0 g omega-3 fats, 1163.4 IU vitamin A, 23.1 mg vitamin C, 0.6 mg vitamin E, 2.5 mg iron, 0.8 mg zinc
Blueberry balsamic glazed salmon
Here's a new culinary combination that can fit nicely into a summer menu: salmon with a blueberry topping! In this dish, salmon is covered with a sweet, tangy, blueberry glaze that has hints of spicy ginger.
When it comes to foods, few have more nutritional benefits than salmon and blueberries. Salmon is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke
A diet rich in omega-3s from fish oil can also help make sunburn less severe and may help prevent the development of skin cancer, according to research.
Blueberries are loaded with anti-aging antioxidants. In fact, anthocyanins, the bluish pigments in blueberries, help to provide protection from the sun's ultraviolet rays, and help to strengthen collagen, keeping skin soft and supple.
1 lb. salmon
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Season salmon with salt and place in a shallow baking dish. In a small saucepan, combine blueberries, balsamic vinegar, honey and ginger and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until it becomes a syrupy glaze, 5 to 10 minutes. Pour the glaze over the salmon and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
Per serving: 281 calories, 23.5 g protein, 11.1 g carbohydrates, 0.8 g fiber, 9.5 g sugars, 15.2 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 62.4 mg cholesterol, 216 mg sodium, 15 mg calcium, 3 g omega-3 fats, 238 IU vitamin A, 7.3 mg vitamin C, 4 mg vitamin E, 0.6 mg iron, 0.4 mg zinc
Everything bagel cauliflower tots
Starches have a place in summer meals, but in this recipe, fiber-rich cauliflower and protein-rich chickpeas replace potatoes for a nutritious, lower-carb alternative to regular tater tots or French fries.
Cauliflower is a good source of vitamin C, which protects against the harmful effects of the sun's ultraviolet rays and delivers anti-inflammatory benefits to skin, while ground flaxseeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
These cauliflower tots incorporate nutritional yeast, which adds a subtle cheesy flavor. A blend of seasonings creates a flavor that mimics an everything bagel, though you can omit the spices to may make it more kid-friendly, depending on your child's palate.
1 small head cauliflower, roughly chopped
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1⁄3 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1⁄2 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons dried minced onion
1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Nonstick cooking spray (optional)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add cauliflower and chickpeas to a food processor and process until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in nutritional yeast, flaxseed, breadcrumbs, sesame seeds, minced onion, minced garlic, poppy seeds and salt.
Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes and then shape into tots and place on lined baking sheet.
Spray tots with cooking spray before baking for extra crispiness, if desired.
Bake until golden brown, 30-35 minutes.
Per serving: 112 calories, 6.2 g protein, 15.6 g carbohydrates, 4.8 g fiber, 2.2 g sugars, 3.2 g fat, 0.2 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 332 mg sodium, 46.8 mg calcium, 0.3 g omega-3 fats, 8 IU vitamin A, 16.2 mg vitamin C, 0.1 mg vitamin E, 1.2 mg iron, 0.7 mg zinc
Creamy lemon asparagus pasta
Though asparagus is in season during spring, this lemon asparagus pasta can certainly be enjoyed during summer months. The sauce in this pasta is loaded with fresh lemon flavor, while the asparagus is tender and provides some crunch.
Asparagus is rich in folate, a B vitamin that plays a role in the production of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter that influences our mood.
And chickpea pasta is lower in carbs and delivers more protein and fiber than regular pasta. The lemon delivers vitamin C, which acts as an edible sunscreen and helps to absorb the iron from the pasta.
8 ounces chickpea pasta (or whole grain pasta of choice)
1⁄2 lb. asparagus, sliced on a bias
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 cup dry white wine or white cooking wine
3⁄4 cup 2% fat milk (or soy milk)
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Shredded Parmesan, for topping (optional)
Bring a medium-size pot filled with water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, then add in asparagus for the last 2 minutes of cooking time and then drain. Put the pot back on medium heat and add olive oil. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
Then add wine and milk and simmer until the wine has cooked out and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in salt, lemon zest and juice, and the cooked pasta and asparagus. Top with Parmesan if desired.
Per serving: 268 calories, 13.9 g protein, 40.2 g carbohydrates, 6.3 g fiber, 4.4 g sugars, 4.7 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 3.7 mg cholesterol, 534 mg sodium, 117 mg calcium, 0 g omega-3 fats, 516 IU vitamin A, 6 mg vitamin C, 0.7 mg vitamin E, 4.3 mg iron, 0.55 mg zinc
Strawberries with chamomile cashew cream
Feeling stressed out and looking for a sweet way to relax this summer? Try strawberries topped with calming chamomile cream.
Strawberries deliver vitamin C and folate, while cashews used to make cashew cream are rich in zinc, a mineral that plays an important role in our immune system. Using cashew cream instead of regular whipped cream makes this recipe vegan-friendly.
1 chamomile tea bag
2 tablespoons honey
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons raw cashews, soaked in water overnight (or for at least 8 hours)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
Mint sprigs, for topping (optional)
In a small pot, bring 1⁄3 cup water to a boil. Add tea bag and steep for 5 minutes. Discard tea bag. Stir in honey and let cool. Once cool, transfer tea to a blender with soaked cashews and lemon juice and blend until smooth. Serve strawberries topped with cashew cream. Top with mint sprigs, if desired.
Per serving: 135 calories, 3.1 g protein, 20.2 g carbohydrates, 3.3 g fiber, 13.3 g sugars, 5.4 g fat, 0.9 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 mg sodium, 31.9 mg calcium, 0.1 g omega-3 fats, 17 IU vitamin A, 86 mg vitamin C, 0.4 mg vitamin E, 1.4 mg iron, 0.2 mg zinc
Grilled peaches with coconut whipped cream
Grilling fruits can make for a fun summer treat, especially if you need a break from pie.
These grilled peaches with coconut whipped cream make a light and tasty summer dessert. The whipped coconut cream is used as a plant-based alternative to regular whipped cream, and it's vegan-friendly.
Peaches contain the skin-friendly antioxidant vitamin C, and grilling them with brown sugar and cinnamon brings out their natural sweetness. The coconut whipped cream is decadent and airy, with a sweet coconut and vanilla flavor that pairs deliciously with the peaches.
3 ripe large peaches, sliced in half and pitted
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 13.5-ounce can full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mint sprigs, for topping (optional)
Brush each peach half with 1⁄2 teaspoon brown sugar and 1⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon. Heat a grill pan or sandwich press to high heat and place peach halves facedown. Cook for until peaches are soft and have grill marks, about 5 minutes.
Scoop the hardened coconut cream from the top of the can of coconut milk into a medium-size bowl (it will be around 1/3 to 1/2 cup). Whip with an electric beater until smooth and fluffy, adding liquid from the can of coconut milk if needed. Add powdered sugar and vanilla extract and beat again.
Once peaches have cooled, serve with coconut whipped cream and mint if desired. Do not place coconut cream on warm peaches -- it will melt!
Per serving: 174 calories, 2.1 g protein, 13.7 g carbohydrates, 1.4 g fiber, 10.3 g sugars, 13.8 g fat, 12.1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 8 mg sodium, 20 mg calcium, 0 g omega-3 fats, 286 IU vitamin A, 6.4 mg vitamin C, 0.7 mg vitamin E, 2.4 mg iron, 0.5 mg zinc
Lisa Drayer is a nutritionist, an author and a CNN health and nutrition contributor.