Fresh and Healthy Summer Recipes Made Easy
10 healthy summer ingredients, plus 15 good-for-you recipes for summer feasting
This time of year, good-for-you eating requires little more than a trip to the farmers’ market. In all that bounty, every fruit and vegetable you see was picked at its peak. But even though I can’t go wrong, I still know that some foods are healthier than others.
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10 healthy summer foods
There’s no such thing as a “healthiest” summer food, really, but each of these choices has some serious health science behind it.
Watermelon. Not only is it filled with water to keep you hydrated, this refreshing summer treat also has more of the antioxidant lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable — including tomatoes, which are famous for the stuff. Lycopene provides that gorgeous red hue to both fruits, and can help lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, and age-related eye disorders.
Blueberries. Those tasty purple orbs pack a pretty big punch: Research shows that blueberries contain abundant phytochemicals. Eating them regularly has been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and death, and better weight control.
Cherries. As far as I’m concerned, no summer fruit beats cherries — I can eat them by the bushel. And it turns out, they’re pretty darned good for us, too. Studies have found eating cherries can reduce overall inflammation and post-workout muscle soreness, and they may also help with arthritis, diabetes, sleep, cognitive function, and even your mood.
Tomatoes. While they may not have as much lycopene as watermelon, tomatoes are still an excellent source of the antioxidant — especially after heating, which helps make it more available to your body. And they also pack plenty of vitamins C and A. Tomatoes can help lower your cholesterol levels and your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Zucchini. There’s a reason zoodles are embraced by low-carb diets: Summer squash are very low in calories and carbohydrates, and yet they contain powerful carotenoids like lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. They’re known to protect eye health, may help your cognitive function and heart health, and may even help prevent some types of cancer.
Corn. I can’t imagine summer without eating ear after ear of sweet corn, fresh from the farm. (Sometimes, I’ll have an ear or two for lunch — nothing else.) Those juicy yellow kernels offer a dizzying array of nutrients, including carotenoids and other antioxidants, thiamine, folate, vitamin C, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Seafood. The food itself may not be summer-specific, but think about how much easier it is to eat fish and seafood this time of year, whether you’re throwing it on the grill or making a refreshing ceviche. The American Heart Association recommends eating at least eight ounces a week (as long as it’s not fried) to lower your risk of heart disease.
Poultry. Lean protein is a cornerstone of healthy living. Skinless chicken or turkey is mighty lean — and breast meat has less than three grams of fat in a four-ounce serving. I like to throw a dozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs on the grill at a time, and use them for easy summer meal prep.
Iced coffee. I start every summer day with a large glass of homemade cold brew. And most days, I have a second glass before lunch. Boy, was I happy to learn how many ways coffee can benefit our health. Research has linked it to reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, gallstones, and a bunch of liver conditions. Not bad for something I’d drink by the gallon anyway. Bonus: If you drink it black, it has no calories!
Iced tea. Here’s another calorie-free summer drink that not only helps you cool off, it also provides numerous potential benefits to your health. Among other things, studies have found tea can help protect you against inflammation, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. I like to keep a pitcher of iced tea in the fridge at all times.
Healthy summer recipes
Ready to get cooking? These recipes all use easy-to-find summer ingredients and healthy summer preparation techniques.
Healthy summer fruit recipes
I eat fruit all day long in the summer, as-is. But when I have a few minutes, I love to make fruit even yummier.
Pairing fruit with savory foods has to be one of my favorite ways to use it, and this watermelon salad might be the best possible combination: melon, of course, plus creamy-salty feta, peppery arugula, and tons of fresh herbs in a simple lemon vinaigrette.
Each of these sweet kid-pleasers has just 60 calories, but plenty of flavor thanks to three layers of summer fruit: Blended watermelon and lime make the red layer, fresh lemonade the second, and blueberries mixed with Greek yogurt the third.
One terrific thing about using perfectly ripe summer fruit is that everything comes together so easily. By far the hardest part of this spicy-sweet mixture is pitting the cherries. (No cherry pitter? You can use an unfolded paper clip.) Once that’s done, you’re minutes away from scooping up your new favorite salsa.
Healthy summer vegetable recipes
As with fruit, summer’s best veggies don’t need much effort to turn them into something spectacular.
When tomatoes are at their tippity-top, so luscious and juicy I can’t resist buying obscene amounts, I make gazpacho. This easy recipe calls for a whopping 3 pounds of them, along with a little cucumber and red onion, red bell pepper, good bread, and plenty of flavorful olive oil.
Grilled corn is a star at many of my summertime dinners, and I’ll often throw on an extra ear or two to refrigerate for the next day’s lunch. Those charred kernels, slices of ripe tomatoes, and chopped fresh herbs add an irresistible pop to deliciously easy avocado toast.
This time of year, my farmers’ market has giant bunches of fresh basil. Using at least part of a bunch for homemade pesto is a no-brainer — and tossing that pesto with quickly-sauteed zoodles and sweet onions makes a lovely lunch or summer dinner side dish.
Healthy summer grilling recipes
Weeknight summer dinners call for easy grilling recipes. This healthy cooking method requires very little added fat, and brings out the flavor of even the most ordinary ingredients. Serve any of these with quinoa or rice as a side dish.
This marinade isn’t your momma’s bbq sauce. Boneless, skinless chicken soaks up the flavor from fresh cilantro, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, fish sauce, and brown sugar, then spends just a few minutes on the grill. I like to serve it cut into strips, with tortillas and a lime-cilantro slaw — fast fusion tacos!
Grilling salmon over indirect heat keeps it moist and buttery-textured. All it needs is salt and pepper, since you’re topping it with a quick Mediterranean-inspired tomato salad made from chopped cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, parsley, olives, capers, and balsamic vinegar.
Jumbo shrimp spend just a few minutes in a spicy, citrusy marinade before getting threaded onto skewers and grilled alongside ripe slices of mango. Looking for a quick summer appetizer? Put a shrimp or two onto small skewers along with a chunk of mango instead.
Healthy summer salad recipes
Crunchy vegetables at the pinnacle of freshness are just begging to be made into light yet hearty summer dinner salads.
Let me just say this: The simple vinaigrette you’ll make for this salad blows away any bottled Italian dressing you’ve ever tasted. Toss it with fresh greens, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, green onions, spicy pepperoncini, and cheese, and… chef’s kiss. Got some leftover grilled chicken? Chop it up and toss it in.
This bright dish has chicken in it and it’s a salad, but it’s definitely not chicken salad. I love that I’m using half the vinaigrette to marinate the chicken and the rest as a dressing. Lemon, olive oil, oregano, garlic, and feta give this pasta salad a beautiful Greek accent.
When three-bean salad meets corn salad and gets an upgrade, you wind up with this perfect summer dish. The combo includes green beans, black beans, chickpeas — heck, pretty much any bean you like — as well as crisp fresh vegetables for contrast.
Healthy summer drink recipes
Health-conscious summer living doesn’t end with food.
I think of this as more of an afternoon pick-me-up than a decadent treat, but it’s every bit as refreshing. Ripe summer raspberries and peaches get blended with a bit of agave, then mixed with cool, brewed tea. Keep this in the fridge for whenever you need a little something sweet.
Just two ingredients — plump blueberries and a splash of orange juice — turn into a healthy, irresistible frozen drink. I’ve got a pick-your-own blueberry farm not too far from me, and whenever I bring home more than I think I can eat (as if), a good portion of them go into this recipe.
This may look like a decadent dessert (and I’ll definitely serve it as one), but the recipe was created by a dietitian. Coffee ice cubes — which you can and should make whenever you have some leftover java — blend together with cocoa powder, a squeeze of honey, vanilla, and a little something creamy. Pour it into a glass, add a little whipped topping, and drizzle with melted dark chocolate. Yowza.
Bushels more healthy summer recipes
Looking for additional inspiration for that farmers' market haul? We have lots more ideas in these next articles.