7 Healthy Summer Dinner Ideas
Now is a great time to expand your culinary repertoire.
With more just-harvested ingredients and local produce close at hand, summer is the perfect season to be adventurous with fresh foods. "Take risks at the farmers market. Talk to vendors, bring something home you typically wouldn't buy," encourages Carlene Thomas, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Leesburg, Virginia. "This supports local growers and producers and provides a new experience (and nutrients!) for your family." And don't stop there, either. Experiment with fresh takes on foods you buy at the grocery, too; for example, Thomas says, "If you love pasta salad, try chickpea or lentil pasta for higher protein options." Accordingly, here are seven healthy options dietitians suggest to bring the season's bounty to your dinner table.
The days are long, there's lots to do -- and you want dinner fast. So there's no reason to complicate things. "If you're looking to simplify dinner, try a protein topped with vegetables served all on one platter," Thomas says. "Whether it's a whole fish, slices of beef or grilled chicken, lay on a long platter and top with veggies tossed in a vinaigrette." Thomas says she and her husband's favorites include salmon with fennel slaw and beef with cucumber, shallot and microgreens. Try these greens, such as cilantro, kale or arugula, which are harvested early, to amp up freshness in ways that far exceed their diminutive status.
Grain salads make for a great way to highlight farmers market produce finds, says Leanne Ray, a dietitian in Denver. "Try nutty farro mixed in with grilled vegetables like red bell pepper and fairy tale eggplant," she suggests. "Add in some goat cheese crumbles along with any fresh herbs you might need to use up, then finish with a squeeze of lemon." Another grain salad that's perfect for summer, says Jessica Levinson, a New-York based dietitian and author of "52-Week Meal Planner," is a corn, tomato, mozzarella and basil quinoa salad. "Toss fresh-off-the-cob corn with grape tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella balls and cooked quinoa," she says. Optional: "Add black beans for even more plant-based protein power."
Sometimes you just don't have time to eat dinner with a knife and fork. Jam-packed summer days are a great time to be informally hands-on -- and thinking outside the bun isn't limited to switching up fast food or choosing tacos over burgers. Instead of idling in a clogged drive-through, you can make a wrap at home. "Summer rolls are a current favorite of mine," Ray says. "No cooking required, and they can be customized based on what you have on hand." Her suggestion? "Fill rice paper wrappers with pre-cooked shrimp and your favorite vegetables, then roll them up and serve with a simple homemade or store-bought peanut sauce."
Skewered chicken breast
Again, no slight to burgers, but you've got options on the grill. And for whatever reason, putting food on a stick seems especially apropos to the season. "Anything on a skewer screams summer," Ray says. As a general rule, she advises skewering foods with a similar cook time to ensure a safe level of doneness for everything and to limit excess char on some quicker-cooking items. "Try chicken breast marinated in olive oil, cilantro, garlic and lime juice," she recommends, "then pair with your favorite seasonal vegetables."
This cold soup was born in the warm climes of southern Spain, and not surprisingly, it's especially popular on hot days. While a tomato version is widely served today, you've got lots of options depending on your preferences. "Gazpacho is always on trend during the summer, but why not try some variations beyond the classic," Levinson suggests. "My family loves watermelon gazpacho, made by pureeing watermelon, cucumbers, lime juice and white wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with chopped scallions and cilantro."
Fish grilled or en papillote
While you're already taking a culinary tour through the Mediterranean region, you can also incorporate other aspects of the top-rated Mediterranean diet, which features traditional healthful fare that's highly pleasing to the palate. "You can easily continue to follow it through the summer months," Levinson notes -- like by grilling fish or baking it with seasonings in a pouch (typically made of parchment paper) to seal in flavor, a method of cooking called en papillote. "Grilled salmon on a cedar plank or making a delicate white fish en papillote with farm-fresh vegetables, fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil and lemon will make you feel like you're on a fancy Mediterranean vacation in your own backyard," Levinson says.
Dinner on a board
You don't have to resign yourself to "brinner" (or breakfast for dinner) after that long, full summer day when you're desperate to just get something -- anything -- on the table. "When all else fails, a snack board can easily save a 'cereal for dinner' type of night," Ray says. Her favorite boarded combination is burrata, a soft fresh Italian cheese, "paired with thick slices of tomatoes, crusty French bread and a cold glass of rosé. Sometimes the simplest meals are the most memorable."
Healthy summer dinner options
-- Veggie-topped protein
-- Grain salad
-- Summer rolls
-- Skewered chicken breast
-- Fish grilled or en papillote
-- Dinner on a board
Michael O. Schroeder has been a health editor at U.S. News since 2015. He writes health stories on a wide range of topics from mental health to medication side effects, and he manages the blog For Parents.
Michael has reported on health and wellness since 2005, and he's also covered everything from business news to governmental affairs for various newspapers. His stories have also been published in HuffPost, MSN, Yahoo!, WTOP, The Washington Post and The Indianapolis Star. He's also an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
Michael has a bachelor's degree in English from Wabash College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University.
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