Summer is here, and that means peak-flavor stone fruits, corn, berries and tomatoes are available and abundant. While so many options are perfect to eat as-is, I’m always looking for new, quick ways to use the bounty of fresh produce, plus how to feature those ingredients in entrées or light suppers. So, I polled our creative nutrition pros for their must-haves to make the most of peak summer produce. Here is what they are eating right now:
Pair produce with a quick-cooking grain
With its speedy cook-time, versatility and whole grain status, quinoa was a unanimous favorite ingredient among experts to pair with summer produce. (The mild-flavored grain is also a good choice for those looking for a gluten-free option.) One nutrition pro prefers quinoa over rice to make a “protein-packed sushi roll” studded with fresh vegetables while another expert uses the grain to make a fruit salad with fresh cherries or berries, mint and lime juice. This simple quinoa salad is amped up with produce, and would be great alongside grilled fish or chicken.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
A close second for everyone was staying hydrated. Nutrition pros suggested coconut water for smoothies, which adds liquid without watering down the flavor too much; plain sparkling water, a calorie-free beverage without any added sugars (add a lemon twist, if you like); and making your own infused waters to help keep you hydrated without getting tired of plain H20. Start with these infused waters and then make up your own combinations (one nutrition pro recommends adding a sprinkle of chia seeds!): Peach trimmings create a flavored water, cucumber peels pair up with lemon to make a refreshing drink, and water takes on a twist with strawberry and watermelon remnants.
Pastas salads + vegetables = dinner
Whole wheat or whole grain pastas are ideal for a pasta salad dinner. Keep it light by pairing the pasta with fresh tomatoes, corn and grilled onions; grilled eggplant or squashes; and garnished with a little cheese, herbs and vinaigrette. According to one expert, a satisfying and light vegetarian dinner comes together in a snap with cooked and cooled small-shaped pasta (think orzo, macaroni or farfalle) tossed with the veggies. Enjoy a whole wheat pasta salad hot or cold, or as a light entrée.
Flavor without sodium
Fresh herbs — parsley, basil, mint and cilantro — also featured prominently for virtually-no-sodium, flavor-full ways to add pep to summer fruits and vegetables. A simple salad of heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil and a dash of salt is the ideal summer side, but this vegan caprese with tofu is just as satisfying. Pair mint and beets together for a great side to grilled favorites or use mint and berries for a 100-calorie-per-serving salad. And equally impressive is a no-cook, grain-free “pasta” salad that pairs raw, ribboned summer vegetables with the best of summer herbs.
Make snacking fun with specialty produce
If you want to keep it simple, several experts say to take advantage of the miniature and heirloom produce varieties available in the fleeting weeks of summer. (And nutrition experts love vegetables because most of us need to eat more and many veggies are sources of fiber, and a host of vitamins and minerals.) Look for tiny cucumbers and squash or heirloom tomatoes to keep on hand for easy snacking. Crudités made from zucchini rounds, cucumber rounds, radishes or jicama can be great in hummus or bean dips.
Fruit-forward dishes are naturally sweet
And blackberries, strawberries, peaches, plums and melons also ranked high from the nutrition experts. (Besides their great flavor, most fruits also generally provide fiber and vitamin C.) Pros recommended using them in smoothies, as a fruit salad, or just to enjoy eating as is. If you have more than you know what to do with, use what you have to make a frozen fruit kabob, for a fruit-centric dessert. Several pros also recommended freezing the fruit to use for jams, smoothies or sauces. Place washed berries or cubed melon on a sheet tray in the freezer for several hours; once frozen, transfer the fruit to a resealable plastic bag to store.
Stay tuned for more healthy cooking tips, ideas and inspiration from our nutrition pros, including Katie Albers, Nutrition Data Management Analyst; Kylie Bentley, RDN, LDN, Exclusive Brands Product Compliance and Nutrition Analyst; Kathy K. Downie, RDN; Jess Kolko, RDN, LD, Nutrition Senior Research Analyst; Jacqueline Mooney, Nutrition Data Management Analyst; and Akua Woolbright, Nutrition Program Director Whole Cities Foundation.
What summer produce do you look forward to? Share your favorites and how you serve them below.