As warmer temperatures lure us outdoors, we want to get out of the kitchen to enjoy lighter, quicker dishes al fresco. Luckily, summer brings to the table many unique, fresh flavours of locally ripened produce that make it simply to go big on taste and easy on labour. All you have to do to enjoy some seasonal greats is to think local, and here's how:
1. Eat seasonally
A warm weather palette means locally grown, fresh produce, which is the most flavourful and nutritious. So step into the produce isle or visit the local farmers' market for fresh pickings. "The great think about eating locally is that the produce is picked in the morning and on your plate that evening, and that means fresher food and less loss of nutrients," says Elizabeth Frank, a registered dietitian in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia.
Here's what some seasonal hits pack, nutritionally:
• Cantaloupe is high in vitamin A
• Strawberries and other berries contain vitamin C and potassium, as well as fibre
• Cherries, peaches, pears and watermelon contain vitamin A, potassium, and the skins of the fruit offers the bonus of fibre
• Asparagus, beets, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, and tomatoes contain vitamin A and potassium
• Bell peppers are rich in vitamin A
• Potatoes are also rich in potassium, are a good source of vitamin C, and the skin is loaded with fibre
• Snow peas offer high amounts of both vitamins A and C
2. Put away your crock pot
Replace heavier meat dishes and heavy stews, casseroles, and pan fried dishes with lighter fare such as barbecued chicken and fish, grilled or steamed vegetables. These cooking methods offer lower fat content, reduced calories and cholesterol -- and it won't take hours to cook a meal. "Steaming vegetables retains more nutrients and they look more appetizing, and this is a great way to introduce new, healthy recipes to your menus," Elizabeth suggests. Also, think of serving fresh fruits and vegetables, and skip the trip to the stove or grill altogether.
3. Don't be a plain Jane
If you think seasoning a dish consists of sprinkling in salt and pepper, it's time to wake up your taste buds and spruce up your usual dishes with fresh herbs and spices from the garden. Skip the sodium and add flavour with fresh herbs instead, says Elizabeth, who offers the following ideas:
• Oregano is great in pasta dishes, sauces, and eggs
• Parsley can be added to fish and chicken, and to garnish vegetable sides
• Fresh dill and parsley are great on grilled fish
• Rosemary adds zip to pork, fish and potatoes
• Basil and oregano can be added to vegetables
• Fresh chilli peppers can be added to spice up meat marinades
See our slideshow: 5 healthy herbs and how to use them.
Page 1 of 2 – find low-fat summer alternatives on the next page!
4. Nab your 5 to 10 a day
Freshly picked produce also makes it easier to increase your fruit and veggie servings, so think about grilling some peaches, tossing blueberries into a salad or smoothie, or adding cherry tomatoes and fresh basil leaves to pasta salads. "Peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, yellow squash, eggplant, and tomatoes are also great skewered, and cooked on the BBQ", says Elizabeth. "Red onions are nice too, and add colour."
5. Think outside the box
A lot of packaged, processed foods are sources of bad fats, high sodium, and lots of artificial additives. And studies have shown that produce loses lots of its nutritional punch the longer it's in the fridge, so it makes sense to eat fresh more often. Moreover, you can make summer last longer by freezing and preserving your summer harvest. "Freezing fresh stuff helps them to retain most of their nutrients," Elizabeth says. "Just make sure to do it the same day you pick the produce, and do it quickly and use within five months."
6. Dress lightly
Salads and sandwiches are usually big hits for summertime, but what you put on them can turn them into calorie bombs. So ditch the butter, mayo, and creamy salad dressings. Now what? Use olive oil, balsamic vinegar, white vinegar, and lemon juice, and herbs to dress salads. Top sandwiches with grilled veggies, smear on a little hummus, olive paste or sun-dried tomato paste, or roasted garlic. You can also grill bread on the BBQ slightly for added flavour.