What to Eat This Summer

No one wants to spend hours planning menus, making countless trips to the grocery store and slaving in the kitchen, only to endure dull and tasteless food. If you want to eat healthy, home-cooked meals without all the fuss, try a seasonal pantry makeover. To do it, stock up on locally-grown foods, and simply create meals based on what's in season in your region. Eating locally is delicious, nutritious, interesting and, believe it or not, easy. Local food tastes better because it really is fresh (not shipped-from-across-the-country-yet-still-bearing-a-label-that-says-fresh).

It's healthier for you because you get the higher nutrient levels from just-picked produce. It's healthier for the environment because local food uses less fossil fuel for transport. Seasonal food is also interesting, as each season brings a new crop of foods that you haven't had for an entire year. Before you've had a chance to tire of its bounty, the season changes to bring new, flavorful foods. And shopping for seasonal foods is easy—a fun trip to your local farmer's market will yield the majority of the ingredients you need.

In the US, we enjoy practically unlimited access to any food any time of the year. Although it's nice to have watermelon in February and asparagus in August, many people don't even know that foods have a season, let alone what foods are in season at any given time of year. A quick scan of the offerings at the farmer's market will clear this up in a few seconds, but you may want to start brainstorming recipes beforehand. Availability will vary from region to region, but here's a list of foods that make summer their season, along with tips on how to incorporate the new-to-you ingredients into your meals.

Summer Vegetables
  • Beets. Stem, wash, peel, thinly slice, lightly salt, and toss onto salads. Or roast them for a sweet and simple side dish: In a baking dish, bake clean, unpeeled beets at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until easily pierced with a knife. You can also eat the greens. Just wash, chop, steam for a few minutes, sauté in olive oil until tender, season with salt and pepper, and serve.
  • Broccoli. Broccoli-cheddar soup is always good. Or steam the florets and throw into a whole-grain wrap with barbequed onions (see instructions below), avocado, and sprouts.
  • Cauliflower. Steam and top with butter and a dash of salt.
  • Celery. Pair it with peanut butter for a healthy and satisfying snack. To lure children to try some, make "ants on a log" by placing a few raisins on top of the peanut butter.
  • Cucumbers. Wow your party guests with this one: Slice the cucumber into rounds, and stack with tomatoes, a leaf of basil, and a wedge of fresh mozzarella. Or try cold cucumber soup as an appetizer.
  • Eggplant. This purple plant is great on the grill: Just slice, brush both sides with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill until tender. Make extra and refrigerate the leftovers to use as a pizza topping, on sandwiches, or in soups.
  • Green beans. Fresh green beans are simple to prepare: Clean and snap-off ends. Steam until tender and toss with sautéed onions and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Onions. Try these yummy barbequed onions: Slice onion into rings and sauté them in olive oil until tender. Mix in a few tablespoons of your favorite barbeque sauce. Add barbequed onions to a sandwich or wrap with avocado, lettuce, and shredded chicken for a quick lunch.
  • Peppers. Peppers are delicious when roasted: Slice in half lengthwise, seed, rinse and brush heavily with olive oil. Place skin-side-up on a baking sheet. Smash the peppers to flatten before putting them into a 400 degree oven to roast for 10-20 minutes. Take them out, stack them, and allow them to rest for another 15 minutes. Then peel them by scraping the skin off with a spoon. Eat roasted peppers plain, or add them to salads, pastas, pizzas or sandwiches.
  • Potatoes. Small new potatoes are delicious when simply boiled until tender and topped with grated cheese, plain yogurt, and diced green onions.
  • Summer squash. Slice and sauté in olive oil, and drizzle with soy sauce. Toss with pasta and grated parmesan cheese.
  • Tomatoes. Fresh, raw tomatoes are delicious in salads and as an appetizer: Wash and cut into thick slices. Top each slice with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh basil leaves, and a slice of mozzarella cheese.  
  • Zucchini. Use the suggestions for summer squash, above, or boil them whole until tender, allow to cool somewhat, then cut them in half length-wise and scoop out the pulp. Combine with sautéed onions, whole wheat breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and an egg to hold it together, and stuff the skins. Top with grated cheese and bake until the cheese is bubbly and golden.
Summer Fruits
Fruit is always easy. It is ready to eat, and tastes great. But if you're looking for some new ways to incorporate fruit into your menu besides the "grab and bite" technique, try fruit smoothies, fruit cobblers and fruit-topped pancakes and French toast.
  • Apples. Try them baked with sweet potatoes and raisins.
  • Melons. Use a melon baller to give your melons flair when eaten alone or in a summer fruit salad.
  • Peaches. Who can resist peach cobbler? For a healthier spin, use whole grain flour for the crust.
  • Pears. Try pears on the grill. Wash and cook until tender, then sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and enjoy (quickly!) with vanilla ice cream.
  • Plums. Wash their skin and take a bite!
  • Raspberries.  All berries make tasty addition to pancakes, smoothies, yogurt and fruit salads. Try a mixed berry salad, tossed in balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Strawberries. Buy them by the bushel and freeze to make fresh-tasting smoothies in the winter months. Combined with bananas, orange juice, and yogurt, they make an unbeatable breakfast drink.
Summer Seasonings
If you've done a little cooking, you probably know that the seasonings can make the meal. Here are some seasonal seasonings for your summer suppers.
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Garlic
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Savory
  • Tarragon
If your pantry isn't stocked with the season's tastiest and most nutritious staples, then get yourself to your local farmer's market and add flavor to your meals with the best summer seasonings. To find a farmer's market near you, visit www.localharvest.org, and enjoy the bounty of summer!