10 Summer Favorites Made Lighter

Try these guilt-less versions of beloved warm-weather foods

From the WebMD Archives

We all have favorite dishes that we associate with summer. Yours might be strawberry shortcake (when the berry season is in full swing), or maybe it's peach pie a la mode (toward the end of summer).

There are regional favorites too. On my end of the country, deep-fried artichoke hearts symbolize summer fun at the carnival or beach boardwalk. In the New England area, I'm betting anything with blueberries is big in summer. Peach pie, fried green tomatoes, and fried okra are seasonal treats in the Southern states. I'm guessing barbecued hot dogs, ribs, and chicken are big just about everywhere.

The people I surveyed mentioned these 10 foods as their summer favorites:

  • macaroni salad
  • pasta salad
  • barbecued ribs
  • chocolate covered strawberries
  • strawberry shortcake
  • peach anything
  • ice cream everything
  • hamburgers and hot dogs
  • barbecued chicken
  • Belgian waffles with fresh fruit and whipped cream

Can you relate to a few of them? I've already lightened strawberry shortcake and hamburgers.

Here are some tips (and recipes) for the rest of the summer lineup.

Macaroni Salad

Journal as: 1/2 cup vegetables without added fat + 1/2 cup "starchy foods with 1 tsp fat"

Here's a lighter version of the macaroni salad recipe featured on Martha Stewart's web site. I used half light mayonnaise and half fat-free sour cream for the dressing instead of 1 cup real mayo and 1/2 cup real sour cream. From there, you have several options. You can use either petite peas or green soybeans (edamame). You can use whole-grain-blend macaroni, or you can cook the white kind al dente. You can add diced ham, or leave it out and keep the dish lacto-vegetarian.

1 pound elbow macaroni (use whole-grain blend pasta to boost the fiber and phytonutrients, if desired)
1 1/4 cups partially thawed frozen petite peas or lightly cooked, shelled edamame (green soybeans)
3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
4 scallions or green onions, white and part of green, thinly sliced diagonally
6 ounces lean ham, cut into 1/4-inch dice (optional)
3/4 cup light mayonnaise
3/4 cup fat-free sour cream (or use light sour cream)
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar (or use rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground salt (optional)
Freshly ground pepper to taste

  • Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add macaroni and cook until al dente (7-8 minutes). Drain in colander and rinse with cold water. Transfer noodles to a large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid and refrigerate until completely cool.
  • Add peas or edamame, sliced celery, scallions, and ham (if desired) and toss to blend.
  • In small bowl or 4-cup measure, whisk together light mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, sugar, nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt (if desired). Spoon over macaroni mixture and stir to blend. Season with pepper to taste. Cover bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yield: 10 servings

Per serving: 254 calories, 10 g protein, 42 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 0.4 g monounsaturated fat, 3 g polyunsaturated fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 2.5 g fiber, 132 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 17%.


Pasta Salad

The trick here is dressing your salad with a light vinaigrette or a light creamy dressing. You can easily get away with using a light bottled dressing from the supermarket.

You can also perk up your pasta salad with nutritious veggies like broccoli florets, baby carrots, fresh spinach or basil, artichoke hearts, fresh tomatoes, etc., instead of high fat-foods like sausage or regular cheese.

Check out our recipes for Mediterranean pasta salad, seafood pasta salad, insalata caprese, and pesto pasta salad.

Barbecued Ribs

The bad news is that ribs can be pretty fatty pieces of meat. The good news is that you have to work hard to eat a small amount of meat.

The key is to eat a small portion of ribs, and balance it by serving a healthy portion of fruit and green salad alongside. Avoid eating any visible fat, and use a sauce or rub that doesn't pile on any additional fat. One recipe I saw called for 4 tablespoons of butter in the sauce, to serve 8. That's an extra 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter to an already fatty meat!

Check out our spicy grilling rub and peachy tomato grilling sauce recipes for some inspiration.

If you want to go the extra mile, buy "boneless ribs" (this might be called something else at your local butcher shop). Whatever the name, it's a leaner cut of meat that is cut into strips and can be prepared much like beef ribs.

Peach Anything

There's nothing wrong with peaches -- bring 'em on! It's what we do to these naturally sweet tree fruits that can be a problem. Instead of peach pie or peach crisp a la mode, serve your peaches over a small scoop of light ice cream with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon. That will save you tons of calories and fat grams.

Ice Cream Everything

Choices abound in the frozen dairy aisle these days. My advice is to find a "light" flavor you like with no more than 4 to 5 grams of fat per 1/2 cup serving. Compare the calories per serving among different types to make sure your treat isn't higher in sugar to compensate for having less fat.


A good-tasting light ice cream that isn't excessively high in sugar will usually have around 100 calories per 1/2 cup serving. One of my favorites is Breyer's Light Vanilla, which I use in smoothies and serve with fresh fruit. It has 3.5 grams of fat and 100 calories per half-cup serving.

The other part of enjoying ice cream the healthy way is to keep your serving to 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup. Use your 1/2 or 3/4 cup measure to scoop out the ice cream. You're more likely to be happy with that amount if you serve your ice cream with some fresh fruit!


Light hot dogs are available in just about every supermarket. Some taste better than others, I'll tell you that right now.

My family likes Ball Park Light Franks, and Reduced Fat Hebrew Nationals. I don't mind Louis Rich franks, either, if they're on the barbecue. I'm so used to light hot dogs that the idea of a regular hot dog just isn't appealing. But then that's just me.

Barbecued Chicken

I'm used to working with skinless chicken breasts and thighs. And I've found if you marinate or sauce your skinless chicken, it tends to do well on the grill. It will stay moist on the inside.

It doesn't make sense to me to take such care to flavor the skin, and then peeling the skin off before you eat it. Better to flavor the actual meat and grill it the way you are going to eat it!

Many people grill their chicken over indirect heat (off to the side on the barbecue) so it doesn't get that hot flame and the flare-ups that can ensue when the chicken is directly above the coals or flame.

One great option to grilling chicken is to use the skewer. When you use bite-size pieces of skinless, boneless chicken, it spends less time over the coals -- and more of the surface area gets coated with the lovely (and, we hope, not high-fat) marinade or sauce.


Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Journal as: 1 teaspoon chocolate spread + 1 portion fresh fruit
OR 1 portion medium dessert

You've basically got two ingredients to work with here: chocolate and strawberries. The only way to lighten this is to use a little less chocolate per strawberry, and use a little canola oil (higher in preferable monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids) instead of shortening. I like to use semisweet chocolate because its strong flavor means you can get by with less chocolate.

About 40 fresh strawberries with leaves (dry, not wet), about 2 pounds
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (about 9 ounces)
2 teaspoons canola oil

  • Add chocolate chips and canola oil to a 4-cup glass measure and heat on HIGH in microwave for about 1 minute. Stir, and microwave another 30 seconds or so, if needed, until mixture is smooth.
  • Holding strawberries by the green tops, dip them halfway into the chocolate mixture. Place them on a plate or pan lined with wax or parchment paper. Put in the refrigerator or a cool part of your kitchen to help chocolate cool. Serve.

Yield: 10 servings (about 4 strawberries each)

Per serving (about 4 strawberries): 164 calories, 2 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 8.5 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 3 g monounsaturated fat, 1 g polyunsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3.2 g fiber, 4 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 44%.

Belgian Waffles with Fruit and Whipped Cream

Journal as: 2 pieces of "waffle/pancake/French toast"

To lighten waffles, use less fat in the batter, and turn to a flavorful substitute (like low-fat buttermilk). Use a nonstick waffle iron, so you can get away with just a little canola cooking spray. You can make these with reduced-fat Bisquick and substitute low-fat buttermilk for the milk called for in the package directions (you may have to add a bit more because buttermilk is thicker than regular milk). Or make your batter from scratch, as here.

I like to serve waffles with fruit (fresh, or unsweetened frozen), a quick dusting of powdered sugar, and a small dollop of Lite Cool Whip or light whipping cream. The Lite Cool Whip will only cost you about 40 calories and 2 grams of fat, and it adds a fun touch.


2 large egg whites
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons egg substitute
5 tablespoons granulated sugar (or use 3 tablespoons sugar plus 2 tablespoons Splenda)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cup fat-free sour cream (or use light sour cream)
1 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 cup self-rising flour (or 2 2/3 cup regular flour plus 4 teaspoons baking powder)
2 1/8 cups low-fat buttermilk

  • In mixing bowl, beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Spoon into a small bowl and set aside.
  • In same mixing bowl, beat together egg yolk, egg substitute, and sugar. Then beat in the vanilla extract, canola oil, sour cream, and salt until smooth. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk, in small batches, until both are incorporated into the batter.
  • Fold the egg whites into the batter in mixing bowl. Let the batter stand for about 40 minutes or cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • Coat preheated nonstick waffle iron with canola cooking spray. Pour batter onto the waffle iron in amounts suggested by the waffle iron manufacturer (around 1/3 to 1/2 cup, depending on your waffle iron). Cook until waffles are golden brown on the outside.

Yield: 6 servings (about 2 square Belgian Waffles each)

Per serving: 350 calories, 12 g protein, 58 g carbohydrate, 7.8 g fat, 1.3 g saturated fat, 4 g monounsaturated fat, 2.2 g polyunsaturated fat, 38 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 810 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 20%. (NOTE: You can use 1 1/3 cup whole-wheat flour + 1 1/3 cup white flour to give each serving 4 grams of fiber.)