As the temperature edges upward, forget about turning on the stove. Enjoy nature's bounty au naturale.
"To eat wonderful meals in the summertime, you don't have to heat up the kitchen," says Kathleen M. Zelman, LD, RD, MPH, director of nutrition at WebMD. "Summer is an invitation to eat healthier and lighter, and to enjoy the disease-fighting bounty that grows so abundantly this time of year. Stop by roadside stands. Start your own herb garden."
Your barbeque is your best friend this time of year. Or use a grill pan for quick stovetop cooking. "I love my grill pan," Zelman tells WebMD. "A grill pan has ridges, so food looks like it's been on the grill. But you use it on top of the stove. It cooks food very quickly, just like a barbeque does."
A summer food centerpiece is salmon, famous for its heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids not only help regulate your heart rate and prevent heart problems, but they're also essential for brain function. "It's inexpensive and readily available, and one of the simplest ways to fix it is on the barbeque or grill pan," says Zelman. Make sure the grill is well-oiled so fish doesn't stick -- or use a wire fish griller over coals. Top the salmon with fresh lemon or a little pesto or teriyaki sauce. Cook until tender, about 7 to 8 minutes per side.
Here are a few more healthy recipes:
Beans are tasty nuggets of protein and fiber, good for your heart and your waistline. They fill you up on few calories. Keep several types of canned beans in your cupboard: black beans, pinto, kidney beans, and chickpeas. You can toss beans into salads, soups, stews, pasta, salsa, or rice dishes. Try this summery salsa with chips. It's also a great side dish with grilled fish:
Black Bean Salsa
13 oz. can black beans
13 oz. can corn
Small jar of salsa
Fresh lime juice
Drain cans of black beans and corn, toss together with a jar of salsa, juice from a fresh lime, a dash of olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
Another idea: Make a quick three-bean salad. Drain and rinse canned pinto, chickpeas, and black beans. Toss with light Italian salad dressing.
You can't beat yogurt for healthy protein and bone-building calcium. And, like other low-fat dairy foods, yogurt may also help you lose weight, research suggests. For a summertime snack or family breakfast, make a batch of smoothies.
"It's really easy, and you don't need a recipe," says Zelman. "Smoothies are very personal, so you should try different combinations."
Use any fruit juice and/or dairy (like plain nonfat yogurt or skim milk) for your "liquid." Generally, you need a half-cup of each liquid, plus a handful of ice.
Bananas are a key ingredient in smoothies. Store ripe or overripe bananas in your freezer just for smoothies. Throw them in the blender frozen; they'll make your smoothie very creamy.
Add another soft fruit: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or mangoes. Experiment!
Mango-Banana Yogurt Smoothie
1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1/2 cup orange juice
Handful of ice
One frozen ripe banana
One chopped ripe mango
Blend until nearly smooth -- and enjoy!
Another idea: Create a parfait by layering fresh fruit, low-fat vanilla yogurt, and granola. It's great for a quick meal, snack, or dessert.
When cooked tomatoes and broccoli are eaten together, the cancer-fighting potency of both is boosted even higher. You can easily combine both in a summery pasta salad.
Grilled veggies are also great in a pasta salad. Zelman's favorite trick is to marinate (in oil & balsamic vinegar) sliced bell peppers, eggplant, and squash -- then grill them.
Tomato-and-Broccoli Pasta Salad
Combine in a large salad bowl:
Grilled veggies: bell peppers, eggplant, squash
1 can stewed tomatoes (or fresh grape tomatoes)
Lightly steamed chopped broccoli
Shredded part-skim mozzarella or goat cheese
Toss with whole-wheat or quinoa pasta and your favorite light salad dressing.
Another idea: Make grilled veggies your entire meal. "Take a break from the typical burgers on the grill," Zelman says. "Everyone once in awhile needs to load up on grilled veggies. A bunch of grilled veggies is a great way to enjoy meatless meals."