Top 10 Summery Ingredients

Summer is the easiest season of all to be a cook. Ripe, fresh produce is abundant, meat and fish can be grilled to juicy perfection with a minimum amount of fat, and salads provide an excuse to use healthful olive oil and herbs in a light dressing.

Want to cook healthy this summer? Here are suggestions, from Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, author of The Small Change Diet, Alyssa Faden, RD, of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill-Cornell Medical Center in New York City, and Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN.

  • Garlic offers cooks a wonderful way to enhance the flavor of many dishes while providing a dose of antioxidants, says Glassman. "Try roasting it and using it as a spread over grilled asparagus or steamed broccoli and cauliflower," Glassman says. "You can also put it on high-fiber crackers or on firm endive leaves mixed with other chopped vegetables."
  • Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that's heart-healthy, Gans says. Put it into a spray bottle and spritz, rather than pour, on foods. Besides using on green salads, try marinating chicken or shrimp in an oil-based marinade, then grilling and adding to salads for extra protein.
  • White wine vinegar is a versatile ingredient for salad dressings, lending bright flavor without fat or calories. "Try making a summer slaw with shredded cabbage, fresh carrots, jicama, and Granny Smith apples tossed with white wine vinegar," Glassman suggests.
  • Corn provides fiber and vitamins, but remember that it's a starchy vegetable so you shouldn't eat unlimited amounts. In fact, half an ear is the recommended serving size, Gans says. "It's delicious on the grill in its husk," she says. "Or remove the husk, spray with olive oil, and top with pepper. After wrapping it in foil, grill, turning occasionally, until it's ready. Then serve with a squeeze of fresh lime in place of butter."
  • Zucchini is an excellent source of vitamins and fiber. Besides sautéing it in olive oil, try chopping it up into tiny pieces and tossing with oil, vinegar, and spices. "[This recipe is] like a salsa, and you can serve it over chicken or fish," Faden says.  Zucchini is also excellent stuffed.
  • Fresh herbs can be used in meals any time of day, Glassman says. "And they don't need to be just used for garnishes. Try incorporating the herbs into your meals for not only the aroma and flavor but for their antioxidants." Add fresh mint to a breakfast smoothie, toss basil leaves into your lunch salad for a flavor boost, or rub lean meat or chicken with a variety of herbs before baking or grilling it.
  • Fish, an excellent, low-fat protein source, is delicious on the grill. "Try grilling a whole fish, like red snapper or branzino, with lemon slices and fresh herbs," Glassman suggests.
  • Peaches and pineapples are fabulously sweet when grilled. "Try topping them with a mixture of ricotta cheese, cinnamon, and vanilla extract for a healthy, tasty version of a whipped topping," Glassman says.
  • Fresh berries are loaded with antioxidants and are delicious simply eaten by the bowlful. "Or try layering fresh berries and low-sugar granola in a bowl with ricotta cheese flavored with cinnamon and vanilla extract," Glassman says.
  • Egg whites make a great summer omelet, Faden says. Toss in sautéed summer squash, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, and garlic, and serve for breakfast. "People have trouble meeting their daily requirement of vegetables," she says. An omelet like this one makes it easy.