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Healthy Foods and Snacks for Summer

The author of The Green Box League of Nutritious Justice has some tips for busy sports parents

By Keith Kantor, N.D., Ph.D.

Summer is a time for fun outdoor activities, vacations, camps, soaking up the sun, and, of course, sports. A challenge most parents face during the summer months is eating on the go. The summer heat and shuttling kids to and from sports, camp, and the pool can zap the energy for making homecooked meals, and, as recent studies have shown, concession stand food (hot dogs, dye loaded slushes, and refined suger) can be as unhealthy as they come.Green Box League of Nutritious Justice book cover

So what can parents do to keep summer foods healthy without missing out on the fun foods the summer season offers? Here are some tips:

  • Plan ahead. Look at calendar and try to bring your own food to your summer destinations. Pack lunches for your kids to take to  camp, and, if you headed to the pool, lake, or beach, pack the cooler with healthy sandwiches or wraps (see turkey BLT wrap recipe below), and always have healthy snacks on hand, like trail mix or fruit, while running errands or on the way to or from sports practices. The quality and overall nutrient content of food brought from home usually far surpasses any food that you can grab on the go at restaurants and/or convenience stores.
  • Make healthier versions of your favorite foods at home.  Instead of grabbing a starchy muffin loaded with sugar from your local coffee shop on a busy summer morning, make a homemade version, such as the berry muffin recipe below. If you or your kids are craving fried food like chicken fingers, make the "breaded oven fried" version, a very healthy option without all of the harmful fats.
  • Cut sweets down to size. Satisfy your kids' craving for sweets by making a point to make something small and sweet every day. If a sweet treat like dark chocolate, homemade sorbet made from fresh fruit, or an unrefined healthy cookie recipe are part of your daily meals and snacks, they won't feel deprived and will more likely to avoid the processed versions of these sweet treats. This will result in healthy blood sugar control and weight management.
  • Grill, baby, grill! Grilling is one of the healthiest ways to prepare foods, and a time saver as there are no pots or pans to clean up. Think outside of the box and try to cook your entire meal on the grill. Most people stop at grilling meat and possibly vegetables, both options are healthy, but the grill can be used to cook a variety of meals including healthy flatbread veggie pizza, fruit like pineapple for dessert, potatoes, etc.
  • Color me healthy: At picnics, BBQ's or cookouts always have color on your plate. Instead of chips and a burger, serve a summer salad with a bunless burger or steak/chicken kabob, or make innovative salads like the grapefruit and spinach salad or apple cole slaw recipes listed below. 
  • Cut the plate in half. At least half of your plate should be filled with vegetables and some fruits. More vegetables is better because they are higher in fiber and lower in sugar than fruits.  If you are on the go, it can be easy to overlook incorporating fruits and vegetables into your meals and snacks. Make a point of throwing in several pieces of fruit into the beach or pool bag. 
  • Healthy dips.  To cut down on processed ingredients, replace creamy dips with heart healthy dips like guacamole and hummus, which are both rich in heart healthy fats, and keep you feeling full for a longer period of time, resulting in more self-control when it comes to consuming sweets. Check out the homemade guacamole recipe below. 
  • Look for high quality protein. Ensure that at least a quarter of your plate contains high quality protein like a bunless burger, or steak and chicken kabobs. Protein is important for maintaining lean muscle mass and keeping your appetite under control. Avoid processed meats like hot dogs or sausages; the traditional versions of processed meats are very high in sodium and preservatives, which will negatively impact weight and cause water retention. 
  • Opt for low-sugar smoothies.  If you like smoothies to keep you cool in the summer, avoid making them with excess sugar from juice. Opt for unsweetened almond or coconut milk as the base, add low sugar fruit (the darker the fruit typically the lower the sugar content, e.g. berries). Add protein powder and even raw spinach, which is tasteless in smoothies but adds nutrition and fiber. Smoothies are a perfect snack or can also be incorporated in as a "on the go" breakfast.