We all know that we need to eat healthier and make better food choices, and summertime can make it even a bit more difficult. Maybe it’s because the kids are home from school and we lose focus. Maybe it’s because the lure of the pool is more tempting than the kitchen in the heat. Whatever it is it’s super easy to grab a boxed meal or a boxed side dish and prepare that, right?
Sure, I’m not going to lie to you and say that’s not easier, but I’m also not going to say it’s exactly the healthiest choice either.
In today’s world, it can be difficult to not only make better food choices, but to distinguish what’s actually good for you and what isn’t.
So let’s look at an all-time favorite, macaroni and cheese. It’s a staple in many homes because it’s quick, easy and people of all ages love it, even as a vegan I love macaroni and cheese. However, most of the varieties out there with powdered cheeses and pouches of cheese are full of additives and chemicals. So maybe you decide to try a healthier version. You buy plain pasta and a cheese sauce that’s in a jar or package. This is probably a better choice, but it’s still not a completely healthy choice. The healthiest choice is to use your own shredded cheese, a dairy or non-dairy version, and milk or a non-dairy milk product and add that to the pasta. It may not melt as well or be as creamy, but time wise, it really doesn’t take much more effort to make a dish of mac and cheese this way and in the long run it is way healthier for you and your family.
I know that convenience is a lucrative mistress but don’t let her win where your health and the health of your family is concerned.
Other high carb foods that are easy to grab and snack on during the summer are cookies, cakes and chips. These are full of carbs and preservatives. Better choices for summertime snack foods are fresh fruits, air-popped popcorn and fruit popsicles. You can even go a step healthier and make your own popsicles using 100% fruit juices that have no added sugar. You can also add bits of fruit for an extra treat inside. Or, you can freeze grapes to use as ‘ice cubes’ in your kid’s juice. Once they drink the juice, they have an extra treat that’s thawed just a bit and can be eaten. Another great easy summertime treat is to cut watermelon into small sections and pop a popsicle stick into them and freeze for a no fuss no mess popsicle. Creativity over summer abounds.
It can be hard to get away from processed foods, but once you learn a few tricks, it can be easier and a lot better on your health. Eating more natural foods will help you to feel better and give you more energy. This, in turn, can give you an extra boost to search for even more natural ways to cut out processed carbs and foods. Plus, having more energy may lead to you wanting to make more foods from scratch instead of buying boxed mixes. Here are a few more great summertime snack ideas:
- Apples and cheese makes a great snack because it blends sweet and savory — a delicious combination. Apples are a good source of vitamin C and fiber, and they also provide phytonutrient antioxidants, such as quercetin and polyphenols. Cheese is loaded with calcium and protein, providing nutrition for bones and muscles. Added bonus: eating protein with fruit helps prevent blood sugar spikes. Avoiding dairy? Slather almond butter on your apple slices instead.
- Bagels with ricotta cheese and strawberries are a perfect snack for spring, when red, ripe strawberries are available. You’ll get vitamin C and manganese from the berries, protein from the ricotta, and fiber from the whole-grain bagels. I’ll make mine with vegan/gluten-free bagels.
- Cole slaw doesn’t have to be a too-sweet side dish swimming in mayonnaise. The main ingredients in most slaws are raw cabbage and carrots. Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable that helps activate detoxification pathways in the body. It’s also an excellent source of vitamins C and K, and a good source of folate. Carrots are high in carotenoids, which are free-radical-fighting phytonutrients. They’re also an excellent source of vitamins A and K, and a good source of fiber. Try a vinegar-based slaw for a healthier change of pace!
- Fruit skewers with chocolate are mostly fruit, with a dash of chocolate to make them an indulgent treat. Try a combination of berries, kiwi, melon, and pineapple, and drizzle with a little melted dark chocolate. It’s true what they say about dark chocolate being good for you (in moderation). It’s high in phytonutrient antioxidants called polyphenols, which protect your cells from free radical damage, thus protecting you against a variety of diseases.
- Kale chips are crunchy, delicious, healthy, and easy to make. Just spread raw kale on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and a little salt (add a little nutritional yeast for a cheesy taste) and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes until crispy. Kale is another cruciferous vegetable and an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, plus the mineral manganese. It’s also a good source of copper. You do lose some of the vitamins by baking, but when a vegetable has 684 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamin K, you have some to spare.
- Organic Popcorn is a whole grain and a natural source of fiber, with 1 gram per cup. Surprisingly, it’s also rich in antioxidant polyphenols, just like dark chocolate. Top it with butter and garlic powder, nutritional yeast, or a little grated Parmesan cheese. Or make your own healthier kettle corn with cinnamon and a little stevia instead of a lot of sugar.
- Yogurt-covered blueberries take the classic combination of fruit and yogurt and adds a twist by freezing them together. Use a toothpick to dip each berry in Greek yogurt/or your favorite non-dairy yogurt, arrange on a wax paper-covered baking sheet, and freeze for an hour for a tasty frozen treat. Packed with phytonutrient antioxidants called anthocyanins, blueberries are linked to improved memory and mood, heart health, healthy blood sugar, and skin health. They are also an excellent source of vitamins C and K plus the mineral manganese, in addition to being a good source of fiber.
Yes, using fresh, natural ingredients maybe a tab bit more expensive on your grocery bill, but once your body adjusts to healthier foods, you may find that your cravings for junk food have stopped and you actually consume less food and save more money. More money and better health lead to more joy in your life and joy in life is the goal.