Healthy Summer Eating

As the days grow longer and warmer we think of fun filled outdoor activities including picnics, cookouts and cool treats. But iced coffee drinks, frozen treats, and some of our favorite grill items can stop us from having that healthy and light summer feeling. Here are some tips for healthy summer eating to help you feel good about yourself and want to be active.

Eat Seasonally

I have often talked about seasonal eating. It is a terrific way to get the best flavor and often cheaper prices on fruits and vegetables. Summertime brings a real bounty of fresh produce. Berries, peaches, melons, grapes, and pineapple are among the most common choices but more unusual choices like starfruit, passion fruit, guava and mangos are also in season. Did you know you can grow persimmons in West Virginia? 

Whether you grow your own, make trips to your local farmer’s markets or shop at the store vegetables are abundant in summer. Asparagus, lettuce and greens, onions, celery, corn, cabbage, tomatoes, green beans, broccoli, zucchini, squash, beets, cauliflower, wild mushrooms, carrots, parsnips, peas, peppers, radishes, and eggplant are all common summer vegetables. (For information on how to grow these foods check out the WVU Extension Service Gardening Guide or contact your local county WVU Extension Service office.)

Healthy Outdoor Cooking

Talking about grilling and bar-b-ques makes my mouth water. But there are many unhealthy pitfalls to be wary of. A thick, juicy hamburger while delicious can leave you feeling heavy and lethargic, and no bar-b-que staple is known for its health benefits. Here are some tips for getting all the summer flavor from outdoor cooking while making healthy choices.

  1. Choose lean meats and trim the fat. Chicken, turkey, lean cuts of pork and beef such as loin and London broil are great choices.
  2. Cook small pieces of proteins to reduce cooking times, decrease the cancer risk, and aid in portion control.
  3. Marinating is a terrific way to add lots of flavor when grilling. It is also a recommended way to avoid the buildup of HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (aromatic hydrocarbons) which have been linked to higher risks of cancer from charred and grilled meats. (for more see this fact sheet by the National Cancer Institute.) Be careful to avoid any added sugar and salt in your marinades, which can result in added calories and higher sodium content. Many premade marinades and seasonings have large amounts of these included. I recommend reading your nutrition labels carefully or making your own marinades. Here are instructions for making a great marinade and a few marinade recipes.
  4. Go Meatless! Lots of foods can be grilled or prepared outdoors while being satisfying and filling. There are more and more prepared meatless options for burgers and hot dogs. Firm tofu takes on the flavor of any marinade and can be great on the grill. Have you ever tried a grilled pizza? No meat necessary. Try this Grilled Pesto Potato Salad (#12).
  5. Grill Veggies and Fruit for a wonderful taste of summer. In my house we are addicted to roasted veggies, especially broccoli and cauliflower. A good rule of thumb is that if it can be roasted, it can be grilled. Here is an easy to follow recipe and video for grilling vegetables and here are some additional tips. Have you ever tried grilled peaches, watermelon or bananas? What about some grilled lemon juice over your fish or seafood? The caramelized edges and amazing flavors make this a whole new experience. What about a grilled fruit cocktail or mocktail? It is a great way to get the nutritious benefits of fruit in an amazing drink. Here are tips for How to Make the Best Grilled Fruit and Recipes for BBQ and Grilled Fruit.
  6. Keep it simple and be creative. One of the best things about outdoor cooking is that it can be fast and easy. A lot of the techniques are similar to what you already do in your kitchen, so keeping the methods simple is a god idea. Try new and interesting foods and food combinations. Do you always make your kebabs with the same 3-4 ingredients? Mix it up, try something new. Here are some kebab recipes to get you started.
Avoid Crash Diets

If you are panicking over the thought of not being “swimsuit ready”, take a deep breath and avoid a starvation diet. Research shows most extreme diets are doomed to fail and won’t improve your overall health. Instead focus on moderation and variety within your diet. Other research shows that when people make their own healthy choices they are much more successful and have benefits that greatly outshine any dieting. Extremes are just that, and establishing a healthier normal for your diet will show you a healthier you.

Limit Frozen Drinks

Frozen alcoholic and coffee drinks can be a huge source of hidden calories. Most fruity drinks are made with added sugar. Did you know espresso contains more sugar than brewed coffee per ounce? A popular Mocha Frappuccino with whipped cream (16 oz.) has 400 calories, 15 g fat and 64 carbohydrates. A frozen margarita drink has 280 calories and 44 carbohydrates. Making your own or choosing drinks with less added sugar and fat are great options for the same experience without the extra guilt. See recipes for Skinny Margarita and Skinny Frozen Coffee.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration can be a serious concern in hot temperatures. Be sure to drink plenty of water and avoid sugary drinks.

Plan Your Vacation

Add healthy eating and activity choices into your vacation planning. A little planning can make a big difference. When deciding where to go, how to get there and what to bring think about how you are going to eat and what you are going to do. A trip to your favorite bakery or pizza place at the beach or that wonderful restaurant you have heard so much about is okay, but avoid doing that every day. Prepare to have lots of vegetables, fruits and lean proteins for snacks and meals. Plan lighter, more nutritious meals along with the indulgences.

Reading a great summer read or lounging in the sun is recommended. Laying around inactive all week is not. Take long walks, ride bikes or go horseback riding. Get out and play in the water with the kids. Families that are active with their kids are more likely to raise active kids. A little balance goes a long way.

Let Yourself Indulge

Lastly, let yourself have summer indulgences. Enjoy the ice cream or your Uncle’s BBQ pork, but do it in moderation. Healthy summer choices can be just as much fun as the old favorites and you may just discover something new and wonderful.

Click here for more Healthy Summer Recipes.

Click here for Healthy Summer Dessert Recipes

To find out more about what kinds of things you and your family can do to stay active this summer visit the Active Southern West Virginia Calendar or the Active Southern West Virginia Facebook page.

Article by guest contributor:
Lauren Weatherford, 
Associate Professor and Family & Community Development Agent for WVU Extension Service. 
Contact Lauren at

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