Summer is often a time to relax and rejuvenate, but it can also feel just as hectic as the rest of the year. Between trips to the pool, sports games and camps, celebrations, vacations, school programs, and regular work, our daily schedules are about as unpredictable as they can be.
This unpredictability can present a challenge at meal time. It’s often easier to grab food on the road or rely on processed/packaged foods than it is to prepare healthy food at home. However, we can make healthy meals part of our summer experience without getting in the way of the fun.
Here are three easy ways to get the most nutritional benefit out of your summer meals.
1. Get Fresh
In-season fruits and vegetables are your biggest nutrition allies during the summer months. Fresh produce is not only packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water, but most varieties also taste best at this time of year, which means that you don’t have to dress them up with a lot of extras!
Look for ways to use fruits and vegetables in snacks/appetizers, side dishes, and desserts, and season foods with fresh spices to add flavor without adding calories.
You can also give yourself an extra activity boost by growing and harvesting these foods from your own garden, or walk or bike to your local Farmers’ Market and pick out a variety of fresh produce each week.
2. Take it Outside
Take advantage of nice weather to prepare your food on the grill. Grilling can be one of the quickest ways to prepare meals (you can even grill ahead of time and save food for later in the week), and it’s also a very healthy cooking method when you use proper techniques.
According to eatingwell.com, cooking meats at the high temperatures used when grilling, broiling, and frying creates compounds that are linked to some cancers. That said, there is no evidence that grilling causes cancer, and there are steps you can take to prevent the formation of these chemicals.
Make sure to keep your grill clean, trim excess fats from foods, and use marinades and rubs to act as a protective barrier against the high heat while adding some extra flavor.
Additionally, cook meat and fish to the right temperature while avoiding excessive charring. Food safety guidelines indicate that poultry should be heated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, ground red meat and pork to 160, and red meat steaks or chops and fish to 145.
3. Drink up
Traditional summer beverages including lemonade, smoothies, soda, beer, and other sugary alcoholic beverages can add a lot of extra calories and not much nutritional value to your meal (see our post on 5 Steps to a Healthy Margarita to learn how to make your favorite beverages healthier).
First and foremost, the beverage accompanying your meal should help keep you hydrated during warm weather. Your best options limit extra sugar and avoid the diuretic effects of alcohol and excessive caffeine.
Healthy examples of refreshing summer beverages include ice water, sparkling water, or unsweetened iced tea with lemon or lime. Low-fat milk, fruit spritzers (or watered down juices), and homemade, no-sugar added smoothies can also be great options.
Summer meals can be healthy, delicious, and easy and fun to prepare. Not only will you feel the added satisfaction of growing and/or preparing fresh foods, but your body will also thank you for limiting your intake of processed items.
Here’s one more bonus tip – take advantage of opportunities to slow down and create a more relaxed atmosphere during meal times. It might be tough in the midst of a busy schedule of activities, but taking your time will prevent overeating and help you enjoy the full flavor of the season.
What are some of your favorite, healthy summer recipes?
A recent study published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that although junk food was found to be cheaper per calorie, healthy foods (foods from specific food groups whose nutritional values fell below a maximum amount of saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium) were cheaper by portion size and weight. In other words, it costs less to put healthy food on your plate than junk food when you adhere to serving sizes.
Here’s an example. According to this Mark Bittman column, four “complete” meals from the leading fast food restaurant cost just under $30. But you can easily feed four-to-six people with a roast chicken, vegetables, salad, and milk for under $14. Choose a meal of rice and beans instead, and your total bill goes down about $5 more.
You might think, “that’s all well and good, but it still feels like junk food is cheaper and easier to put on the table. Why is that, and what can I do about it?”. In a country whose obesity-related medical expenses already cost $147 billion per year, that is one of the billion dollar questions.
The answer is complex. But that doesn’t mean we’re powerless.
Here are some steps we can take now to curb the ever-widening effects of our “junk food” culture:
Ignore Manipulative Food Marketing: Fast food companies alone spent $4.2 billion on marketing in 2009, and the Food and Beverage industry as a whole has done a pretty good job convincing consumers that the foods they sell are cheap, convenient, and tasty.
It’s important to recognize that the tactics used are just that – ways of enticing you to buy products. Their bottom line doesn’t care if you enjoyed your burger after you bought it, or if it caused you to gain weight. But, your body cares, and who would you rather listen to?
Banish the Fast-Food Habit: Sixty years ago food was less plentiful and more expensive than it is today. Now, in part because of the overabundance of food, Americans dine out about five times per week. We have to reverse this trend. Our bodies do not need large portions of oil-saturated foods, a staple in many fast food restaurants.
We can also get more comfortable saying “no” to our kids, who sadly, are unfair targets of manipulative marketing. We need to show them that grilled chicken and potatoes can taste just as good as chicken nuggets and fries.
Know Your Options: Healthy food can be cheap and convenient too; it just takes a little more knowledge and forethought than ordering a Value Meal. The cost of organic produce and $5 loaves of hearty whole-grain bread (vs. $2 white loaves) can be discouraging, but buying store brands and in-season produce, and taking advantage of coupons and sales can help keep costs low.
Embrace substitutions. Less expensive, conventionally grown foods can still be healthy, and brown rice is an alternative whole grain that costs under $1 per bag. Take 10 minutes to plan your trip to the store, and you can be in and out in less time than it would take for you to wait in a drive-thru line. Plus, you’ll have a smaller tab!
Get Cooking: Americans are watching more cooking shows, but spending less time in the kitchen. What’s wrong with this picture? There is a misconception that cooking takes lots of time and skill. Stock “staple” items, such as rice and beans, chicken breasts (which freeze well), and spices. Also, invest in a good knife and large cutting board, and use the Internet to find healthy and easy recipes you can prepare in 15-minutes or less.
If you have time to watch your favorite TV show, you have 15 minutes to prepare dinner for your family. Try it for a month and see if your bills and your belt stay a little tighter.
Courtesy of jcburrou.hubpages.com
We don’t like to hear that healthy food is cheaper than junk food because it gives us one less excuse to eat junk. While it’s easy to go out and eat 5,000+ calories a day, our bodies simply can’t handle that lifestyle, even with exercise. Our choices impact the quality of our lives, and it’s up to us to embrace a healthier lifestyle that doesn’t include junk food products.
Do you think it’s possible to eat healthy on a budget? What challenges have you faced in providing healthy meals for your family, and how have you overcome them?