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Healthy Cooking Tips for Summer Meals

I love the foods and meals special to summer, like juicy sweet fruits, corn, cucumbers, whole grain salads, grilled vegetables and of course ice cream! I sought the advice of Julie Hersey, MS, RD, LDN, the nutritionist for Stop & Shop New England for summer cooking tips, since she has ready access to Stop & Shop's Buy Local program that incorporates a wide variety of produce from New England farms. Below she shares some great ideas, and further down check out a dish I made, Sweet and Sour Pineapple Tofu, inspired by a recipe I found in Stop & Shop's Savory Magazine (free to customers!).

Q: In the summer, do you find that your eating habits or types of meals change? If so, how?

A: With the abundant summer harvest I reach for more fresh fruits, veggies and herbs. Not only do they keep me feeling light and energized but naturally hydrated from the inside out. I add fresh berries to my Greek yogurt, mix grilled veggies into salad or quinoa at lunch and snack on stone fruit like cherries and nectarines. For the beach I pack belly-friendly snacks like watermelon, grapes, cheese, and almonds. We love to spend time outside and that means more grilling. When the coals are lit, it's the perfect chance to cook up any veggie that I have like squash, peppers, onions, mushrooms, corn and even potatoes.

It is not likely you will find me without a reusable water bottle in hand. In the summer, I infuse my water with sliced citrus and herbs. My favorite is a few mint leaves and a slice of lemon.   

Q: What are some of your favorite summer ingredients to cook with?

A: I was fortunate enough to spend summers on Cape Cod as a child. So this time of year I can’t get enough fresh seafood. Shrimp cocktail, grilled scallops, steamed clams or foil pouches of fish filets on the grill. When I am in a hurry I reach for salt-free seasoning blends to add bold flavor. Otherwise I keep flavors light and simple using fresh garlic, lemon slices, parsley or basil. Try your favorite seafood in this recipe for a one-pouch meal on the grill.

Q: On very hot days when you don't want to turn on the stove or oven, what are some ideas for a quick nutritious meal? 

A: For breakfast I make overnight oats or a fruit and yogurt parfait with plain Greek yogurt, fresh mixed berries, chia seeds and chopped walnuts.

For filling weekday lunches I make double batches of bean salads. Beans keep me feeling satisfied without feeling stuffed. They also help me avoid the mid-afternoon crash. I alternate between a Mediterranean and Mexican version. The Mediterranean version has chickpeas, red onion, cucumber, red bell pepper and feta cheese, and a Mexican version has black beans, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, cilantro and avocado. For similar flavors try this Tomato, Avocado, Black Bean Salad.

A perfect way to beat the heat is with a gazpacho, or chilled Spanish soup. The recipes from our June/July issue of our Savory magazine feature three colorful recipes that pack in servings of raw veggies. Try this Green Gazpacho with Avocado & Shrimp!

Q: There are a lot of BBQs and summer parties to attend. What is your favorite healthful dish to share when attending these?

A: You’re sure to please any crowd with a lighter version of traditional potato or pasta salad. For more volume and nutrition, mix non-starchy veggies (leafy greens, tomatoes, onions, peppers) into homemade or prepared starchy sides. Also try using plain Greek yogurt as a lighter base for a mayonnaise dressing. The recipe below for Green Bean & Potato Salad can be served alongside almost any choice of grilled protein. Click on the image to see the full recipe:

I especially love Julie's last tip of mixing non-starchy vegetables with starches, to cut the calorie content and add more nutrients! Below is my vegetarian twist on a recipe in Savory magazine that originally used meatballs. Instead I used tofu to create Sweet and Sour Pineapple Tofu with Bell Peppers. I took extra firm tofu and drained it well to release excess water. After chopping the tofu into cubes, I stir-fried it for a few minutes on medium-high heat with some olive oil to brown, then added a sauce of 2 T ketchup, 2.5 T soy sauce, and 2 T rice wine vinegar. After the sauce was incorporated with the tofu, I added pineapple chunks (you can use fresh or canned) and cooked rice, although below you'll see Israeli couscous because I ran out of rice! There are also stir-fried strips of bell pepper for more nutrients and crunch. It's really easy and delicious and not a lot of cook time over a hot stove.

…AND it tastes great as reheated leftovers!

Disclosure: I received Stop & Shop gift cards to purchase ingredients to facilitate this post. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.


Quick and Easy Peanut Udon Noodle Salad

Udon is a satisfyingly chewy Asian wheat noodle with a neutral flavor that pairs nicely with any sauce, and tastes great hot or cold. I adore the thick chewy udon that you find in Japanese soups, but the kind of udon I made below were thinner so they cooked in just 4 minutes. I had extra packages of udon sitting in the back of my food pantry from when I'd stocked up at Ocean State Job Lot (who knew this place had so many fancy but cheap food finds?).

I came up with a super easy recipe of udon noodle salad by adding a shaved carrot and diced English cucumber to the cooked udon. For a sauce, I melted 1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter in the microwave for 30 seconds, then stirred in 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons honey and a tablespoon of sesame oil. It's topped with hemp seeds, which lately I've been sprinkling on everything from yogurt to cottage cheese to vegetables. 

A side note on hemp seeds if you're not familiar: They're higher in protein than chia and flax seeds and contain all nine essential amino acids, but they're lower in fiber and beneficial anti-inflammatory omega-3s. However they're still a great source of omega-3s and have a more interesting nutty flavor than the neutral-tasting chia or flax. I sprinkle different seeds on different dishes to get all of their unique health benefits! 


Orange Glazed Tempeh with Veetee Rice 

I love how whole grains like rice, quinoa and steel cuts oats are now available fully cooked and frozen, so you can microwave for a few minutes and eat. I also cook grains the old-fashioned way on the stove, but on chaotic days I appreciate having these packages in the freezer.

Veetee, a company originally from the U.K., has created a line of precooked rices that are shelf-stable without artificial additives. You either microwave for two minutes or add the rice directly to a cooked dish like a stir-fry. Veetee sent me a case of various flavors to try out. They offer plain versions of jasmine, basmati, and brown as well as low fat savory flavors of Chicken, Golden Vegetable, and Thai Lime & Herb. All the varieties of Veetee tasted fluffy and soft after heating up. The only downside is that they're high in sodium, a common trait in packaged flavored rices. At least Uncle Ben's Ready Rice offers a sodium-free whole grain brown rice. Even Veetee's "plain" brown rice has 290 mg per 3/4 cup serving (each package provides two servings). The Golden Vegetable version has 780 mg per serving, though keep in mind it's not hard to eat the whole package of 1 1/2 cups of rice so the sodium doubles.

Still, I find flavored rices useful because I don't have to add extra seasonings. To lower the sodium content I'll blend half flavored rice with half plain brown rice. This was the case when I cooked up the tempeh recipe below.

I've been meaning to tackle tempeh now that I'm pretty comfortable with tofu. Per serving, tempeh is higher in protein and fiber than tofu. However it's got an odd, offputting flavor out of the package that definitely needs enhancement! I found a simple yet very flavorful recipe by KathEats for tempeh with an orange marmalade glaze. You sear tempeh in some oil for a few minutes until browned, then pour on a mixture of orange marmalade, olive oil, soy sauce and crushed garlic, cooking for a few more minutes until the glaze thickens. I added a half cup of Veetee Golden Vegetable Rice blended with a cup of my plain brown rice, carrot, chopped kale and sesame seeds. 

I don't know what magical thing happened when I poured that orange mixture onto the tempeh but the savory aroma was amazing. My son Jake asked if I'd gotten Chinese takeout. The tempeh tasted like a rich Chinese meat dish. The recipe was fast, made even quicker and tastier with the precooked Veetee rice. Super filling, super nutritious!

Check out Veetee rice soon! They're now available at Hannaford supermarkets and Amazon.com.

Disclosure: I received free samples of Veetee Rices to help facilitate this post. The recipe, thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.