With spring behind us and backyard barbecues and beach days finally here, it's time to get prepped and ready for the many meals and snacks that come with the delightful season of summer.
A bounty of organic fruits, such as watermelon, plums, apricots and blueberries, and veggies such as summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes (yes, we know that scientifically speaking they’re fruit!) and bell peppers all hit their pristine peak in the summer months. That means there’s no time like the present to begin diversifying your diet with these delicious, colorful additions to your dining repertoire.
Not only will you delight your tastebuds, but your body will thank you, too. Take tomatoes, for example -- not only do they taste better in summer -- but according to the Department of Food Sciences at North Carolina State University in regard to a study on tomato nutrition, “Tomatoes are the second most produced and consumed vegetable nationwide and are a rich source of lycopene, beta-carotene, folate, potassium, vitamin C, flavonoids, and vitamin E.”
So, for an array of harvest highlights that are ripe for the picking, as well as some new ways to prepare and tastily consume them -- check out some of our seasonal favorites below.
Picnics in the park were made for watermelon! The fruit that evokes fond childhood memories is not only a sweet a treat, but also great for your health. Watermelon is rich in lycopene, a potent, health-protective phytonutrient. Additionally, one of nature’s greatest candies provides vitamins A, B6 and C, plus amino acids and other antioxidants.
How to enjoy it: For a delectable change of pace from the usual juicy, triangular slice, switch things up by blending a cooling mint watermelon smoothie, or try crafting a mouthwatering watermelon dessert pizza.
Soft-rind summer squash are not only extremely versatile when cooking, but the many different varieties, such as zucchini, pattypan and crookneck, are loaded with vitamins and nutrients. By far, one the most popular easily accessible of the squash family, zucchini, is low on the glycemic index -- and in calories. Great as an addition to a stir fry, stew or steamed as standalone side dish, it’s chock full of antioxidants and vitamin C.
How to enjoy it: If you’re looking to cut carbs, ditch the pasta, get a spiralizer and make some zucchini noodles instead. Or, if you’re seeking out a great kid-friendly snack for the little ones, try some oven-baked zucchini fries with a zesty yogurt dipping sauce.
Not only are blueberries delicious, but these small bluish-black berries are incredibly antioxidant rich. And when it comes to the old saying, “big things come in small packages,” they might just have been referring to these little blue dynamos. According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, blueberries continue to be studied for their array of health benefits, including cardiovascular, bone and brain health. Moreover, a handful of blueberries can help you meet your daily recommended fiber intake.
How to enjoy them: For a delicious way to incorporate tblueberries into your summertime routine, try making some blueberry chia seed jam, or get double the summer produce power with some amazing blueberry peach muffins.
Peaking in late summer, eggplant is another one of those difficult to classify as a fruit or veggie foods. A member of the nightshade family, it’s technically a berry, but for our purposes, let’s consider it a vegetable. In terms of nutrients, the eggplant is impressive. According to the Dr. Mercola website, eggplant boasts “excellent amounts of fiber, folate, potassium and manganese, as well as vitamins C, K, and B6, phosphorus, copper, thiamin, niacin, magnesium and pantothenic acid.”
How to enjoy it: For a perfect summer afternoon snack, try eggplant and tahini hummus, or for an easy-to-make meal, treat the family to this flavorful vegan eggplant parmesan.
High in vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber and potassium, apricots are the perfect summer snack to throw in the cooler before heading out for long, hot day at the beach. Fun fact: California produces approximately 95 percent of the nation’s apricots.
How to enjoy them: When it comes to these little jewels, try drying them out, then dice them up and add some almonds, raisins, cashews and carob chips to create your own trail mix. Or, try jettisoning the sugary, pre-packaged versions and make your very own healthy apricot, dried plum and coconut breakfast bars.
One of summer’s most eye-catching offerings, bell peppers -- be they red, green, yellow or orange -- contain a diverse array of vitamins and nutrients. All colors are superb sources of vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium and fiber.
How to enjoy them: Diced and raw, they’re an awesome addition to any summer salad. A staple in Southwestern cuisine, red and green bell peppers are great grilled or sauteed with your favorite protein -- or scrumptious when stuffed. If you’re feeling adventurous, give these Vegan Stuffed Peppers with South of the Border Quinoa a shot for a flavor-packed, family-pleasing dinner.