Healthy Summer Eats!

By: Stefanie Heath

Upstate New Yorkers wait for what feels like a winter eternity to feel the sunshine on our face. With the warm weather comes the itch to explore all that New York has to offer. Summertime means road trips, picnics, a dip in the lake or a rejuvenating hike. Whether you’re attending a Fourth of July picnic or taking a weekend road trip, summer activities can sidetrack our healthy eating habits. Sticking with plant-based foods like fiber-rich whole grains and green veggies can help you feel full longer and therefore, less likely to reach for empty calories, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Choosing a plant-strong diet rich in whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables while limiting the amount of foods highest in saturated fats and cholesterol such as meat is also recommended by trusted health professionals from the American Cancer Society, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American Heart Association. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest reducing our meat intake, including processed meats and processed poultry.

Perhaps the easiest — and tastiest — way to improve our diet is by practicing the Three Rs: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products and “refining” our diets by choosing products from sources using higher animal welfare standards.

Check out these easy and convenient tips on how to stay on a healthy track this summer:

On the Open Road
One staple that always accompanies my family road trips is a cooler I pack with snacks to avoid any gas-station temptations. I prep some peanut butter (or any nut butter) and jam sandwiches on protein packed whole-grain bread. The cooler is ideal for keeping fruit chilled. Choose easily portable fruits like blueberries, grapes or sweet cherries. Have a sweet tooth? The cooler is the perfect place to store antioxidant-rich dark chocolate.

Hitting the Trails
There’s no shortage of breathtaking hiking trails in New York. Whether you’re taking a leisurely stroll or hiking a mountain, fueling your body is vital. Homemade granola bars are a great option and simple to make. There are dozens of recipes out there, but I recommend finding one that includes chia seeds and almonds. Chia seeds contain calcium-rich omega-3 fatty acids, as well as amino acids to help absorb its protein content. Almonds contain copper and manganese, which help with blood flow and increase energy. Roasting chickpeas in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees is a great way to satisfy your craving for something crunchy while hiking. The great thing about roasting chickpeas is that you can make them sweet or savory. For a sweet fix, sprinkle cinnamon and natural sugar as soon as they come out of the oven. They’ll become caramelized and glossy. If you prefer salty snacks, coat chickpeas with a small amount of olive oil and chopped fresh herbs of your choice before roasting. One of my all-time favorite hiking snacks is homemade kale chips. Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods since it packs in vitamins A, K and C, fiber and protein. If you lightly toss a bunch of kale (be sure to remove the stalks and chop the large leafy pieces) in coconut oil, and a dash of garlic salt and pepper, you’ll have a satiating and energy packed snack at your fingertips.

Summer Fun Picnics and Parties
Graduation parties, Fourth of July picnics, dinners by the lake and other events fill our summer weekends. More often than not, we are confronted with greasy, fatty foods that wreak havoc on our arteries and waistlines. For backyard barbeques and potlucks, I choose a plant-based dish that will be sure to wow the crowd. Some big hits have included a chickpea pasta with a creamy avocado sauce and homemade black bean burgers topped with corn salsa relish. Another surefire way of staying on track is by packing a personal main course. Most summer gatherings include a grill, so I’ll bring enough plant-based Italian sausages to share. Try to think green by loading up on veggies at the party. If there’s a bean based salad or dish, try to eat that first. The fiber from the veggies and beans will help you feel full faster, which will help deter any mindless grazing throughout the party.

Whether you’re a plant-based foodie or just need a little help to accommodate your friends and family at your next summer celebration — healthy options are easier than ever to find!

Stefanie Heath is the New York food and nutrition coordinator for The Humane Society of the United States.