Pep Up Your Summer Produce with These Pointers

August 11, 2021

Fruits and veggies are abundant and especially delicious in the Garden State this time of year, making it easy to get your 5 to 10 servings of produce a day. But if you’re someone who still struggles with filling your plate with plants so your body can benefit from all their nutrients, Shore’s Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Dietitian Mackenzie McCune has some helpful tips.

Spice it Up
McCune says having the right spices for your produce is key, especially when it comes to vegetables.

“Grilling veggies with olive oil and spices like adobo, Cajun seasoning, crushed red pepper, or allspice just to name a few is a great way to give them added flavor. But you can also experiment with other seasoning blends, just be wary of the sodium content if they contain salt,” McCune says. “I love a little butter and Cajun seasoning on corn on the cob, too. Since many of us eat a lot of corn in the summer, it’s fun to change it up sometimes.”

But she doesn’t limit spices to just vegetables.

“Fruit is also great with certain spices. For example, Tajin is a Mexican seasoning that contains dehydrated lime, salt, and chili pepper. It’s great on fruits like mango, watermelon, and pineapple and is like an explosion of flavors in your mouth, with the sweetness of the fruit, the tartness of the lime and the mild spice from the chili. There is a sodium-free version as well. Just sprinkle it on and enjoy! You might find yourself snacking on fruit far more often with this seasoning.”

She also adds that cinnamon is the perfect spice for many fruits and vegetables. It’s good for your heart and blood sugar and is great on bananas, root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes, and even on roasted carrots.

Grow Your Own
McCune also recommends using fresh herbs when possible, like basil, cilantro, and mint, and adds that the easiest way to incorporate them is to keep them growing fresh in an herb garden.

“Being able to just grab some fresh herbs from your porch can make summer cooking fun and add fresh flavor to your produce and dishes. Just be sure to read up on the various herbs you grow and how much sun they need. Too much sun can make certain herbs ‘bolt’ and go to seed long before the summer is over,” McCune says. She adds that if you find yourself with an overabundance of fresh herbs, you should freeze them for use in the offseason. “You can blend them up with some olive oil and freeze them in a small ice cube tray, or just place them inside a freezer bag.”

Pack the Pantry and Fridge
Other products to keep on hand for enhancing produce include staples like balsamic vinegar, bottled lemon and lime juice, brown sugar, and hard cheeses like feta and parmesan that tend to last longer and pack more flavor with a small amount.

“I like to grill pineapple with brown sugar and cinnamon – they’re a great addition to a summer barbecue. I also like making a watermelon-feta salad with fresh mint and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. The feta adds a lot of flavor as well as some protein,” says McCune. Having those items available throughout the summer makes it easier to get creative on a whim.

When in Doubt, Dip
If you don’t have time to cook your veggies, eat them raw with some healthy, flavorful dips! McCune loves tzatziki especially in summer because it’s cool and refreshing, contains protein in the form of Greek yogurt, and goes well with a variety of raw vegetables. She suggests keeping a container of plain Greek yogurt in the fridge and stir in some spices to make your own dips, as well. She’s also a big fan of hummus and the many flavors available – including chocolate.

“Strawberries dipped in chocolate hummus are a wonderful healthy treat. It might sound strange, but it is quite delicious and very healthy.”

Of course, nut butters are another tried and true favorite fruit and veggie dip, especially for apples, pears, and bananas as well as carrots and celery. Try experimenting with almond butter, cashew butter, or sunflower butter to change it up.

Stick it to Your Produce
Skewers are a great way to make eating fruits and veggies more fun – especially for kids. Some great fruits to include on grilled skewers include firm fruits like peaches and nectarines as well as pineapple. For veggie skewers, almost any type of vegetable will do. You can even make skewers with other ingredients like fresh mozzarella balls and tomatoes with basil, and of course, protein. Some skewer examples McCune shares are pineapple and chicken with teriyaki sauce; fruit skewers with every color in the rainbow; and sliced chicken sausage with broccoli spears and tomatoes on the grill. 

Keep it Positive & Experiment
Old habits die hard, so if you find yourself stuck in a rut making the same old mayonnaise-laden, carb-heavy summer sides like pasta and potato salad, you can start small by changing up how you make them. Try to go 50/50 on your pasta salad with veggies and pasta. Mix up your potato salad by adding green beans, radishes, celery, and carrots.

When it comes to produce, embrace their wonderful flavors and textures and keep experimenting with new ways to prepare them. Now is the time to celebrate fruits and veggies and help the children in your life learn to love them, too!

Are you looking for help developing healthier eating habits? Consider scheduling an appointment with Mackenzie McCune, Shore’s Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Dietitian. To learn more, click here