My family and I enjoy all the outdoor activities afforded to us by living in beautiful Santa Monica, and during the summer I’m looking to relax after a long day at the beach or on the bike path with cool meals that don’t require much effort. Usually, the last thing I want to do on a hot summer day is turn the oven on, raising the internal temperature of the house another 10 degrees. On these dog days of summer, I’ll typically pair a cold vegetable salad or cold grain salad with grilled chicken or fish, which makes getting my veggies in easier.
Some of you have probably seen the new colorful MyPlate icon by the United States Department of Agriculture. They have done away with the confusing food guide pyramid and now use the MyPlate graphic, which calls for half your plate to include fruits and vegetables. This is based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans aimed at improving America’s health and reversing obesity and chronic diet-related diseases, and study after study confirms adding more fruits and vegetables is the way to go.
I like the new MyPlate tool (www.choosemyplate.gov), but I like even more the Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Plate (www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource) and use it regularly in my practice to teach my clients how to build a more healthful meal. With half your plate made up of fruits and vegetables for both lunch and dinner, this ensures that you are not over consuming calories from foods in the nutrient dense protein and starches group. In other words, it crowds out the higher fat, higher calorie foods with lower calorie, higher fiber fruits and vegetables.
Whether you grow your own, shop at one of the great Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets or just buy groceries at your local supermarket, the plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables during the summer is undeniable. Have a salad party. Mix and match different greens with chopped or shredded vegetables, fruit, nuts or seeds, beans, small amounts of flavorful low-fat cheese and top it all with a dressing made from a healthful oil like olive, canola or flax.
A salad doesn’t always have to be made with lettuce, and some of my favorite ones don’t have any greens in them at all. I can make a southwest bean salad loaded with yellow bells, tomatoes, red onion and cilantro come alive with a cumin-citrus dressing, or a whole wheat couscous salad take on a more Asian flare with cashews, currants and a ginger-lime dressing.
But one of my new favorite summer salads is a cold watermelon salad with pine nuts, basil and feta cheese. This may sound like an odd combination, but the saltiness of the feta compliments the sweet watermelon and the basil adds an interesting earthiness to the flavor profile. Give it a try.
The Better Option watermelon salad
1 small seedless watermelon cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup low-fat feta cheese, diced or small crumbles
1/2 cup dry roasted pine nuts
1/2 cup chopped basil
In serving bowl layer watermelon, pine nuts, basil and feta cheese on top. Do not toss or the salt in the feta cheese will draw water out of the melon. Calories:140; TFat: 9g; SatFat: 1.5g; Chol: 5mg; Carbs: 15g; Fiber: 1g; Sod: 160mg; Sugar: 10g; Pro: 4g
Lori Salerno, M.S., R.D.N, C.P.T. is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer who provides medical nutrition therapy to groups and individuals in Santa Monica and recipe and menu analysis for restaurants nationwide. Learn more at www.eatwelldailynutrition.com.