Summer-Conscious Dinners

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Summer, Healthy

It's no surprise we all find ourselves a bit more health conscious in the summer. Short, cold days and comfy sweatshirts are forgotten as we find ourselves decked out in shorts, skirts, skimpy dresses and bathing suits, enjoying about 14 hours of sunlight. As the clothes get smaller, our desire to look good in them gets bigger. Being conscious of the meals you make at home, and order out, can truly help you feel fabulous, no matter how much fabric you wear.

Think Green All the Time
Going green isn’t just about protecting the planet; it’s also about supporting your health and well-being. Whether you shop at a massive grocery chain or local farmers’ market, there are plenty of "green things" to choose from. Dark green, leafy vegetables offer a bounty of antioxidants, phytonutrients (beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin), vitamins (C, E and K, and many of the B vitamins), minerals (iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium) and fiber. They’re also brimming with water, important for keeping you hydrated and for reducing bloat.

Now for the Other Colors
Colorful food is nutritious food (as long as the color comes naturally!). If your plate looks like a rainbow, you're doing great. Consider orange bell peppers, peaches, nectarines and carrots, yellow squash and bell peppers, red tomatoes, peppers and berries, and blue and purple berries and plums. All of these fruits and vegetables provide powerful cell-protective antioxidants, potent vitamins (A and its precursor beta-carotene, vitamin C and folate), fiber and water.

Build a Better Meal
Just as you build a sandcastle from the bottom up, plan your meals the same way. Whether you’re in your own kitchen, a friend’s kitchen or at a restaurant, consider how to make your meal super summer-friendly. Start with the vegetables and fruits mentioned above. Once you have the rainbow on your plate, add nutrient-dense grains and protein that pack in vitamins, minerals and fiber — not fat and empty calories. Choose grains that satisfy and are devoid of refined and processed grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, millet, wild rice, buckwheat, spelt and bulgur wheat. For protein, choose skinless chicken and turkey, fish, shellfish, pork loin and sirloin. To pack in flavor without fat, use the grill or broiler to create the perfect caramelized exterior and tender interior.

Swap Out Sodium
Although sodium plays an important role in several of our body’s functions, most of us consume much more than we need, largely due to processed foods (in fact, 75 percent of the salt we consume is from processed and prepared foods, not the salt shaker). This is important year round, but when it’s bathing suit season, we seem to pay more attention in an effort to avoid bloating. Whenever possible, prepare your own meals and make sure the ingredients are full of water (fruits and vegetables). Add little to no added salt at the table, and season just to taste while cooking. If you can, avoid canned and bottled ingredients with high sodium contents (you need just about 1,500-2,300 milligrams per day, so do the math as you read labels). Thankfully, many of our favorite sauces, dressings and condiments are available in reduced-sodium versions.

For fabulous summer-friendly recipes, check out what’s cooking at FoodNetwork.com and Food Network's Healthy Eats blog.

For great picnic-worthy salads, take your pick from these 20 Healthy Picnic Salads.

For incredibly satisfying main dish salads, read How to Build a Healthy Salad.

And for fresh and delicious, all-around fantastic summer recipes, check out the Fresh, Healthy Summer Recipes photo gallery, which includes Ellie Krieger's colorful Grilled Ratatouille Salad pictured above.