5 Must-Haves for a Healthy Summer Fridge

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I know the 4th of July will be here in what feels like minutes. What better time, then, to "summer-ize" my fridge? I want to keep things lean, light and healthier in the summer, and by stocking my fridge (and freezer!) now, I'll be ready for the season well before Memorial Day.

You probably do your own version of spring-cleaning in your fridge, making it healthy and appealing: chopping veggies to store in chilled water, peeling and slicing fruit into bowls for a fresh healthy dessert, or making a few batches of refreshing spa water to keep you hydrated now that the weather is warmer (see my post on that topic).

Here are my top five food items to add to your healthy and lean fridge this summer:

1. Low-Cal Condiments: I keep my fridge stocked with low-calorie condiments. I reach for these as dips or to add flavor to foods. My favorites are: Dijon mustard, hot sauce (such as Frank's) and the less-known Slawsa. Here are some ideas for using them:

  • Dijon Mustard: Use it as a base for salad dressing. It will help emulsify a water-heavy vinaigrette, so you can make a dressing out of 1 part vinegar, 2 parts water and 1 part olive oil if you start with a hefty spoonful of mustard. Or mix Dijon mustard with some chopped herbs and use it to coat chicken or pork before cooking for added moisture and flavor. Finally, try whisking it into sauces at the end of cooking for a creamy texture for almost no fat or calories.
  • Hot Sauce: Mix a few tablespoons of hot sauce with a spoonful of water and a tiny knob of melted butter, then toss with grilled chicken or fish for a healthy Buffalo-style appetizer. Or pour it over an egg white omelet tucked into a corn tortilla for a perfect breakfast or lunch soft taco.
  • Slawsa: This is a low-cal condiment of cabbage and a tangy sweet mustard. It has 15 calories per serving, and it can go on anything from sandwiches to roasted or grilled fish or chicken. It's also great for topping a plate of eggs or loading up some baked whole-wheat pita chips. My grandmother always said her health secret was to eat cabbage every time she had a chance, so I love honoring her with my favorite condiment. Note that there is some sugar in Slawsa, which is only significant if you start eating it out of the jar by the spoonful. (I say that completely hypothetically, of course.)

2. Egg Whites: I always have a carton of egg whites in my fridge. Often when I use eggs in a recipe or make an omelet (or Dutch Baby for my kids!), I swap out a couple of the eggs and put in the equivalent amount of egg whites, just to keep the saturated fats down a bit. Another trick: I'll make a sunny-side up egg for lunch, but I'll pour in a bunch of egg whites to bulk up my one egg yolk. So I'll end up with what looks like a huge egg with just one yolk in the middle. I love that silky sauce from the yolk, and a little satisfies.

3. Bananas in the Freezer: I buy 20 or 30 bananas at a time, let them ripen, peel them and store them in a large freezer bag. Some of my favorite uses: breaking a banana in half, then tossing it with ice and low-fat milk in the blender, spreading a tablespoon of almond butter or peanut butter on a frozen banana half and eating it for a sweet treat, adding frozen bananas to kale or spinach smoothies.

4. Frozen Cooked Shrimp: They thaw in minutes and can then be used in stir-fries, or as a filling for summer tacos (add Slawsa and hot sauce). You can use them to add protein to almost any salad, or just thaw and serve them as a high-protein appetizer with a tomato-based dipping sauce.

5. Cooked Quinoa: I make up a big batch in the microwave (2 cups quinoa, 2 1/2 cups water, 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt in a microwave-safe lidded dish, cooked covered on high for 11 minutes) and stick it in the fridge. And then you can:

  • Chop up veggies and make a quick quinoa salad for lunch.
  • Heat it up as a side for dinner with the kids.
  • Saute cooked quinoa at high heat with some chicken or fish, veggies, an egg and a bit of soy sauce for a healthy "fried rice."
  • Heat it in the microwave with 1/4 cup low-fat milk, top with a drizzle of maple syrup and fresh fruit for a morning quinoa.
What are some of your favorite ingredients to keep at the ready in your healthy summer fridge?
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