Heat-Free and Healthy

This is a post from an older blog I had for responding to nutrition-related questions from friends. Let me know what you think, or if you have any similar questions, leave a comment and let me know!

Whitney asks: “What are some healthy things to eat during the summer? My apartment is super hot all day long, and I don’t want to cook anything and make it hotter…”

saladPhoto credit: Linda @ AllRecipes.com

Ick, sounds frustrating! Sorry for not getting to this question until after the hiatus, i.e., after the bulk of the summer passed. Although this is Texas…

Here are 7 healthy summer meal ideas that don’t require any heat (except for the microwave on the last three, if you wanted hot food without a hot kitchen).



What makes it healthy: It depends what you like in your salads, but it’s extremely difficult to go wrong, and very easy to get a boost of almost all the macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals in one sitting. For example, leafy spinach is rich in Vitamin K, red/orange/yellow bell peppers and carrots in Vitamin A, nuts and seeds in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, berries in Vitamin C and various antioxidants, and beans in an array of trace minerals (not to mention fiber and protein). And to top it all off, salad dressings—even the ones seemingly high in fat—are actually good for you, too. The fats in various dressings actually help your body absorb all those vitamins and minerals much more effectively than you would otherwise. However, if you’re purposely trying to watch calories, try vinaigrettes over creamy dressings—they’re lower in both calories and saturated fat, while still providing some oils to help with absorption.



What makes it healthy: While not usually as nutritionally diverse as salads can be, sandwiches can still be quite healthy and cover many of the same nutrients. Since we’ve already talked about many of those ingredients already, I’ll just make a quick note about breads: the words “whole grain” and “whole wheat” don’t actually mean anything legally. Since those terms don’t yet have corresponding industry standards, the “whole wheat” bread you pick off the shelf may have a Nutrition Facts label that looks almost identical to the white bread’s label. And what’s the big deal with “whole grain?” Research is still ongoing, but some studies have suggested that consumption of whole grains may help to lower the risk of conditions such as heart disease, type II diabetes, and high cholesterol. But without any legal meaning—except for “100% whole wheat,” which actually does mean what it says—your best bet is to go straight with the nutrition facts. How much fiber does it have? Is it fortified with iron and other minerals? Do you recognize the ingredients listed? Find the loaf that packs the biggest nutritional punch.



What makes it healthy: I’ll admit, even if all I have to do to have a filling, colorful, tasty meal is rinse some vegetables and drizzle on some dressing, I can still be insanely lazy. That’s why wraps are one of my favorite meals for any time of the day when I just don’t feel like trying. Rinsing a little lettuce is still generally required, but then it’s just a matter of finding things in the refrigerator that look like they would be good together. If you feel like getting fancy, you can try variations like the Thai Peanut Butter Chicken Wrap listed below, or if you have more time beforehand to prepare it, fill your tortilla with chicken salad.



What makes it healthy: While very different from each other, salsa, guacamole, hummus, and yogurt fruit dips all have their special health qualities. Salsa, of course, is mostly tomatoes, meaning it’s full of lycopene, Vitamin C, and antioxidants. Guacamole’s main ingredient of avocado (as previously mentioned) is high in fat, but many of those fats are omega-3s and worth the calories every once and a while to make sure you’re getting all your essential oils. The chickpeas in hummus are packed with protein, and if it’s made with olive oil, more omega-3s and Vitamin E are on the way. Finally, the total nutritional content of your yogurt dip depends partly on what your favorite fruits are (I prefer to blend fruits for a boost of vitamins and antioxidants instead of adding plain sugar), but if you use plain, low-fat Greek yogurt rather than normal yogurt, sometimes you can cut the sugar content in half while doubling the protein. Greek yogurt is thicker and easier to dip with, too.


Nachos and all that entails

What makes it healthy: Okay, so nachos aren’t generally associated with the lists of foods that will keep your arteries clear and provide you with tons of vitamins and minerals. Ever. But there are definitely ways to enjoy this easy dish without supposedly shortening your life span. The typical nacho ingredients—beef, cheese, refried beans, lettuce, tomato/salsa, guacamole, tortilla chips, etc.—can all be tailored individually to result in a healthier meal overall. Aside from lettuce and tomato or salsa (since they’re healthy anyway), all the other items can be found in low-fat and/or low-sodium versions. Additionally, since you’re making your own and not going with a fast food variety, you can easily avoid one of the biggest predators of heart health: trans fats. So while this meal has more calories, fat, and sodium than anything else on the list, it’s still not a bad option—just make a few changes and don’t go crazy eating it every day.

  • Ingredient ideas for various combinations: low-fat versions of refried beans/cheese/sour cream/meat/chips/etc., BBQ sauce, avocado, cilantro, diced bell pepper or pimentos, corn, olives, green onion, pineapple, mango


Stuffed Potato

What makes it healthy: Potassium, fiber, carbs, choices. And it’s all in the microwave. Wash, stab multiple times with fork, wrap in damp paper towel, nuke for a few minutes, voila! I’ve professed my love for potatoes already, but what about the toppings? Once again, it’s up to you which nutrients you want to boost or which traditional toppings you want to switch to low-fat.

  • Ingredient ideas for various combinations: low-fat cheese/butter/sour cream, green onion, broccoli, cauliflower, rosemary, thyme, taco seasoning, cayenne pepper, avocado, shredded deli meat, tomato sauce, mushrooms, oil & vinegar


Pasta & Rice

What makes it healthy: Sure, pasta and rice can be good sources of carbs and serve as bases for any number of sauces, veggies, and other toppings, but how is this heat-friendly? Once again, microwaves! Maybe I’m the only one who didn’t realize this until fairly recently since it hadn’t crossed my mind, but pasta and rice can be cooked in the microwave without steaming up the stove/kitchen. It takes a little practice if your microwave is finnicky (ours is), but just use a microwave-safe bowl with the same proportions of water you would use normally, and keep an eye out to make sure nothing boils over.* This can generally be avoided if you only cook 1 to 1-1/2 cups of pasta or rice at a time. For pasta, boil the water on its own before adding the noodles, then put back in the microwave for about three minutes, testing the consistency and returning to the microwave for another few minutes until fully cooked. For rice, here’s a simple tutorial. (Of course, you could also use a rice maker if you have one.)

  • Microwave-only mix-in ideas: canned or frozen veggies, canned chicken or other meat, canned stew or chilli, tomato sauce, low-fat alfredo sauce, curry sauce



I hope that even if all these dishes are familiar to you already, that maybe you find some new variations to spice up the challenging category of healthy, no-cook meals for the 100-degree heat we’ve been in. Good luck!



*Quick warning to anyone boiling plain water in the microwave who may not have experienced this before: if your water is too purified, the surface of it may remain still within your dish even though you’ve microwaved it past the time it should have boiled. Be extremely careful—the energy is trapped and ready to explode at the slightest disturbance. Poke the dish gently with a long-handled wooden spoon or utensil, being sure to keep your skin far away from any potential burning splashes that may suddenly erupt.

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