A Fresh Guide to Healthy Summer Eating

Deanna Duff Fact Checked
Macha ice cream cone
Fancycrave on Unsplash

Summer is cause for celebration. It’s a time for road trips, festivals and evening strolls, barbecues, ballgames and beach vacations. The season also brings summer treats. Burgers grilling in the backyard and ice cream cones piled three scoops high.

“Especially in Seattle, we pack a lot into summer because it can be a short stretch of good weather. We want to be spontaneous and sometimes nutrition suffers a little,” says Judy Simon, registered dietitian at the Nutrition Clinic at UW Medical Center-Roosevelt.

There’s no shame in loving ice cream, but if you’re a person who worries about your eating habits, fear not.

“There are lots of ways to balance summer fun and healthy habits,” Simon says. “The positives way overshadow any negatives when it comes to good summer eating.”

Ditch the diet.

It may sound surprising, but the best way to navigate summer eating is to ditch beach-ready diets. A balanced mindset is the best approach.

“Throw away the diet books,” says Natalia Groat, registered dietitian at Harborview Medical Center. “The diet mentality leads to a skewed view of food itself. There is no single answer for everyone. It’s important to do what works for you.”

Determine a healthy weight range, perhaps with input from a doctor or dietitian. It’s easier and safer to stay in that range rather than yo-yo dieting. According to Groat, crash dieting negatively impacts your metabolism and any initial weight loss is often only water loss. Ultimately, many people end up gaining weight following a quick-fix diet.

“It’s good to tweak things so you’re maintaining a generally healthy diet—moderate sodium and sugar intake, eat more fiber,” says Groat.

Simon advocates for “intuitive eating.” Listen to your body and decipher when you’re truly hungry, satiated or thirsty. Don’t forget that staying hydrated is essential to summer health.

Both Groat and Simon agree that occasional indulgences are important to both emotional and physical health. Moderation is important, but so is eating things you truly enjoy, which leaves you feeling satisfied.

After all, what summer would be complete without a scoop or two of ice cream every now and again?

Make it easy and tasty.

Accessibility is key to healthy eating. So stock your fridge with an abundance of fruits and vegetables.

Groat recommends redirecting your food budget from pricey restaurant and takeout meals to high quality fresh foods from farmers markets or the grocery store.

“Go ahead and spend a bit more on the fancy fresh peaches. It’s worth it. You’re more likely to eat what tastes great,” she says.

Devise menus that are easy to make and don’t require standing over a hot oven on warm  summer days, says Simon. A fresh heirloom tomato with a dash of olive oil or balsamic vinegar makes a wonderful snack. Add mango to your breakfast or make cucumber sandwiches for lunch. 

Prepare for vacation temptations.

Calories don’t count if you’re on vacation, right? 

Summer vacations, road trips and festivals often disrupt healthier routines. 

“Don’t lose your head when you’re on vacation. Generally maintain your normal diet and plan intentionally that you’ll indulge in certain things that are worth it to you,” Groat says.

Groat suggests always starting the morning with a healthy breakfast to fuel the day’s activities. Evaluate your schedule and determine when you might want a treat. A generous lunch might require a lighter dinner. Offset dessert with a particularly wholesome dinner.

Anticipate food-challenging situations. Airports overflow with fast food. Anything healthier is often pricey. In-flight menus may not offer much beyond high-calorie snacks.

“Look at the airport’s website in advance and see what’s available. Pack your own food if the choices are limited,” Simon says. “I encourage people to do the same during car trips. Pack a cooler so you don’t have to stop at the gas station or a random restaurant. When you do stop, find a grocery store rather than a drive-thru.”

Navigate challenges closer to home. 

How do you reasonably survive Fourth of July parties or Uncle Bob’s killer ribs at the family barbecue? 

There is no reason to decline invitations to avoid overindulging. Just don’t show up starving.

“Don’t skip meals in advance. You’ll only end up eating more,” says Simon. “Especially if it’s a buffet, do an initial overview of what’s available and what you want. Barbecues and outdoor parties often go on for hours, so pace yourself.”

Groat particularly recommends pacing alcohol consumption. Mixed cocktails are often high in calories, and alcohol consumption in general often leads to overindulging on other snacks.

“It’s really easy to go overboard. Be mindful. Decide in advance how many drinks you’ll have and stick to it,” Groat says.

Simply repositioning yourself at a party may help maintain your healthy eating goals.

“Step away from the table and bar. If you’re just catching up with friends, don’t stand near the buffet. It leads to mindless munching,” Groat advises.

Summer goes by quick. What’s the bottom line?

Make your mindset about more than your weight. Nutritious summer eating is about overall health. 

Don’t view food as the enemy, but as something to enjoy and fuel for the activities you love doing.