A Framework for Healthy Summer Meals and Snacks

By Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

Summertime is often a jam-packed time of the year – longer days filled with activities from cookouts to vacations to swimming and more – summer just provides so many opportunities for things to do! And with all those activities keeping you busy, healthy eating can easily fall by the wayside. Here’s a simple idea to help you continue eating healthy while still enjoying all that the season has to offer: planning!

The number one step in maintaining a healthy diet is planning! Eating a nutritious, affordable, delicious diet is definitely easier with a little forethought. Planning will help ensure that you and your family can enjoy a diet filled with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, lean proteins, low-fat and fat-free dairy, and healthy fats.

MyPlate (www.choosemyplate.gov/) is a great guide for putting together healthy plates of food and can be useful in planning meals and snacks ahead of time for an entire week.
You don’t even have to use exact recipes when putting together a meal. Consider writing out “recipe ideas” rather than instructions that must be followed to a T. For example, one day of the week, plan oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, whole-wheat veggie and turkey wraps for lunch, a fruit and dairy snack for the afternoon, and a veggie and protein stir-fry for dinner. Then, you can fill in the exact components based on what you have available in your fridge, freezer, and pantry; or use what’s in season, on sale at the grocery store that week, or even what you prefer to eat that day. Having a framework for each day of the week makes “filling in the blanks” much easier!

Modeling your meals using MyPlate is a simple way to make sure you and your family enjoy healthy dishes all summer! An important part of MyPlate is that half of your plate (or bowl) should be made up of fruits and vegetables. These are the most beneficial, nutrient-dense foods – foods loaded with a lot of nutrients but relatively few calories.

One quarter of your plate should consist of whole-grains – think brown rice, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta; and the other quarter filled with a lean protein – items like grilled chicken breast, pork tenderloin, lean ground beef or turkey, fish, beans, eggs, nuts, seeds, and tofu. In addition, to ensure you are getting enough calcium, aim for three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy each day.

Some simple planning, following MyPlate for eating healthy over the summer, will help you get through some of the busiest (or laziest!) days of summer!

Operation Food Search is helping children living in low-resource, high-need areas have a healthier, more carefree summer by providing free meals while school is out. Meals are served weekdays through mid-August at various locations throughout St. Louis. Any child under age 18 may come to eat. A listing of locations is available by texting FOOD to 877-877. Meal sites will be updated throughout the summer. For more info, visit www.WeFeedKidsSTL.org.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture partners with local organizations such as Operation Food Search to provide free meals to children when school is out for the summer.

For more information about the national Summer Food Service Program, visit www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/summer, or www.OperationFoodSearch.org.