Think fresh in summer meal plans

The dog days of summer are upon us and, if you’re like most of us, you want to feed your family without heating up your whole house. If you’re like me, you’re also looking for recipes that are quick, easy and inexpensive.

You may want to consider serving no-cook meals. Lots of great ones feature fresh salads or vegetable dishes. Some also use small amounts of precooked or canned meat. Others use protein sources like beans, peas, nuts or soy products like tofu or tempeh. With just a little research, or simply by sitting back and thinking real hard for a few minutes, you’re sure to come up with loads of delicious and creative dishes that won’t require turning on your oven or stove.

Still need some inspiration? Pop in at your local farmer’s market or stroll down your local grocer’s produce aisles. Grab some fresh ingredients; go home and pull out a big bowl, your cutting board and a nice sharp knife. A little chopping and assembling is all most of the tastiest recipes require. You can produce a delicious, soul-satisfying meal in no time flat, which will leave you with plenty of time to sit back, relax and enjoy our beautiful summer weather.

Salads are always a hit in the summer. You can serve something substantial like a traditional Antipasto, Nicoise, or Greek salad. You can also pile some egg, tuna, or chicken salad on some dark leafy greens and serve it with a side of melon. If you want to dress up your chicken salad, just add some grapes and nuts. Anything goes with salads. Induce some smiles by incorporating your family’s favorite fruits and vegetables, or set out options in separate bowls so everyone can choose their favorite add-ins. Just be careful about those added toppings. Calories from things like nuts, bacon and cheeses can add up really fast.

You also need to pay attention to what you’re using to bind or dress some of your salads. Many popular mayonnaise-based salads are packed with fat and calories. Once you look closely at some Caesar salad, coleslaw and potato salad recipes you may think twice about making them. The number of calories in them can be astonishing. However, there are ways to modify traditional salads like these to make them less fattening. Look for recipes that call for lower fat products and less sugar. When you shop, read the nutrition facts labels on salad dressings and mayonnaise. Look for low-fat or no-fat options and pay attention to how much sugar is in the product.

You can also try healthier replacements that are still creamy and yummy, like Greek yogurt. It’s important to find a balance. Do yourself and your family a favor and keep your salads health conscious.

Fruit salads are also great, but if you’re tired of salads featuring nothing but fruit, with just a tiny bit more effort you can whip up something a little more exciting, like a tasty Waldorf Salad featuring celery and nuts along with fruit. However, you may want to avoid some of those dessert-like salads that feature marshmallows or use high calorie pudding or whipped cream to bind them.

Some days just a low fat dip served with cut up vegetables hits the spot. Encourage your family to try different dips, like hummus or baba ghanoush, a creamy, eggplant-based dip, the next time you put those cut-up veggies out.

How about soup? Have you ever enjoyed a tasty Gazpacho? Loaded with flavor and nutrients, it’s a cool, yet spicy, soup. You might even think of it as liquid salad. There are other cool and less spicy soups to try too. Some great ones feature cucumbers, squash, melons, strawberries or other fruits.

If you want your meals to get just a little bit more complex, a little planning ahead is all it takes. Pick a prep day. Aim for one the weather man says will be a little cooler than the rest of the week. Many of us like to choose a weekend day.

Make a list of meals you plan to serve that week and then shop for all of them at once. Go directly home from your shopping and do as much prep work as possible right away.

For instance, if several meals call for pasta or rice make it all at once and refrigerate it separately for each recipe. You might want to mix it up a little and reach for something different, like tabbouleh, couscous, or lentils to use in a cold salad later in the week. If you prepare ahead, all you have to do the night you’re serving that recipe is open the fridge, chop the other ingredients, stir and serve.

Sandwiches are always easy when it’s hot outside, but can get boring. You can make them a heck of a lot more exciting by setting up a sandwich making station. In addition to the standard toppings like lettuce and tomatoes, let your family choose to add fun new ingredients like sliced apples, avocados, or sprouts. Make your sandwiches even more fun by using whole wheat, spinach or tomato wraps instead of traditional sliced bread or rolls. You can also offer different things to spread on them, foregoing that high fat mayo again for something more interesting like cranberry sauce, chutney, salsa, spicy mustards, corn relish, hummus or low fat cream cheese.

Look for more great new ideas for healthy, tasty recipes at Choosemyplate.gov or by using the recipe finder tool on the USDA website and remember, if you’re struggling to make ends meet, you may be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program. SNAP helps low-income people buy nutritious food and beverages. The U.S. Department of Agriculture knows that a healthy diet will likely reduce health care costs, so it’s putting healthy food within everyone’s reach. To find out more about SNAP benefit eligibility call 1-800-342-3009, apply online for SNAP benefits at www.mybenefits.ny.gov/, or contact your local social services office.

And if you’re looking for even more ideas to improve your health, check out Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s Eat Smart New York program. You’ll find fun new ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your day, reduce your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, get at least the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity each and every day, all while also saving money. Sessions are held at convenient times and locations throughout Chautauqua County. Bilingual education is available. For more information call 716-664-9502 ext. 217.

So chill out, relax, and try a cool and easy dip tonight with some crunchy fresh veggies.

Patty Hammond leads Family and Consumer Science Programs at Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County. Her column is published on the first Sunday of each month in the OBSERVER

Recipe corner

Low Fat Ranch Dip

with Vegetables

Ingredients:

1 packet ranch salad dressing mix

1 cup low-fat sour cream

2 cups plain low-fat yogurt

1 pound baby carrots

1 pound mushrooms, washed and sliced

1 pound cucumbers, peeled and sliced

1 pound green bell, peppers cleaned and sliced

1 pound red bell peppers, cleaned and sliced

Directions:

1. Combine salad dressing mix, sour cream and yogurt in bowl; mix well.

2. Arrange prepared vegetables on plate or tray.

3. Dip vegetables and enjoy!

Yield: 8 servings

Nutrition Facts: Serving Size 3 tablespoons dip with 1/8 of vegetables listed; 160 Calories, 35 Calories from Fat, 4g Total Fat, 6% Calories from Fat, 2.5g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat, 15mg Cholesterol, 320mg Sodium, 24g Total Carbohydrate, 4g Dietary Fiber, 12g Sugars, 7g Protein, 210% Vitamin A, 15% Calcium, 210% Vitamin C, 6% Iron

Source: Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cayuga County

Hummus* (or Chickpeas

with Tahini**)

* Sounds like: humm-us

** Sounds like: tu-hee-nee. (Tahini is ground up sesame seeds. It has the consistency of peanut butter)

Ingredients:

1 clove garlic, peeled

3 Tbsp lemon juice

tsp salt

1 15-ounce can drained chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans)

4 Tbsp water

3 Tbsp tahini

tsp paprika

2 Tbsp olive oil

Directions:

Put garlic, lemon juice, salt, and 1 cup of chick peas into blender. Add 2 Tbsp of water, and blend until smooth.

Add second cup of chick peas and 2 Tbsp of cold water. Blend until smooth.

Add tahini and blend again until smooth. If you want creamier hummus, add an additional Tbsp of water.

Scoop hummus into a shallow bowl. Smooth over the top of the hummus with a flattened knife. Sprinkle the hummus with paprika and then drizzle the olive oil over it.

Serve with pita bread or cut up raw vegetables.

Hummus will last for several days in the refrigerator.

Yield: 18 servings

Nutrition Facts: Serving Size 2 tablespoons (38 g), 50 Calories, 30 Calories from Fat, 3g Total Fat, 5% Calories from Fat, 0g Saturated Fat, 0g Trans Fat, 0mg Cholesterol, 150mg Sodium, 5g Total Carbohydrate, 1g Dietary Fiber, 0g Sugars, 2g Protein, 0% Vitamin A, 2% Calcium, 2% Vitamin C, 2% Iron

Source: Modified from a recipe in World-of-theEast Vegetarian Cooking, by Madhur Jaffrey (1981)