From BBQ to quinoa, summer comfort foods adapt to modern diets

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Summer is the season of smoky BBQs, sweet corn on the cob and juicy watermelon slices. However, as dietary trends evolve, so do comfort foods. What if these beloved comfort foods could be reimagined to fit modern, health-conscious diets without losing their nostalgic charm? Welcome to the new age of summer comfort foods, where traditional flavors meet modern health-conscious and planet-friendly choices.

Summer’s classic comfort foods are getting a healthy makeover as traditional flavors meet modern, mindful diets. Photo credit: Depositphotos.

With rising awareness about healthy eating and sustainable living, summer comfort foods are getting a nutritious makeover. Here’s how modern diets are transforming these beloved dishes while keeping the joy of summer intact.

Swapping refined grains for whole grains

Gone are the days when summer sides were dominated by white bread and pasta salads. Today, whole grains like quinoa, farro and bulgur are stealing the spotlight. These grains are not only more nutritious but also offer a delightful texture and nutty flavor that enhance classic dishes. Imagine a quinoa salad with grilled vegetables, a refreshing change that adds a wholesome twist to your BBQ spread.

Whole grains are packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals, making them a healthier option that keeps you fuller for longer. They’re easy to prepare and versatile enough to be used in a variety of summer recipes, from main courses to side dishes.

Embracing plant-based proteins

The plant-based movement is reshaping summer comfort foods by introducing innovative alternatives to traditional meat dishes. Burgers, a summer staple, are now often made with black beans, chickpeas or lentils, offering a delicious and nutritious option for vegetarians and meat lovers alike.

These plant-based proteins are not only lower in saturated fats but also rich in essential nutrients. They provide a sustainable choice that aligns with the growing interest in environmentally friendly eating habits. For your next cookout, consider grilling some black bean burgers or tofu skewers — tasty, healthy and kinder to the planet.

Reducing refined sugars 

Sweet treats are a quintessential part of summer, but the trend is shifting towards reducing refined sugars. Natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and coconut sugar are becoming popular substitutes. These alternatives offer a lower glycemic index and additional nutrients, making your desserts a bit healthier without sacrificing flavor.

Nutritionist Trina Krug says that she appreciates the shift towards reducing refined sugars. “Natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup are a step in the right direction and are preferable to refined sugars”, says Krug, “many recipes require just a touch of these sweeteners to give them the desirable level of sweetness without losing out on taste. For example, a fruit salad drizzled with honey and sprinkled with fresh mint can be a refreshing end to a summer meal. Or try baking these peanut butter cookies using maple syrup for a guilt-free indulgence.

Prioritizing fresh, local ingredients

There’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh, locally sourced produce in the summer. Farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs are excellent resources for finding the freshest seasonal ingredients. Using local produce not only supports local farmers but also ensures you’re getting the most flavorful and nutritious options available. 

Summer dishes like the classic Caprese salad or grilled corn on the cob shine when made with ingredients picked at their peak. Fresh, vibrant produce requires minimal seasoning to bring out its natural flavors, making it perfect for easy, delicious summer meals. Plus, when you buy, or even better, grow fresh summer vegetables, you can preserve the end of summer bounty to use all year. 

Adapting to gluten-free needs 

As gluten-free diets become more common, summer comfort foods are being adapted to meet these dietary requirements. Gluten-free alternatives like rice pasta, almond flour and chickpea flour are now readily available, allowing everyone to enjoy their favorite dishes without worry.

A gluten-free pasta salad made with rice pasta and tossed with seasonal vegetables and a light vinaigrette can be just as satisfying as its traditional counterpart. These alternatives provide a way to enjoy summer meals while adhering to dietary restrictions.

Enjoying a healthier summer

The evolution of summer comfort foods reflects a broader shift towards healthier, more sustainable eating habits so we can enjoy our favorite summer dishes in a way that aligns with modern dietary trends. So next time you’re planning a summer meal, consider these simple swaps. They not only enhance the nutritional value of your food but also connect you with nature and the bounty it offers. This summer, make every meal a celebration because they will be as good for you as they are delicious.

Shruthi Baskaran-Makanju is a food and travel writer and a global food systems expert based in Seattle. She has lived in or traveled extensively to over 60 countries, and shares stories and recipes inspired by those travels on Urban Farmie

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