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FOR YOUR HEALTH: Try these summer staples

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By Clarissa Pape, Lincoln Trail Health Department

Summer is here. The kids are home from school and convincing them to sit down for even five minutes can sometimes be a struggle. For the most part, hot dogs are the regular lunch because 20 seconds in the microwave is all it takes.  Instead of mystery meat encased in phosphates and who knows what else, try stocking the fridge with a few ready to eat healthy options. With about 20-30 minutes of prep time, you can be prepared with quick and easy healthy foods for the whole week with these summer staples.

Peppers. Any color, sweet or spicy, that is up to you. I like slicing the bell peppers into long strips so they are ready to be thrown in a stir fry or roasted with other veggies in the oven with some olive oil and a little garlic or salt and pepper. They are also great to throw on the grill in a pack or foil or even as the colorful accent to your chicken or tofu kabobs. 

Cucumber. This mild and refreshing vegetable can be sliced up just like chips.  The crisp crunch makes a quick and fun snack with hummus or any other low fat dip. Remember to slice vegetables like cucumbers, peppers, carrots and celery all at once so that when you are ready for a snack, it is easy to reach for the veggies instead of a bag of chips. 

Watermelon. If you think a watermelon is scary or difficult to cut, you need to buy a new knife. A long serrated one is best. Just when the heat of the summer is getting to you, a cold and juicy slice of watermelon will do the trick. It is important to stay hydrated and when kids hardly take time to eat it is important to get fluids in them and yourself any way you can. 

Tofu. Now, I know what you're thinking, coagulated vegetable protein, gross!  Despite what you may be thinking, tofu comes in many different types of textures as well as flavors. It provides many health benefits such as phytoestrogens which mimic some estrogen receptors. A diet containing tofu over many years can be especially important for women who would like to avoid menopause symptoms such as hot flashes. It is a fat free complete protein which can take on any flavor. Try it in a sandwich instead of ham or bologna or add it to your salad, stir fry or tacos. Sautee some vegetables like peppers, corn and black beans with cumin and cilantro for chicken or tofu tacos. 

Avocado. If you have never bought an avocado, look for the ones that appear to be old and rotten. You want dark, almost black skin and the firmness of a banana. Avocado is fat but it is a healthy fat. Use a few slices of avocado instead of cheese to give your sandwich a creamy taste without extra-saturated (bad) fat. Guacamole is also an awesome summer snack; basically mash together avocados, lime, cilantro and salt. So start experimenting with flavors you might like to add such as green onion, jalapeno, orange and tomato. 

Tomato. Make some fresh salsa or slice up your garden tomato for that tofu sandwich with avocado. Another option, try it with a big slice of fresh mozzarella and basil from the garden. The lycopene in tomatoes will work its cancer fighting power in your body while keeping you hydrated and focusing your vision. Grape or cherry tomatoes will brighten up any salad or taste amazing when roasted in the oven with garlic and other fresh garden vegetables or even grilled in the kabobs. 

Lemon. This sour citrus can enhance the profusion of flavors in the roasted vegetables with pasta or marinating chicken or fish for the grill. Use it to flavor your water or unsweetened iced tea instead of a sugary soda. 

Healthy foods do not have to be expensive or time consuming. Try stocking your fridge with some of these new summer staples and prepare your kitchen environment beforehand while you have time. If you can prepare a little beforehand, you will find yourself snacking smarter this summer. 

Clarissa Pape is a dietetic intern for Lincoln Trail District Health Department.  Nutrition counseling is available for children and adults by appointment at the LaRue County Health Center. Monthly classes are also offered for weight loss and people with diabetes. For more information, call 270-358-3844.