Eating fresh, local, and in-season foods couldn’t be any easier than it is during the summertime. Fruit seems to drip off trees, vines burst with red and golden tomatoes, and yellow zucchini blossoms give way to long tubes of green. Whether you get your goods from the farmer’s market, a roadside stand, or your own backyard, the following ten seasonal fruits and vegetables are some of the healthiest and easiest to incorporate into your diet. What’s more, most of them are at their cheapest during the summer—running about a mere dollar or so per serving—making eating well as inexpensive as it is enjoyable.
1. Watermelons Composed of about 90 percent water, sweet watermelons are an easy way to stay hydrated during the hot summer months. They also pack in nutrients, including vitamin A, B6, and C. In addition, watermelon, like most melons, is rich in antioxidants such as lycopene and citrulline. Researchers have also recently found that watermelon has “Viagra-like” properties, helping to relax blood vessels and even increase libido. As if eating it wasn’t exciting enough! Blended watermelon makes a refreshing drink, served plain or with a kick.
2. Tomatoes A vine-ripened tomato, plucked straight from the plant, is arguably the ultimate summertime treat. (Peaches and cherries also vie for the title.) And full of vitamin C, beta carotene, and lycopene, tomatoes are nutritional powerhouses. Their versatility makes them easy to incorporate into many meals, and because they’re so prolific during the summer, farm fresh fruits are usually well-priced. Try them in pico-de-gallo salsa, cool down on a hot evening with healthful gazpacho, or try a simple caprese salad.
3. Berries Berries are at their sweetest and juiciest during the warm summer months, and because there are so many varieties out there, you’ll never run out of options and tastes. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries … the list goes on. All berries are low in calories, high in vitamin C (with strawberries being the highest), and a good source of antioxidants and fiber. Some berries, like raspberries, can be relatively pricey, but if you’re near the woods or even an unkempt yard, free berry options abound! They’re great in sweet classics like blueberry muffins or in savory dishes like blackberry glazed lamb chops.
4. Peppers Though peppers are available year-round, they are most flavorful and inexpensive during the summer, when they’re in season. Sweet bell peppers, especially the yellow and red varieties, are packed with vitamin A, C, B6, and fiber. Chili peppers are no wimps when it comes to nutrition, either. In addition to containing the same vitamins and antioxidants as sweet peppers, spicy peppers have been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Sweet peppers are delicious skewered and barbequed; chili peppers give this nopalita salad a bite.
5. Peaches Growing up I had a peach tree in the backyard, and during July and August the tree would become so laden with fruit, we had to prop up the branches with sticks. I used to average around two peaches a day, and their sweet, juicy flavor is one that, for me, as with many people, is closely associated with summer. Taste alone is reason to eat them, but they’re also high in vitamin C and A, a good source of fiber and antioxidants, and contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which might prevent age-related macular degeneration. Try them in smoothies and in peach cobbler.
Next: Squash →
6. Squash Summer squash, including zucchini, crookneck, and patty pan (roundish ones) are high in manganese and vitamin C, and a good source of many other nutrients, including vitamin A and B. They’re low in calories and since most squash plants produce more bounty than one person can handle, they can be easy to come by in garden-friendly neighborhoods. At my local farmer’s market, I was able to pick up four small squash for one dollar—not bad! Perfect in zucchini lasagna.
7. Basil Basil’s heady fragrance lends itself to numerous dishes and goes well with another summertime favorite, tomato. In addition to adding a flavorful punch, it’s also a good source of vitamin K, A, and calcium. Studies have also found that fresh basil has anti-microbial properties. Usually a buck or two per bunch, basil is easily incorporated into dishes, as in this fresh corn salad or homemade basil-infused oil.
8. Figs Though some are averse to their texture, for those that love figs, they are a heavenly delicacy. Available from June into fall, figs are a favorite of Mediterranean climates like California. They range in color from the blackish-purple Mission to the greenish-yellow Calimyrna. High in potassium, fiber, and antioxidants, figs go well in sweet and savory dishes and are a nice accompaniment to goat cheese.
9. Plums Never lacking in the variety of color, textures, and tastes, plums season lasts from about May to October, and during this time you’ll find a huge assortment in the markets. Plums, like apricots, peaches, and nectarines, are considered drupes, or fruits that have a hard stone pit. High in vitamin C, A, and fiber, they are also rich in antioxidants. The dried form is best known for its laxative properties. Plums are plentifully and most people with trees don’t know what to do with the excess, so obtaining them for free is easy, if they grow in your area. With all the leftovers, they can be eaten straight, sliced in a fruit tart, or made into plum jam.
10. Green Beans Green or string beans are usually found year-round at large grocery stores but the summer and early fall is when you’ll find them at their best—crunchy and extra sweet. Rich vitamin K, C, manganese, and a good source of beta-carotene make them an excellent addition to a summer’s meal. An easy side dish is this green beans with roasted almonds.
Truthfully, it’s hard to limit this list to just ten. Almost all of the fresh produce you’ll find in the summer is healthful, and it’s just a matter of what’s available—cherries rather than berries, nectarines instead of peaches, or parsley instead of basil. If it’s colorful, fresh, and in season, you really can’t go wrong.