10 Summer Favorites Made Lighter

Try these guilt-less versions of beloved warm-weather foods

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

We all have favorite dishes that we associate with summer. Yours might be strawberry shortcake (when the berry season is in full swing), or maybe it's peach pie a la mode (toward the end of summer).

There are regional favorites too. On my end of the country, deep-fried artichoke hearts symbolize summer fun at the carnival or beach boardwalk. In the New England area, I'm betting anything with blueberries is big in summer. Peach pie, fried green tomatoes, and fried okra are seasonal treats in the Southern states. I'm guessing barbecued hot dogs, ribs, and chicken are big just about everywhere.

The people I surveyed mentioned these 10 foods as their summer favorites:

  • macaroni salad
  • pasta salad
  • barbecued ribs
  • chocolate covered strawberries
  • strawberry shortcake
  • peach anything
  • ice cream everything
  • hamburgers and hot dogs
  • barbecued chicken
  • Belgian waffles with fresh fruit and whipped cream

Can you relate to a few of them? I've already lightened strawberry shortcake and hamburgers.

Here are some tips (and recipes) for the rest of the summer lineup.

Macaroni Salad

Here's a lighter version of the macaroni salad recipe featured on Martha Stewart's web site. I used half light mayonnaise and half fat-free sour cream for the dressing instead of 1 cup real mayo and 1/2 cup real sour cream. From there, you have several options. You can use either petite peas or green soybeans (edamame). You can use whole-grain-blend macaroni, or you can cook the white kind al dente. You can add diced ham, or leave it out and keep the dish lacto-vegetarian.

1 pound elbow macaroni (use whole-grain blend pasta to boost the fiber and phytonutrients, if desired)
1 1/4 cups partially thawed frozen petite peas or lightly cooked, shelled edamame (green soybeans)
3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
4 scallions or green onions, white and part of green, thinly sliced diagonally
6 ounces lean ham, cut into 1/4-inch dice (optional)
3/4 cup light mayonnaise
3/4 cup fat-free sour cream (or use light sour cream)
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar (or use rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground salt (optional)
Freshly ground pepper to taste

  • Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add macaroni and cook until al dente (7-8 minutes). Drain in colander and rinse with cold water. Transfer noodles to a large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid and refrigerate until completely cool.
  • Add peas or edamame, sliced celery, scallions, and ham (if desired) and toss to blend.
  • In small bowl or 4-cup measure, whisk together light mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, sugar, nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt (if desired). Spoon over macaroni mixture and stir to blend. Season with pepper to taste. Cover bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Yield: 10 servings

Per serving: 254 calories, 10 g protein, 42 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 0.4 g monounsaturated fat, 3 g polyunsaturated fat, 6 mg cholesterol, 2.5 g fiber, 132 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 17%.

Pasta Salad

The trick here is dressing your salad with a light vinaigrette or a light creamy dressing. You can easily get away with using a light bottled dressing from the supermarket.

You can also perk up your pasta salad with nutritious veggies like broccoli florets, baby carrots, fresh spinach or basil, artichoke hearts, fresh tomatoes, etc., instead of high fat-foods like sausage or regular cheese.

Check out our recipes for Mediterranean pasta salad, seafood pasta salad, insalata caprese, and pesto pasta salad.

Barbecued Ribs

The bad news is that ribs can be pretty fatty pieces of meat. The good news is that you have to work hard to eat a small amount of meat.

The key is to eat a small portion of ribs, and balance it by serving a healthy portion of fruit and green salad alongside. Avoid eating any visible fat, and use a sauce or rub that doesn't pile on any additional fat. One recipe I saw called for 4 tablespoons of butter in the sauce, to serve 8. That's an extra 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter to an already fatty meat!

Check out our spicy grilling rub and peachy tomato grilling sauce recipes for some inspiration.

If you want to go the extra mile, buy "boneless ribs" (this might be called something else at your local butcher shop). Whatever the name, it's a leaner cut of meat that is cut into strips and can be prepared much like beef ribs.

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