How to Strike a Healthy Balance with Food This Summer

By Caroline L. Young, MS, RDN, LD, RYT

2021 summer has to be better than 2020 summer, right?
While we are still living in a pandemic, the light at the end of the tunnel is way more visible than it was a year go with vaccines widely available in the United States — that’s for sure.
Depending on what you feel safe doing at this point, whether it’s events like backyard cookouts or full-blown vacations, chances are high this summer will involve activities you didn’t even consider doing last summer — and hopefully it’ll be a lot more fun!
And whether you are still staying close to home or venturing out for summer vacation, summer tends to be a season of less structure and routine. While we all need a break from the grind sometimes, it can make it tricky to get in or stay in a healthy groove with taking care of ourselves — including nourishing our bodies well.
For instance, as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), many of my clients will miss breakfast when they’re out of their routine, and notice they get fatigued easier and end up eating way past fullness later in the day. It’s not a great recipe for feeling their best on their summer vacations.  And chances are slim that anyone wants to feel fatigued and irritated on vacation, especially after how rough this past year has been, right?
In order to feel consistently energized and to be in a good mood (have you ever been “h-angry?”), we have to make sure we are nourishing ourselves well. To help you make sure you are finding a healthy balance this summer, here are some suggestions:
Eat from all the food groups. Each food group - including protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables, fat and grains - have essential nutrients that all work together to support our physical and mental well-being. So, when you’re thinking about what to put on your plate at the buffet on vacation or what to pack for lunch in your beach cooler, think about balancing the food groups. It can take one minute and it’s like moving through an internal checklist.
Here’s an example of mental dialogue for, let’s say, a breakfast buffet at a hotel:
“Do I have my grains? Yep - I have waffles. My protein? Yes - peanut butter on top of my waffles. Where’s my dairy? I have some yogurt on the side. Fruit? There are strawberries in my yogurt. Fat? There’s fat in my peanut butter and also some in my yogurt.”
And here’s an example of that internal conversation for a cookout: “Where are my grains? I’ve got a bun on my burger and a handful of potato chips. Protein? Burger! Dairy? It’s a cheeseburger so I’m all set there. Fat? There’s some fat in the chips and burger. Vegetable? I’ve got grilled zucchini and squash on the side.”
And for snacks, think about combining carbohydrate sources (fruits and grains) with proteins and fats (like plants and peanut butter). Some examples of balanced snacks include apples or bananas with peanut butter, trail mix with dried fruit, pretzels and peanuts, or a peanut butter and fruit smoothie.
Focus on consistency. Nourishing ourselves regularly throughout the day everyday, even on days without much structure when on vacation, promotes stable blood sugar, which translates to stable energy and mood.
So, if you aren’t already, try eating breakfast within an hour of waking up and feeding your body  every few hours or so, according to how hungry you are feeling, and what sounds good and is available to you. If you do not feel hunger much during the day, it may be because your metabolism is suppressed and needs to be activated again (by eating consistently!).
Let yourself have fun. Food is fuel, yes, and it is also something that provides pleasure, connection and enjoyment in our lives. That’s why I always encourage my clients to create a foundation of nutritious foods (like fruits and veggies  and plant-based protein like peanuts and peanut butter) and allowing room for their less nutritious foods (like ice cream and potato chips). For example, aim for at least half of your grain foods to come from whole grains (like whole wheat hotdog buns and popcorn) and let yourself enjoy your other favorite grains (like flour tortillas and white pasta).
This summer, instead of buying into what restrictive fad diets typically recommend, which is eliminating less nutritious foods (this typically leads to unhealthy outcomes like food preoccupation or deprivation-driven eating), allow yourself to have them within a relative balance of your nutritious foods.
Try some new recipes. Last but not least, I’ve rounded up some summer recipes I plan on trying that hopefully you will, too:
Thai Peanut Quinoa Salad
Fresh Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce
Chicken & Apricot Skewers
Thai-Style Greens Beans
Ginger Peanut Green Bean Salad
We’ve got a much more promising summer ahead of us this year, so let’s show up for it fully nourished and allowing food to be a joyful part of the season!

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