Juicy berries, fresh corn on the cob, cold cocktails by the pool—food is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and never more so than in summer. For me, it’s impossible to think about this time of year without my mouth watering. As a nutritionist and food blogger, making (and eating!) delicious seasonal foods is one of my favorite creative outlets. In the summertime, if I’m not experimenting with creating the perfect popsicle, you can find me tinkering with a berry-peach sangria or crafting a colorful caprese salad. And even though I live in Phoenix, where it’s arguably summer three-quarters of the year, when the months of June through September make it official, I want to do all I can to soak up the season through food. Here are five of my favorite ways to do so.
1. Get to know seasonal produce
An excellent starting point for making the most of summer foods is to find out what’s actually in season in your area. Choosing seasonal produce not only means you’ll get the best quality fruits and veggies at the peak of their freshness, but you’ll probably pay lower prices for them because of their natural abundance and close proximity.
Check out the Seasonal Food Guide, which shows current crops in your location. Or, for truly rock-bottom prices (and a fun element of surprise), try a farmer’s market co-op or Bountiful Baskets subscription. These programs provide a weekly/monthly haul of diverse fruits and vegetables that might otherwise go to waste.
2. Turn off the heat
When it’s hot outside, let cold-weather comfort foods like soup and pot roast stay in winter where they belong. Give your oven (and your A/C bill) a break by opting for no-cook recipes. While it might sound like a contradiction in terms, there are a ton of meal ideas out there that don’t involve actual cooking. Dishes like salads can use pre-grilled chicken, beans, or cheese as a protein source on top of greens or veggies—or grab a tortilla and fold the whole mixture up in a wrap. I like to get adventurous with cold soups, like chilled carrot or savory gazpacho. Need extra inspiration? Work your way through a no-cook cookbook.
3. Grill it up
Though I flatter myself that I’m a pretty accomplished cook, the grill is my Final Frontier. I’ve been camping exactly twice in my life, so cooking over an open flame (especially when gas is involved) frankly sounds kind of terrifying. Even so, grilling is a surefire way to enjoy many summer foods while keeping the heat outside the kitchen. And these days, grilling isn’t just for burgers and hot dogs. There’s an entire foodie movement to slap everything from pizza to tropical fruits to lettuce salads on the grill—with delicious results. With all these creative options, this just may be the summer I conquer my grill-o-phobia.
4. Chill out (literally)
Is there anything better than an ice-cold glass of lemonade on a sizzling hot day? Cold treats are a mainstay of summer eating and drinking. But rather than simply grabbing a gallon of rocky road on your next grocery trip, maybe this is the summer you work on making your own cold creations. I find experimenting with recipes can relieve stress at the end of the day, and frozen treats are among the most forgiving, flexible dishes to DIY. Work seasonal foods into the mix with melon margaritas, homemade strawberry ice cream, or cucumber-mint popsicles—then share them with friends or neighbors.
5. Travel through food
For most of us, summer is the time for travel. But sometimes work, budget, or other circumstances mean that vacation to Hawaii or Italy isn’t in the cards this year. Why not turn a bummer of a situation inside out by throwing a party? Invite friends over for a fun foodie get-together with the theme of a place you’d like to travel. Serve pineapple daiquiris and chicken katsu for a Hawaiian luau night. Or decorate your place in red, white, and green and chow down on an Italian dinner of lasagna and stromboli.
I recently hosted a “travel” dinner party myself. Each guest brought a dish from a country they’ve visited or would like to visit. We feasted on chicken skewers from Greece, brats and potato salad from Germany, and rice and beans from Costa Rica. It was a novel excuse to get together—and a good reminder that, whether or not I get to travel abroad, I have a fun group of friends to enjoy the foods of summer with.