Maybe it's the ions in salty ocean air. Or maybe it's the rhythmic slap of waves that hypnotizes us out of our usual vigilance. But something about hitting the beach and spreading your towel definitely sets off the hunger signals.
The question is: What foods can you bring along that are melt-proof, healthy, energizing, and won't make one feel, at the end of the day, like giant sea creature who ate her way through the entire food chain.
I asked nutritionist Marissa Lippert, RD, author of The Cheater's Diet, to help us out. I love her because she believes that eating well is about enjoying food, and (rather than obsessing about every little calorie), simply being intelligent about what goes into your mouth.
Lippert offers three ways to eat for a day at the beach:
Scenario One: Bring on the picnic
"Sandwiches can get soggy and make you feel overstuffed," Lippert says.
"I prefer cold salads and fresh wraps." You'll need to prepare some of these lunches the night before, but they're maximum easy. When you're ready to go, just stash the food in a cooler with an ice pack. For drinks, there's nothing more refreshing than a bottle of sparkling water with fresh lemon or lime.
Here are 5 lunch options:
1. Chicken Penne Salad: Mix a cup of cooked whole-wheat penne, fresh basil, cherry tomatoes, grated parmesan cheese, and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Toss in some diced grilled chicken breast or cannelini beans for a punch of energizing, filling protein. Altogether it should be between 2 and 2-1/2 cups for a single serving. Refrigerate until you pack it.
For dessert: A cup or small container of watermelon chunks.
2. Cold Tabouleh Salad: Mix 3/4 cup bulgur wheat (soaked) with 1/2 cup each of chopped tomato and cucumber, and 2 teaspoons each of minced parsley and mint. Stir in a dressing made of 1 teaspoon of olive oil and 3 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice. Add in 1/2 cup of chick peas and 2 tablespoons of feta cheese for an extra-satisfying lunch.
For dessert: A cup of cantaloupe chunks
3. Veggie Roll: Use a whole-grain tortilla or wrap (Lippert likes Ezekiel). Throw in avocado, sprouts, lettuce, and tomato with a couple of tablespoons of roasted red pepper hummus.
Round out with a pickle, and a bag of "healthier" chips like Kettle Baked or Food Should Taste Good.
4. Honey Mustard Turkey Wrap: In a whole-grain tortilla or wrap, roll 3 or 4 slices of roasted turkey (look for low-sodium brands like Applegate Farms or get it fresh from your deli or grocery) with sprouts, pepperoncini (for a little kick), and a slice of provolone cheese.
Round out with a pickle and better-for-you chips as above.
5. Sporty Girl Italian Tuna: For an athletic day, make up 1 cup of tuna salad with 2 teaspoons each of oil and vinegar. Toss in some fresh chives, diced red or yellow pepper, and chick peas. The tuna is packed with heart healthy omega-3 fats, and the beans are excellent for extended energy when you're active all day.
Round out with 1 serving of whole-grain pretzels.
For dessert: 1 cup of fresh fruit salad, cherries, or grapes.
Scenario Two: Jut Toss it in the Beach Bag
If you don't feel like lugging a cooler, you can stock your bag with healthy snacks to nibble on throughout the day. "Just watch your portions," says Lippert, "or mindless munching can get out of control." Here's a list of non-melting options:
Beach Popcorn-microwaved and sprinkled with sea salt and Old Bay seasoning.
A bag of wasabi peas
A bag of dry roasted soybeans
A bag of cherries
Other fruit (apples, oranges, bananas)
Fresh sugar snap peas-sweet, crunchy, and thirst-quenching
A nut or granola bar (Lara, Kind, and Kashi are good choices)
Whole-grain baked pita chips (one serving is about 12 chips)
If you want animal protein, a couple of strips of turkey jerky
Scenario Three: Let's Hit the Burger Shack
For spontaneous beach run, or if you want to travel light, here are a few rules for boardwalk dining.
Great choice: Grilled, spiced shrimp and a fresh ear of corn if you can get it. "Skip the fries (or if they're amazing, share them with a few friends)," says Lippert. Grab water, unsweetened iced tea, or fresh-made lemonade.
Other top options: Chicken sandwich, turkey dog or burger, veggie burger. "Even a plain basic burger is likely decent on the calories (go ahead and have the bun, it's probably not that big)," says Lippert. Garnish with lettuce and tomato.
Worst choices: Corn dog, a massive serving of fries, burger with the works (cheese, bacon, special sauce), fried clams or shrimp, hush puppies (again, if they're a must-have, eat 1 or 2 and share the rest), and nachos. Also avoid more than one slice of pizza (one is okay "but it's probably processed cheese and microwaved, not even good greasy NY pizza," notes Lippert.). You'll be hot and thirsty but try not to sugar-shock your body with jumbo-size sodas and calorie-loaded vitamin or energy drinks, smoothies, sweetened coffee drinks, ice cream sundaes, or super-duper milkshakes. Instead, treat yourself to a cool indulgence like frozen yogurt or fruit ice.
What's your favorite healthy beach food?
For more healthy, summer eats....
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