10 Easy, Healthy Summer Side Dishes
Fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables star in these delicious summer side dishes, many of which are better-for-you plays on summer classics. They would all pair perfectly with food fresh off the grill, and many are ideal for bringing along to a picnic (including the low-carb, healthy version of a southern broccoli salad that we’re kind of obsessed with right now).
Fried green tomatoes are a delightful summer staple in the South — but we won’t pretend they’re even remotely healthy. This version, however, is made with nothing but wholesome ingredients, and since it uses the oven for frying, it’s pretty low-oil, too. The almond flour crisps up remarkably well, and lends the appropriate crunch. In lieu of the classic ranch dressing, we’d recommend mixing up an easy Greek yogurt ranch dip (and if you’re short on time, that can just mean mixing powdered ranch dressing into Greek yogurt). They’d make the perfect side dish for these crispy keto crab cakes.
Gluten-free, vegan-friendly, and packed with bright, seasonal flavors, this strawberry caprese quinoa salad is a perfect salad for summer. While this makes a great side — and would be delicious served with some easy balsamic chicken — it could also serve as a light lunch all on its own.
Kachumbari is a tomato salad that originated in Kenya, but is now popular in many surrounding countries. It’s a great, simple side, and can also be used as a condiment, similar to a Mexican pico de gallo. It’s often served with grilled meat or fish. This version is pretty mild, but feel free to throw in some chopped chile peppers, which appear in many other iterations of this recipe throughout the region.
A much healthier take on a classic broccoli salad (which is delightful, but typically loaded with buckets of mayo and sugar), this low-carb version is much cleaner and just as flavorful. It’s also still pretty rich due to the addition of bacon, which can be swapped for turkey bacon, if you’d prefer, or for a vegetarian version, you can exchange it for coconut bacon or carrot bacon.
A play on classic black beans and rice, this black rice and beans dish is a great way to incorporate more healthful black rice into your diet. If you haven’t tried black rice yet, we definitely recommend giving it a try, since it’s delicately, richly flavored, and packed with fiber, antioxidants, and protein. It’s also been shown in studies to potentially prevent memory and cognition deficits.
This has to be one of the simplest summer side dishes out there, but it’s so much more than the sum of its parts. Yellow squash is seriously good for you (it’s high in manganese, as well as vitamins A, B6, and C, plus plenty of other minerals) but it rarely feels like a fun food — yet these tender, cheesy little parmesan squash rounds do. Broil them for just a minute at the end so that the cheese crisps up, and you’ve got a perfect, super-fast side.
The flavors in this Thai-inspired cucumber salad are incredibly layered and it’s perfect on its own, but this is also a very versatile dish. As the recipe author notes, you can easily make this dish spicy by adding some sliced Thai bird chiles or tossing in some extra vegetables, like julienned carrots, cabbage, or Thai basil. For an extra dose of protein, you could also toss in some stir-fried shrimp or marinated sautéed tofu.
Chickpeas are a standard salad component, but when they’re roasted, they’re so much better, in our opinion — they take spices really well, and get all crispy and crunchy, like a healthier version of croutons. This roasted chickpea avocado salad is fantastic on its own as a side with grilled chicken thighs (and shredded chicken would be great on top of this for lunch the next day, too — just leave some extra undressed).
Zucchini noodles (aka zoodles) are one of the easiest, fastest summer side dishes, whether you make them yourself with a spiralizer or buy them fresh or frozen from the store. If you have the extra time, we think that this is one of those instances where DIY is totally worth it — spiralizers work really fast, and zucchini is super inexpensive when you buy it whole. Spicy sesame zoodles with crispy tofu is an excellent side for steamed whole fish or grilled shrimp, and would also be an excellent, light vegetarian main course.
Fresh corn is one of the great joys of summer, and there’s nothing like buying ears from a roadside stand and using them right away, so they’re still full of that sweet, almost creamy flavor. This garden-fresh corn salad is light and infinitely flexible — and a great way to pack in as many fresh herbs as possible. It’s an excellent dish served with everything from chicken tinga tacos to falafel.
Jess Novak is the Head of Content and Audience Development for Clean Plates. She loves making meals that taste like they’re not healthy but secretly really are. You can follow her on Instagram @jtothenovak.
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