Cooking from the Garden

Written by Melissa Dellinger, RD, LDN

The summertime brings a change in the routine of feeding our families. We don't have school breakfast and lunch to help us plan our family meals and grocery budgets. One fun way to save on your family's summer food budget is to reap the fruits of your labor from your own back yard!

Try packing up a picnic basket with some of your favorite garden produce to enjoy a family meal at the park. Here are a few tasty ideas:

  • Slice a dark green cucumber and stuff in a whole-wheat pita pocket with chicken salad
  • Add a slice of a large, juicy red tomato from your patio container garden to a ham and cheese sandwich
  • Slice up a radish or two to pep up your favorite salad
  • Add chopped watermelon or cantaloupe to a fruit salad with strawberries and grapes
  • Dip cucumber slices, carrot sticks or cherry tomatoes in hummus

In between summer pool parties and neighborhood cookouts, plan for a quick balanced plate at a weeknight dinner by chopping up fresh vegetables or grilling some of your favorites as a side dish. Try one of these easy and yummy options:

  • Chop up a sweet green or red bell pepper with some onion and lettuce to adorn your favorite tacos
  • Pick a jalapeno pepper when it gets four inches long and turns dark green. Chop it up for a taco with a kick. Remember to carefully remove the seeds to take the spice down a notch.
  • Adorn grilled chicken or black beans and rice with crisp green cilantro leaves. Harvest a handful of cilantro by tenderly cutting the stem about 2 inches from the base of the plant. You can even chop up the cilantro stems for added flavor. 
  • Slice summer squash or zucchini lengthwise, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Place on the grill over medium heat and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. 
  • Decorate kabobs by chopping a bell pepper, yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant. Add a handful of cherry red tomatoes to the vegetables and toss in a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of your favorite grilling seasoning. Alternate chopped vegetables with chicken or steak on skewers. Place on grill for 15 minutes, rotating occasionally. Slice up some fruit and add microwaved rice for a balanced finger-licking-good dinner with easy clean up. 
  • Add chopped yellow squash and diced tomatoes to your favorite stir-fry or pasta primavera. 
  • Cut 2-3 zucchinis in half lengthwise. Scoop out the flesh and mix with black beans, dice roma tomatoes, a small onion, garlic and corn. Spoon the mixture back into the zucchini to create zucchini boats. Top with a sprinkle of cheese and bake at 400 degrees F for about 25 minutes. Remove boats from oven, sprinkle fresh cilantro on top and enjoy. 

Summertime in North Carolina provides us with a rich selection of colorful seasonal vegetables and fruits. Shop in your own back yard, the Farmer's Market or the local supermarket to explore a variety of fruits and vegetables this summer.