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Summer’s Fresh Bounty Makes for Quick and Easy Meals

July 19, 2017

By Joanne Gardner, MS, RDN, LDN and Jocelyn Weiss, PhD, MPH

Once we have settled into our mid-summer routines, it is common to lose touch with our good intentions to lighten up and eat well. With the abundance of activities, family gatherings, and social outings,  we can easily be swept up with the temptation to pick up quick meals that are missing healthy supportive nutrients. The summer offers a wide array of colorful and nutritious fruits and vegetables, which conveniently form the base of quick and easy meals.

The challenge is to have fresh produce when you want it, and to use it while it is still fresh. This takes some advance planning and an understanding of the storage life of the produce you buy. When you finally do make it to the farmer’s market, your enthusiasm for being there (and seeing all the freshly picked, colorful fruits and vegetables) can prompt you to over buy.

Here is a useful strategy to guide your purchases at the farmer’s market or in the grocery store:

Leafy Greens    

  • One leafy green for fresh salads: lettuce, arugula, mache or spinach.
  • One leafy green to cook: kale, collards, chard, spinach, or beets with greens or mustard greens.


  • One vegetable to roast on the grill: peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, onion or Portobello mushroom.
  • Two vegetables to add to salads: avocado (technically a fruit), cucumber, radishes, tomato, or peppers.
  • One vegetable to steam or stir-fry: green or yellow beans, mushrooms, broccoli, or cauliflower.
  • One vegetable with a longer storage life: One green, red, or Chinese cabbage that can be eaten raw or cooked.
  • One root vegetable that holds up to longer storage: golden or red beets, sweet potato, carrots, or turnips.


  • Two or three fruits of the season that can be eaten out of hand, grilled or added to salads: berries, peaches and melons.
  • Watermelon is a wonderful addition to a salad with lettuce, pecans and cucumber. Have you tried grilled peaches or nectarines?

Additional Tips:

  • Buy the amount of produce sufficient for one meal for your household, with leftovers to pack for lunch.
  • If you have parties or picnics on the calendar, plan to bring a vegetable- and fruit-based dish to share.
  • Use the salad greens and raw vegetables first, then your cooked leafy greens perhaps accompanied by the grilled or steamed vegetable. Next up, is the cabbage and root vegetables.
  • Enjoy the bounty of the summer by serving the colorful, nutrient-packed produce with baked pan-fried or grilled lean meat, fish, or plant- based proteins such as tofu, tempeh, nuts and beans.

Now for a recipe to make it easy to use your summer bounty…

Salad-in-a-Jar with Spinach-Lentil-Sweet Potato Burgers

Salads are an obvious option to make use of fresh produce. One way to keep them interesting and portable is to create salads-in-a-jar. By layering salad ingredients in the right way, you can prepare them the night before and not have the dreaded sogginess that comes with dressing a salad too early. To eat the salads, you can either dump them into a bowl or (if using a wide-mouthed jar) turn the jar upside down for a few minutes to allow the dressing to filter through and then use a fork to eat straight from the jar. When you eat them straight from the jar, you also have the added benefit of saving time and water from washing additional dishes. It’s a win-win.

The general guide for layering goes with (starting from the bottom of the jar):

  1. Dressing
  2. Hard vegetables, legumes, sturdy grains
  3. Soft vegetables
  4. Protein
  5. Seeds, nuts, fruit and other toppings
  6. Greens

To get you started, here’s a recipe for Spinach-Lentil-Sweet Potato Burgers that you can either eat whole or break apart into a salad-in-a-jar.


  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • ½ tsp basil, thyme, oregano
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 large sweet potato, baked, peeled and mashed
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • ¼ cup Panko breadcrumbs (gluten-free, if desired)
  • 1 flax egg (1 Tbsp flax and 2.5 Tbsp water allowed to sit for 15 minutes)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Place lentils in medium saucepan with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until tender, approximately 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Once finished, you may need to drain some excess water.
  3. Once lentils are done but still warm, stir in the baby spinach to allow it to cook/wilt in the saucepan with the lentils.
  4. Place lentils and spinach in a bowl. Add mashed sweet potato, garlic, spices, flax egg, and breadcrumbs. Mix everything together until evenly combined.
  5. Form 4-6 patties. Place patties on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, flipping half way through.

Notes: You may need some extra time depending on your oven, but patties will initially be soft in the middle when first out of the oven. Do not worry if they are soft when you flip halfway through baking – just flip and use spatula to reshape, if needed.

Recipe Adapted from:

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