The season for picnics, ball games and barbecues finally has arrived. Thanks to an ever-expanding variety of grab-and-go, good-for-you foods, summertime revelers can recharge with healthy snacks and meals that don't take much time or effort to prepare.
During the busy summer season, it can be "easy to give in to the convenience of fast food, but repeatedly eating overly processed foods will eventually wreak havoc on one’s health," says Ellie DeMay, assistant manager at Heritage Natural Foods in Moline and Davenport.
To keep hunger at bay when time is short, "having some pre-packaged, minimally processed snack foods at the ready can be helpful," DeMay says. Look for foods that are low in refined sugars and salt, and are as “whole and unrefined as possible, she advises.
For the ultimate in ease and portability, bars can be a good choice. While some granola and pastry bars pack more sugar than candy, better-for-you options abound.
More than 100 varieties of health-food bars were on display on a recent day at Greatest Grains in Davenport. Choices included gluten-free, vegan and protein-based varieties in flavors from salty to sweet, and spicy to savory.
Heritage carries a variety of bars as well, including antibiotic-, gluten- and hormone-free, grass-fed, organic meat snacks — a good option for hungry Paleo adherents.
Another delicious and super-simple snack available from both Heritage and Greatest Grains is known simply as "chunks of energy." These small bites made with dried fruits such as dates, apricots and figs, along with seeds, nuts and "superfood" powders are about as "whole food" as a snack can get, DeMay says. (Her personal warm-weather favorite flavor is lemon pomegranate.)
If you'd rather skip the packaging and prepare a quick whole-foods snack, organic produce makes an excellent choice. Wash it, slice it and pack it in a reusable container along with a homemade or purchased dip. (Greatest Grains sells BPA-free containers and other picnic wares.)
DeMay enjoys apple slices with organic, gluten-free, salt-free nut butter, or chopped carrots and celery with sprouted curry turmeric hummus.
"It’s a great after-lunch pick-me-up that doesn’t leave me feeling sluggish," she says.
For kids, pack a small cooler with organic cheese sticks and yogurt cups, she suggests. (Try Organic Valley mozzarella string cheese and Brown Cow maple yogurt, a favorite of the co-owner's 10-year-old son.)
Picnics and other portable meals
Looking for more than a quick bite? Packing a healthy picnic or otherwise portable meal doesn't have to mean a kitchen sentence.
In the cold case at Greatest Grains, you'll find a wide array of heat-and-eat entrees, including a variety of lasagnas, spaghetti, barbecued chicken and pulled pork.
No heat? No problem. Pairing a healthy, prepared salad such as tuna, egg or chicken from the cold case with a freshly baked loaf of bread creates a picnic-friendly meal in a snap. Greatest Grains bakes breads with organically grown flours, raw honey and sea salt — and skips the preservatives.
Bakers at Heritage's Moline location craft gluten-free options that can be paired with DeMay's favorite 10-minutes-to-make vegan "chicken" salad. (Find the recipe below.) She recommends pairing the salad with Jackson’s Honest Purple Heirloom Potato chips and GT’s Lemonade Kombucha for "healthy picnic heaven."
Picnickers will have no problem rounding out their baskets with salads featuring delicious flavor combinations from the cold case at Greatest Grains. The mixed berry salad includes strawberries, kiwi, blackberries, oranges and walnuts while the nicoise salad offers a savory blend of egg, tomato, potatoes, black olives, green beans and red peppers.
How 'bout breakfast?
Heritage in Moline — and soon the location in Davenport, as well — invite you to start your day off right with fresh smoothies. And while smoothies aren't just for breakfast, they certainly work well in the car between your morning yoga class and clock-in time at the office.
"We will predominantly be using our own produce in the smoothies, revamping and jazzing up some of our recipes, and will have an entirely organic smoothie option. Customers will also have a choice between almond milk, coconut milk and juice as their smoothie base, so as to accommodate many different food sensitivities," says DeMay.
A new addition for breakfast — or anytime — are acai bowls. With granola made from scratch and in-season fruits, honey, nut butters, goji berries and seeds, these "superfood" bowls pack a nutritional punch.
If stopping off for something fresh just doesn’t fit with your morning routine, another healthy option is to keep a variety of lower-sugar dried fruits and nuts in small containers in your purse or work bag.
Vegan 'Chicken' Salad
1 pound extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup slivered blanched almonds, chopped
1/4 cup raisins
6 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dill
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Crumble tofu into small pieces in a medium bowl. Mix celery, onions, almonds and raisins with tofu.
In another bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients: mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil, pepper, salt, dill and turmeric. Toss fresh parsley on top and give the mixture another stir to combine everything.
Add dressing to the tofu mixture and stir well to combine. Enjoy immediately. Leftovers last 4-5 days in the fridge.
Recipe provided by Ellie DeMay, assistant manager at Heritage Natural Foods, Moline and Davenport. DeMay credits the food blog "Eating Bird Food," by Brittany Mullins, for this recipe.