Knowing what health benefits different foods offer is key to packing your menu with indulgent yet beneficial ingredients. Healthy doesn’t need to mean tasteless and when there are so many seasonal foods available in your local markets, bland meals are not an option. Preparing foods that pack a punch and health benefits can turn new foods into fast favourites and spice up your meals just in time for summer.

 

Dark Chocolate 

Fruit is the sweetest ending to any meal, or a great delectable snack especially when paired with dark chocolate sauce (for when you’re feeling indulgent!). The natural sugars in fruit are a good stand-in to cure a sweet tooth and they pack more health benefits than reaching for a bag of candy. Heat up the grill and cut pineapple into one-inch thick pieces. Grill each side until the pineapple becomes tender and place on platter. Melt dark chocolate and drizzle over top of the pineapple. Don’t be worried about the dark chocolate–its health benefits are similar to that of several dark vegetables. It also reduces blood pressure and cholesterol and contains antioxidants that fight against the signs of aging. To add to the list of benefits, dark chocolate is known to produce good endorphins, which explains why we feel so good when we eat it!

 

Leafy Greens 

Spinach, along with its relatives kale, bok choy, and Swiss chard are full of nutrients and flavour. This super food is packed with iron, calcium and essential vitamins like A and C to help fight cancers, prevent heart disease, and other health ailments. Why wouldn’t anyone want to have a side of spinach with every meal? What can you do with this power-packed food you ask? Spinach works well steamed, sautéed, thrown in a salad, stir-fried, or even added to a sandwich. Put together a spinach salad with assorted toppings such as blueberries—another food superhero—and pair it with your favourite dressing. For a dinner side, sauté some Swiss chard and then add in pine nuts and raisins for a savoury pairing to a filet of halibut or cod.

 

Figs 

Figs are a Mediterranean fruit that are in season during the summer months and are the perfect ingredient for both savoury and sweet dishes. A fig can be eaten cooked or raw and can be the star of an appetizer table or a sweet addition on top of vanilla ice cream. Figs are high in fibre, known to prevent colon cancer and also aid in the digestion process, making them a great option for dessert. Along with these health benefits, eating figs can lower cholesterol levels. To start the meal, try prosciutto-wrapped figs. Start by cutting a hole in the centre of the fig big enough to stuff with goat cheese. Once stuffed, take a piece of prosciutto and wrap the fig until it is completely rolled and covered. Bake them in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes and drizzle with honey before serving. To take the figs to dessert level, poach them in red or white wine for about 30 minutes and let the liquid reduce to a thick sauce. To serve, place figs over vanilla ice cream and drizzle with the remaining liquid. For even more sweetness, add a drizzle of honey.

 

Lentils 

Lentils are a highly overlooked legume and work well as a vegetarian option for any meal. These legumes are rich in protein and are high in Vitamins B and C and also contain eight of the essential amino acids. They come in several different varieties and colours from red and orange, to brown and green, and are known to aid in weight loss. Aside from using lentils in soups and stews they are an excellent substitute for ground beef in tacos. When making tacos, cook the lentils with a taco seasoning from your local market or opt for your own spice blend of curry powder, salt, pepper and garlic. Put the lentils in a hard or soft tortilla shell with lettuce, tomato, jalapeño, avocado, and cheddar cheese. Also, lentils mixed with the curry spice blend are a perfect dip for tortilla chips and can be used in a seven-layer dip instead of beans.

 

Cauliflower  

Cauliflower is quite the versatile ingredient and since its flavour profile is very subtle it can be paired with almost anything and still taste great. Apart of the cruciferous family cauliflower along with cabbage, bok choy, broccoli and cress are known for housing cancer-fighting agents that can break down carcinogens in the body. When eaten they work to prevent healthy cells from transforming into cancerous ones—a great health benefit for such a simple vegetable.

 

Cauliflower can be baked, mashed, steamed or sautéed and is great on its own, with olive oil and garlic or even topped with cheddar cheese. Mashed cauliflower can be the perfect substitute for mashed potatoes since their starchy consistencies are similar. Start by steaming or boiling the cauliflower until fork-tender and drain once it’s cooked. With an immersion blender or by hand, mash the cauliflower and add your cheese of choice; a medium cheddar works great. Since the cheese is the prominent flavour in this dish not many people will notice it’s not mashed potatoes.

 

Another great side is using cauliflower in place of pasta for a quick mac and cheese. Instead of mashing the cauli,flower keep florets intact and mix them with a mild cheddar or Gruyere cheese and place it in a baking dish. For added crunch, top with some homemade breadcrumbs and broil in the oven until the cheese has melted and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.