Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links which means I earn from qualifying purchases. I recommend these products either because I use them or because companies that make them are trustworthy and useful.
School is almost out and with summer right around the corner, there will be plenty of time to enjoy backyard barbecues, lazy days at the pool, trips to the amusement park and family getaways.
Of course, of all the places you’ll go, there will also be plenty of healthy, delicious superfoods and some foods that are high in sugar, unhealthy saturated fats and artificial ingredients.
Here are 15 summer foods that can be served up regularly along with those that are better in moderation, or avoided altogether.
Best Summer Foods
With its juicy, refreshing and subtle sweetness, watermelon is a kid favorite and one of the best summer foods.
It’s also a good source of vitamin C, iron, calcium and lycopene, a carotenoid or antioxidant. Studies show lycopene may reduce exercise-induced asthma and lower the risk of heart disease and prostate cancer.
2. Zucchini and Squash
Zucchini and yellow squash are rich in fiber, potassium, vitamins A, C, and E, B vitamins and magnesium, the “calming mineral.”
Squash is also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids or plant pigments found in the eyes that can improve memory and processing speed, one study found.
Cherries are a nutritional powerhouse and one of the best summer for kids.
Cherries are an excellent source of potassium, a mineral that helps to regulate fluid levels in the body and counteracts the effects of sodium—a good thing if your kids are filling up on salty fare this summer.
They also contain quercetin, a plant pigment and an antioxidant that helps balance blood pressure.
Since cherries are also a natural source of melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” they can help kids have an easier time falling asleep, which can be challenging during the summer months when the sun sets later and kids are often wound up from the busy days.
4. Swiss Chard
All green leafy vegetables are superfoods for kids, but Swiss chard, which is in season during the summer, has a mild taste, making it more likely that your child will eat it.
Swiss chard is high in vitamins A,C, E, and K, B6 and folate, calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium.
5. Kiwi fruit
Kiwi fruit is an excellent source of fiber—a 1/2 cup has 3 grams—and a good source of vitamins C, E, and K, and potassium. Sweet and delicious, it also makes for a great first food for baby.
Shrimp is one of best summer foods for kids.
It’s an excellent source of protein— a 3-ounce serving of shrimp contains a whopping 18 grams. It’s also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin B12 and selenium.
Serve shrimp cocktail as an appetizer or grill it for dinner, shrimp is a quick, easy and versatile.
7. Corn on the cob
It’s not summer without corn on the cob, and fortunately, it’s a kid-favorite and can be healthy without tons of butter and salt.
One ear of corn has nearly 2 grams of fiber and protein and is a good source of folate, vitamins A, B6 and C, magnesium, thiamin, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Boil or grill corn on the cob and if you’re going to add butter, stick with grass-fed butter because it contains gut-friendly probiotics.
Strawberries are high in fiber, rich in antioxidants and a good source of vitamin C, potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Strawberries can also satisfy a sweet tooth and make for a healthy, delicious swap for a high-sugar dessert.
Worst Summer Foods
1. Fried dough
Whether it’s an amusement park, a carnival or fair, chances are, you’ll be able to get fried dough, zeppole (my favorite), or funnel cake.
Flour, sugar and deep fried: what’s not to love?
But fried foods contain trans fat, which raises both LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol and is linked to an increased risk for heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes, a condition that’s on the rise in kids.
Sure, a plate full of funnel cake might not sound like a big deal, but let your kid eat the whole thing and it can net more than 700 calories.
Also, take into account other foods that may have trans fat your kids might be eating throughout the summer: doughnuts, French fries, bakery goods, pizza, chips, cookies and crackers.
2. Hot dogs
Hot dogs at a picnic or summer party are synonymous with childhood, but hot dogs are hands down one of the worst summer foods for kids.
Hot dogs are processed, contain nitrates and are high in saturated fat.
Take a look at how hot dogs are really made, and you’ll probably swear them off forever.
Even worse? A corn dog, which is high in saturated fat and sodium.
3. Macaroni salad
A staple at summer barbecues, macaroni salad is creamy and delicious thanks to ingredients like mayonnaise, sugar and cheese.
Yet with 300 calories per serving, along with 19 grams of fat, 8 grams of sugar and nearly 800 milligrams of sodium, it’s one summer side dish that’s best to avoid.
Fruit popsicles are a summertime kid-favorite but many store-bought brands are made with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial food dyes and are high in sugar.
Take the Popsicle brand fruit pops which are made with real fruit: 34 grams of sugar, 31 of which are added sugars!
When buying popsicles, read labels carefully. Even better? Make your own. Here are some great recipes from Super Healthy Kids.
5. Cole slaw
Sure, cabbage is a healthy, green leafy vegetable but smother it in mayonnaise and you’ve got a calorie-dense, fat-laden side dish.
A half cup of cole slaw has 230 calories, 23 grams of fat, and 6 grams of sugar.
If you still want to serve it, cut back on the amount of mayo, nix the sugar or swap in Greek yogurt. Or serve up grilled vegetables or a green salad instead.
6. Snow cones
A favorite along the boardwalk and at carnivals, snow cones are not only made with high-fructose corn syrup and are high in sugar (25 grams per serving), but they contain artificial food dyes, sweeteners and preservatives, and ingredients like propylene glycol, the same toxic chemical used in anti-freeze.
7. Cotton candy
The quintessential carnival fare, cotton candy is melt-in-your-mouth goodness but it is perhaps one of the worst summer foods you can feed your kids.
Loaded with sugar— 56 grams of sugar per serving—and artificial flavors and food dyes, it’s one food to avoid, or at the very least share among the family.