9 Low-Calorie Summer Veggies & How to Use Them

Seasonal produce is the MVP of the dinner table.

By July 06, 2021

If you’re looking for a healthy and tasty summer snack or meal, low calorie summer veggies are a great place to start. Not only is in-season produce often more affordable and accessible, but it actually tastes better. In-season produce ripens naturally, while out-of-season produce requires artificial help. This, paired with the extra love for local farms that eating in-season produce provides, makes stocking your fridge with farmers market finds a no brainer.

But where do you begin? Can you just go to the Saturday farmers market and pick up what looks best? That’s not a bad idea, but just because something is in season doesn’t mean it is specific to your current health goals. If you’re focused on counting macros or calories this summer, understanding the nutritional components of certain veggies can be helpful. These 10 options are not only at peak harvest during summer, they’re also low-calorie options. Don’t be fooled, this doesn’t make them boring — we’ve got some delicious suggestions for all your summer menu needs.

1. Zucchini

Zucchini is literally in the “summer squash” family, so it’s an ideal choice for a low-calorie summer vegetable. One cup of zucchini has only 21 calories, and it’s also a good source of vitamin C and B6.

Zucchini is incredibly versatile; throw it on the grill, add to salads, or mix in a quiche! It’s also safe to consume raw — skin and all — so it’s a great addition to a summer veggie tray with hummus or dip. If you’re looking for a treat, bake some zucchini bread and muffins to enjoy for breakfast.

2. Lettuce

Don’t dismiss lettuce as boring. There are many kinds that are in-season in the summer. Lettuce varieties that grow well during hot summer months include Adriana, Buttercrunch Bibb, Captain Bibb, Green Ice, Muir, and Summer Bibb. The caloric content depends on the type of lettuce, but on average a cup of shredded lettuce is approximately five calories.

Salad is the most obvious use (psst have you tried a breakfast salad?), but you can also get creative and make lettuce wraps or even stir-fried lettuce.

3. Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are high in fiber and low in calories (about 31 per medium-sized pepper), regardless of color. Bell peppers are also anti-inflammatory, with red ones packing the most punch.

Bell peppers — which come in a variety of colors like red, yellow, orange, green, white, and purple — are often considered a “sweet” pepper because they are not in the spicy family of peppers like jalapeño, chili, cayenne, or habanero. The different colors do have different flavors, and some people still find them to have a bit of a bite. They can be chopped and added to salads and omelettes, hollowed out and baked for stuffed peppers, or eaten raw as a quick and healthy snack, plain or dipped in something like hummus or ranch.

4. Green Beans

Green beans are at their best in warmer months, and can typically be found fresh at farmers markets in the summertime. One cup of raw green beans is approximately 31 calories; they are also nutrient-dense, with beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

For many people, green bean casserole is the go-to recipe for green beans. But with the traditional cream of mushroom soup base and french fried onions topping, it’s not a low calorie option (nor is it desirable on hot summer days). Instead, give green bean salad a try. Or, simply boil, steam, or sauté as a side dish — just keep in mind any oils or fats you use to cook them.

5. Summer Spinach

True spinach actually prefers cooler temperatures for growing, so summer is not its peak season. There are varieties that perform better in the warm months, but spinach alternatives that fall under “summer spinach” — including malabar spinach, New Zealand spinach, and orach — are even better. Malabar spinach is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium, and 100 grams has approximately 20 calories.

These summer spinach alternatives can essentially be used in place of spinach: raw in salads, cooked in a stir-fry, sautéed as a side dish, added to eggs, or blended in a smoothie.

6. Cucumber

Cucumbers are at their peak from May through August, although they’re a go-to healthy option year-round. At 95% water content, cucumbers contain just 16 calories per cup (with peel). Due to this exceptionally high water content, the concentration of nutrients is relatively low, but not nonexistent; they do contain amounts of potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, folate, beta carotene, and vitamin K.

Raw cucumbers lend a satisfying crunch to salads. They are a sturdy vessel for dipping, and can even be used as a bread substitute (just hollow out a cucumber and add cold cuts and cheese). If you’re feeling fancy, try making a cucumber gazpacho.

7. Eggplant

Eggplant can be used in many hot, heavy pasta dishes (we’re looking at you, eggplant parm) but it’s actually a very healthy vegetable that can be used in more summer-centric recipes...which, fun fact, is also the beginning of its peak season. One cup of raw eggplant has approximately 20 calories.

For summer eggplant recipes, lean Mediterranean for lighter fare. Eggplant can be blended or chopped for excellent dips, roasted for mixed salads, baked for a side dish or as an entrée meat replacement, and grilled at your next BBQ.

8. Shallots

Although not generally a main ingredient — you’re not likely to eat one raw or base a whole salad around it — shallots add flavor and depth to many dishes. And at just seven calories per one tablespoon, shallots boost taste without detracting from nutrition.

Shallots can be added to virtually any dish. They can also be used as a substitute for onions in many dishes. In addition to adding chopped raw or cooked shallots to just about anything, they’re also delicious in a homemade vinaigrette.

9. Tomatoes

You can’t have a round-up of summer vegetables without including tomatoes — even if they might technically be a fruit. There are many, many types of tomatoes, but an average small, red tomato is approximately 16 calories. Tomatoes are great sources of potassium and vitamin C.

There are nearly infinite ways to eat tomatoes in the summer. One of the best ways to enjoy one might just be sliced raw, with a little salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar. Otherwise, think salads, sandwiches, pastas, sauces, dips, eggs… the options are pretty much endless for any meal of the day, or as a healthy summer snack.

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