Cooling Foods

By Casey Seidenberg

Like many parents, I have been packing lunches for my boys as they sweat it out on the fields of area sports camps. I can’t imagine how they are surviving six hours of exercise in the heat without sustenance, yet they return every day with the greater part of their lunch uneaten. The food is staying cold in the cooler, so that isn’t the problem. When I asked them to shed some light on their lunch boycott, one son said, “Pack me popsicles and watermelon. I’m not hungry for anything else.” The other son said, “Mom, you try eating a heavy, sticky peanut butter sandwich in this heat!”

It occurred to me that I had adapted our home cooking to the hotter season but not my lunchbox menus.

So I refreshed my memory as to which foods, according to Chinese medicine, are considered cooling to our bodies. Both modern and traditional medicines say food has energy. Western medicine evaluates a food’s energy through its calorie content. In layman’s terms, the amount of calories in a food correlates to the amount of energy released in our bodies. Traditional medicine says that foods have either a warming energy or a cooling energy, regardless of the calorie count.

Because nature seems to provide what we need when we need it, the cooling foods are more likely to be harvested in the summer. Most of us are more active in the summer and enjoy an extra hour or two of daylight, so our bodies benefit from the extra energy derived from the natural carbohydrates and sugars found in summer fruits and vegetables. Think corn, peas, plums, melons and berries. We also need more liquids when temperatures rise, and not just in the form of drink, but through liquid-rich foods such as a juicy watermelon or peach.

The day I started to pack these traditionally cooling and hydrating foods in my boys’ lunches, they started to eat again. Phew! I was tired of picking up cranky, exhausted, starving children.

Here are some ideas of ways to “cool down” a lunch box:

  • Raw foods are more cooling than cooked, so try sliced yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes and snap peas.
  • Many of summer’s fruits and vegetables are essentially edible water. Load a lunch box with watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers and tomatoes to keep your child hydrated.
  •  Instead of a heavy sandwich, replace the bread with a crisp, watery piece of celery and add some peanut butter.
  • Add a juicy tomato and lettuce to any sandwich to supply cooling properties.
  • Rice, bean and corn salads deliver protein and carbohydrates and are more cooling than a ham and cheese sandwich.
  • Place gazpacho or any cold summer soup in a sealable container. Your kids might take pleasure in drinking their lunch.
  • Cabbage is cooling, so add coleslaw to the lunch box.
  • Spicy, acidic and greasy foods are believed to create heat in our bodies, as do meat and most dairy products, so look for substitutes for these food groups.

Then to refresh my boys after a hot day at camp, I pour two glasses of this minty lemon drink since citrus and mint both have cooling effects. Once the syrup is made, the drink itself is a piece of cake. My boys like to pour over crushed ice for their very own Italian ice. You can find the recipe here:

Minty Lemon Soda.

First published in the Washington Post on August 9, 2012.