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Summer meal planning - five tips for making it easy

Categories: Cooking, Crockpot, Food, Lunches, Meal Planning, Tips and Tricks, Uncategorized, side dishes, summer living


Nataly emailed me last week asking if I had any no cook recipes in my repertoire and could I pretty please share them.

My first thought was, “Well, I can pour a mean bowl of cereal!” Because who among us doesn’t try to convince our children that it was THEIR idea to have a bowl of cereal for dinner every now and then.

But I got thinking about summer schedules and the heat and how most of us want to be out enjoying the weather, not tied to our hot stoves once we get home from work. So I thought I would offer up some tips to making summer cooking easier.

1) Cook once, serve many times.

For example, when I am grilling up some chicken breast, I will do way more than I actually need for the meal. Then I slice up the chicken into strips and divide it into ziploc bags. Toss the bags into the freezer. The reason I slice up the chicken, because I know someone will ask, it defrosts much more quickly that way.

Now the cooking you did for chicken fajitas, will turn into a leafy green salad with grilled chicken breast, a chicken salad sandwich, chicken added to a pasta with pesto sauce, or any other number of things that you can do with cooked chicken breast. But now you don’t have to expend the effort to cook the chicken each time.

This has got to be my favorite tip. I do this all the time as evidenced by my ungrateful brats adoring family groaning, “Are we having grilled chicken again tonight?” To which I reply, “Keep it up and there is a bowl of Cheerios with your name written all over it.”

See what I just did there? Uh-huh, a win-win situation for all of us. Which brings me to…

2) If it is good enough for another meal of the day, it is good enough for dinner.

Alternate title: who decided that sandwiches were just for lunch? If you are cooking up some bacon on the weekend, the only time I ever make bacon, make some extra and save it in the fridge. Later in the week introduce your family to the joy of the BLT sandwich. Or crumble the bacon and sprinkle on top of a salad.

Hard boil some eggs and make egg salad sandwiches. Heck, nothing is wrong with PB&J either. Add some decorative vegetables to the table if it makes you feel better.

Or even better, let go of the guilt.

3) Think outside the box.

Alternate title: Hor d’ oeuvres, it’s what’s for dinner. Hummus and veggies, Whole grain crackers and cheese. Cut up fruit. The itty-bitty bread, which I am sure has its own special name, made into itty-bitty sandwiches is ALWAYS a huge hit.

Another secret, let them eat all the food with some of those cellophane wrapped toothpicks.

In the interest of full disclosure, this meal is not hearty enough for my older boys who are intent on eating everything that isn’t nailed down, but it serves as a nice appetizer for them while they forage for leftovers in the fridge. I like to think of that is giving them valuable life skills. Their wives will thank me one day.

4) Use your other appliances that don’t require you to stand over them while they do their magic.

Break out that crockpot, rice maker, toaster oven, or microwave. How about a baked potato bar? Bake the potatoes in your microwave. (I don’t own a microwave so I bake my potatoes by wrapping them in tin foil and throwing them into our firepit. We sit around the fire and relax while the potatoes cook.)

Set out various toppings like: sour cream, grated cheese, cooked broccoli, black beans, whatever floats your boat.

If you want to be extra fancy schmancy use sweet potatoes. As a bonus they are also healthier for you. Plus, I am not sure why, it just sounds better when you tell people.

“So, what are you making for dinner tonight?”
“We are having a baked potato bar.”
“Ohhhhhh….” thinking, she is only serving her family a side dish?

Opposed to this:

“So what are you making for dinner tonight?”
“We are having a baked SWEET potato bar.”
“WOW. What a great idea!” thinking, I am so inadequate compared to her greatness.

I swear, it will go down just like that.

5) Get your children involved. If it is their idea they won’t complain and will probably eat.

Just last night one of my children began whining, “You never make us pizza bagels anymore.” I honestly had no idea that anyone was pining for pizza bagels. In my mind they were something I threw together after a long day when I had failed to plan and had run out of ideas. So I immediately added to my shopping list: plain bagels, pizza sauce, grated mozzarella cheese.

That is an under five minute dinner.

Up next, some recipes which require no cooking.

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22 comments so far...

  • I’m stuck on the line where you said you didn’t own a microwave. I can’t seem to stop reading that line over and over.

    Chris says: Nope. I don’t. And I don’t miss it either.

    Dustin  |  July 29th, 2008 at 10:51 am

  • Yum on the baked potatoes int he fire pit.

    jody  |  July 29th, 2008 at 12:54 pm

  • You see, I asked the right person. I need to get better about cooking in larger batches and saving ingredients for later. My husband has suddenly learned to make this great chicken salad so I should have more chicken ready for him as inspiration:)

    Nataly  |  July 29th, 2008 at 1:48 pm

  • Your pizza bagels remind me of our “personal pizzas. It’s simple - Take a can of biscuits and throw them on a pan. Flatten them out (with hand) ad some pizza sauce and your favorite toppings. I let each child choose their toppings because of course we can’t all eat the same thing (smile). It is quick, easy and satisifies everyone.

    Lisa Willard  |  July 29th, 2008 at 2:39 pm

  • I’ve heard of people like you before. I always thought it was some urban legend or something though. Huh. People without microwaves…they DO exist. Weird.

    And I love the chicken idea. I do the exact opposite and make only 2 breasts for the 4 of us, because me and the kids split 1 and my husband eats the other. I always thought I was SO SMART not wasting the extra chicken (like I used to do, before I realized that I didn’t HAVE to cook 4 breasts just because there were 4 people). Now I see that I am dumb. I kind of want to go grill a bunch of chicken right now just so I can freeze it. You are one smart lady.

    Karly  |  July 29th, 2008 at 4:16 pm

  • great tips! i used to not own a microwave either and was perfectly happy! but now, i must say, nuking the food so speedily is very handy for family meals that take less than 10 minutes (thank-you 90 second rice!)

    also, english muffins work great if anyone is ‘anti bagel’ or just trying to cut calories/add fiber.

    last night i actually made a lasagna that we didnt eat for dinner because it took SO LONG to make (so what if i didnt start until 7!) so i now have dinner for the rest of the week! YAY!

    Kate  |  July 29th, 2008 at 4:51 pm

  • We have “snacky dinner,” which is another term for “appetizers make a great meal,” and sometimes I give the kids a dinner where everything can be dipped in something else — chicken strips and BBQ sauce, carrot sticks and dressing, fruit and yogurt, French fries and ketchup. My husband isn’t so enamored of these meals, the kids love them…

    Lylah  |  July 29th, 2008 at 5:23 pm

  • In the summer, my love affair with the crock pot turns to love/hate. I still love the convenience, but not how it heats up my house. So I’ve started putting it on the front porch. I have an outlet out there and a wooden table, and now I can make anything I want in the crock pot without heating up my kitchen. YEAH!!!

    susie  |  July 29th, 2008 at 6:00 pm

  • One of our favorites is tuna salad - the kids think it’s brilliant - and oh so special to serve it with fancy party crackers -

    Mary  |  July 29th, 2008 at 10:21 pm

  • We do mini pizzas on halves of English muffins, too. Even loved those when I was a kid growing up! Still love them now.

    GREAT ideas, thanks!

    Susan  |  July 29th, 2008 at 11:20 pm

  • My addition to the chicken grilling tip is to pour a half bottle of salad dressing or marinade into one of those bags of individually frozen boneless chicken breasts while they thaw. I also brown 5 pounds of ground beef at a time, pour it into a colander and rinse off the extra fat, then divide into 5 bags to freeze. It thaws quickly for tacos, sloppy joes, spaghetti, cheeseburger macaroni, etc. I will also cube up leftover ham or turkey to cook with hash browns and peppers or to add to that baked SWEET potato bar! Just PLEEZE don’t call them “plannedovers” instead of “leftovers” - I can’t stand that word.

    Elizabeth  |  July 30th, 2008 at 12:57 am

  • Breakfast for supper is fast too. Leftover potatoes of any sort sliced up and fried, scrambled eggs, and sliced heated meat of some kind (breafast sausages, leftover meatloaf or steak, ham) all ready in under 10 minutes and with minimal fuss. Even easier is tossing it all together and making an omelet. I love the tip of grilling lots of chicken, cutting in slices and freezing. We’re definitely going to try that one. And English muffin pizzas are the best!

    Heather's Garden  |  July 30th, 2008 at 1:20 am

  • Great tips! We love doing breakfast for dinner. Scrambled eggs (although I think I remember that you can’t eat that!) or pancakes. When I do make pancakes or waffles, I make a batch more than we usually eat and freeze the rest for quick breakfasts. It’s so easy and so much better than buying the frozen crap!

    Heather  |  July 30th, 2008 at 2:26 am

  • I do a variation on making extra chicken breasts. We love fish on the grill, but since we use a charcoal grill, I hate going to all that trouble for the 5 minutes it takes fish to cook, so I always throw something on there afterwards for the next night’s dinner, like a pork tenderloin or chicken breasts. Just be sure to clean the grill after taking the fish off!

    Terri  |  July 30th, 2008 at 4:10 am

  • I don’t even understand why we own a microwave as I use it once in a great while for warming something up or popping popcorn…

    Oh, and I love this NYT article from last year: 101 meal ideas for the summer, ready in 10 mins or less

    eko  |  July 30th, 2008 at 5:07 am

  • Mmm, we just had grilled sourdough bread slices and a ham/broccoli/cream cheese omelette for dinner the other night - yum!

    Quiche is a good one to be served cold with a side salad (and so many variations).

    Or I like to make a mass quantity of tuna/mac salad or shrimp/rice salad and we just eat that for a few days straight, during the worst muggy spells.

    Brigitte  |  July 30th, 2008 at 10:15 am

  • susie - thanks for the crockpot idea. I too have an outlet on my porch. I have a new 2 month old son and really want to use the CP for easy dinners but couldn’t stand to heat up the house with such a little baby. Now I have a solution.

    charlie  |  July 30th, 2008 at 8:43 pm

  • Great ideas! We have breakfast for dinner at least once a week!

    Shannon (a.k.a. Believer in Balance)  |  July 30th, 2008 at 9:23 pm

  • ppst, chris. how do you heat up your cup of coffee 65k times a day then?

    or is that just me?

    crockpot lady  |  July 31st, 2008 at 2:49 am

  • why no microwave?? Dying to know

    maure  |  July 31st, 2008 at 3:13 pm

  • THIS is why I joined this site! I’m a new mom and I feel like I’m getting the hang of this work/mom thing except for the durn dinner dilemma - thank you!!

    Sharona  |  August 1st, 2008 at 9:12 pm

  • I truly enjoyed your line about “Keep it up and there’s a bowl of cheerios with your name on it” I heard it growing up, and say it to my kids now!

    These are really good - thanks for helping me remember a healthy dinner doesn’t have to be cooked over a hot stove! :-)

    BlapherMJ  |  August 2nd, 2008 at 8:11 pm