Meal ideas & prep tips to help you keep your cool and spend less time in the kitchen
Post #5 of the #SimpleSummer series
Now that summer has fully arrived, it’s time to embrace Simple Summer food ideas. Ditch the mashed potatoes, heavy gravy-laden roasts, creamy casseroles, and other cold-weather comfort foods. It’s time to keep your food and your routine cool and light.
Remember, this Simple Summer is all about how to Release, Refresh, Relax.
Want to know our favorite summer meal? Grilled marinated boneless skinless chicken and zucchini. Hello, nothing could be easier or less mess!
Keep reading for tips on how to eat well without spending all day in the kitchen. I’ve also included a list of the kitchen tools I use every day to make it all super-simple.Keep your food and your routine cool and light. Check out these #SimpleSummer #menu ideas. Click To Tweet
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Stay-cool cooking tips:
1. Set up an outdoor kitchen. Aside from a grill, setting up a table near outlets for a roaster oven and crockpot will meet most of your summer cooking needs.
2. If you don’t have an outdoor space, confine your crockpot and roaster oven use to the laundry room and keep the door closed.
3. Cooking and draining pasta produces a lot of steam and heat, so I usually save those dishes for cooler days. One-pot pasta is a little easier because you can cook it with the lid on the pot and you don’t have to drain the pasta. For cold pasta dishes, cook the pasta at night, assemble the dish, and chill until mealtime the next day.
4. Bulk-cook boneless skinless chicken in the crockpot. Chill, chop and season to use later in salads or other dishes. You could also season and grill the chicken for more intense flavor.
5. If you don’t have a roaster oven to use outdoors, adapt oven recipes to the crockpot. Something like “Easy Chicken Parmesan Bake” would be a cinch to make in the crockpot.
My husband loves meat, so you will notice that even our “lighter” summer meals include meat of some sort. There are several lettuce-based salads on this list, which are really perfect all-in-one summer meals!
- Grilled chicken — leg quarters or boneless, skinless
- Grilled burgers
- Grilled chicken or sausage & veggie kabobs
- Grilled pork steaks or chops
- Grilled Bratwurst or Italian sausages
- Cold tuna-macaroni salad
- Chef salad
- Taco salad
- Oriental Chicken Salad
- Easy Burrito Bowls
- Italian Chop Salad
- Pastor Ryan’s Pasta Carbonara
- Easy Chicken Parmesan Bake
- Slow Cooker Red Beans & Rice
- Roasted smoked sausage, chicken & vegetables
- Paula’s Smoked Boston Butt Roast
- Bacon Ranch Chicken Bake
- Kielbasa, Pepper, Onion, and Potato Hash
- Kale and Chicken “Survival” Salad
- BBQ Ranch Grilled Chicken and Veggie Bowls
- Grilled Easy Tin Foil Sausage and Veggies Dinner
- Lexington Grilled Chicken
- Outdoor fish fry
- Fried rice with leftover chicken or pork
- BBQ Chicken Salad
- Deviled Chicken Thighs
- One Pot Spaghetti with Sausage Sauce
- White Chicken Enchilada Pasta
- Baked Chili Dogs (I know, I know, hot dogs — but doesn’t it sound fun?)
Easy Side Dishes
- Raw vegetables
- Grilled corn on the cob
- Crockpot-roasted baby potatoes & carrots
- Oven-roasted vegetables
- Grilled zucchini or other fruit/vegetables
- Deli-made coleslaw or potato salad
- Crockpot baked beans
- Quick-steamed vegetables
- “Texas Caviar” & tortilla chips
- Rice (cooked in broth for extra flavor)
- Crockpot “refried” beans
Keep Other Meals Simple
Simple summer foods aren’t only about dinners. Keep your other meals and snacks simple as well! Here are some ideas, which you can adapt to your family’s preferences.
“Make It Easy” Tip: Did you know eating similar food — or even exactly the same food — every day helps to eliminate decision fatigue? One prep, no thinking, leaving your mind relaxed and able to focus on other things.
- Yogurt with nuts & fruit
- Eggs of any type
- Oatmeal — regular or refrigerator (add peanut butter for protein)
- Lunchmeat sandwiches
- Crackers & cheese
- Crackers & cheese
- Hard-boiled or deviled eggs
- Tortilla chips
- Frozen fruit
- Homemade “ice cream” using fruit and yogurt
- Fruit salad (add mint for a delicious twist)
- Homemade popsicles
- S’mores made outside over a fire pit
Prep Tips for Simple Summer Food
Do this every weekend, and you will set yourself up for a week of stress-free summer meals:
1. Check the fridge to see what needs to be used right away.
2. Print new recipes.
3. Finalize your food plan for the week.
4. Remove food from the freezer to thaw (use sheet pan lids to catch drips).
5. Cook chicken and ground meats for salads and other recipes.
6. Hard-boil eggs for snacks and salads.
7. Prepare vegetables – shred lettuce, chop onions & peppers, etc.
“Make It Easy” Tip: Purchase large bags of washed and chopped lettuce mixes from a restaurant supply store. Once you’ve opened a bag, place 1-2 paper towels inside to keep the lettuce fresher.
Related post: Quick Food Prep Routine for a Week of Easier Meals
Your Summer Cooking Tool Arsenal
Keep-cool summer cooking is so much easier with the proper tools!
(Note: I have linked to aluminum pans, which I use daily even though they are almost the only things in my kitchen that are not dishwasher-safe. I would prefer stainless pans that can go into the dishwasher, but I have yet to find any that are highly-rated and warp-free. When baking, I use silicone mats. When roasting, I coat the pan with oil.)
Sheet pan lids — LOVE these for thawing frozen items and then popping into the dishwasher. (The pans linked above have lids.)
Flexible cutting boards — Having several boards makes prep easy, and a “grippy” back is a plus!
Knives — A good variety of knives is great for prep day, plus sometimes you can “cheat” and run them through the dishwasher. I know you’re not “supposed” to, and I would never do it with expensive knives, but sometimes a less expensive knife set serves all of the necessary purposes and makes life a little easier.
Plastic storage containers — for prepped foods, leftovers, sandwiches, etc.
Grill tools — tongs, spatula, sauce brush
Large mixing bowl with lid — I have two (one kept “pretty” to use for parties and one everyday workhorse) — perfect for mixing fruit salad, mixing & seasoning vegetables before roasting, soaking beans overnight, storing a prepped dinner salad in the fridge, and all sorts of general kitchen needs.
Gallon freezer bags — they tend to leak less often than regular storage bags
Heavy-duty aluminum foil — I like the 18” wide size for cooking on the grill and lining sheet pans for super-messy meals
Food chopper — helps with chopping vegetables, eggs, or nuts into smaller pieces for salads if you’re not great with a knife
Summer isn’t ALL about the food, but sharing good meals can be an enjoyable way to connect with friends & family while nourishing our bodies. With a plan and smart skills, you won’t have to spend all day cooking only to get a few minutes’ enjoyment with the ones you love.
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