7 beat-the-heat summer meal planning ideas

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A colorful array of Korean Beef Tacos. (Stock Photo) 

One of the last things you likely want to do when it’s 95 degrees outside is turn on the oven or stand over the stove to make a hot dinner. Yet despite soaring temperatures, your family still needs to eat — night after night. What’s a too-hot-to-want-to-cook mom to do? Embrace summertime meal planning strategies and recipes so you can put low-key, no-fuss meals on the table, without breaking a sweat.

Redefine dinner

Mealtimes in the summer are more simple and casual than the rest of the year. In cooler months, dinner might be a hearty soup or meat-filled lasagna with a vegetable side, salad and bread. But when it’s hot, our bodies seem to naturally crave lighter-tasting foods, so lean into that.

“It seems like a lot of times your appetite is suppressed by the heat,” says Shannon Kallaker, owner of Lemon & Sage Market in Springville, a culinary incubator and specialty grocery store. “Having those fresh foods that don’t make you hot is part of summer dinner.” It doesn’t have to be elaborate — a platter of snack-y foods and vegetables, smoothies, paninis, flatbread pizzas, wraps and sandwiches are great go-to summer meals.

Pick a prep day

It’s challenging to throw together a meal in 15 minutes after you’ve been away having fun all day, but less daunting if you’ve got dinner components prepped and ready to go. Set aside some time after you go grocery shopping to prep food as you put it away.  Wash and cut veggies and lettuces, chop onions and garlic, brown meat, grill chicken, cook rice — there is no limit to what can be prepared ahead of time and then quickly reheated or tossed together for a speedy meal.

Embrace salads

Dub one night a week “salad night,” and rotate through a handful of whatever salads your family will eat: taco salad, pasta salad, barbecue chicken salad, Caesar salad with grilled chicken, potato salad, etc. If your kids are picky, serve the various salad components a la carte, so they can pick and choose what they want.

“I do a pasta salad and throw in whatever vegetables we have and feta cheese and some baked or grilled chicken I’ve prepped in advance,” Kallaker says. “For the dressing I use garlic-infused olive oil or balsamic vinegar from my market.” In her opinion using quality foods, like infused oils, means you can keep meals simpler and let the wholesome flavors shine through.

Get grilling

Utilize a gas or charcoal grill as much as you can during the summer months. Grill steak, chicken, pork or fish, hamburgers or hot dogs for a warm meal that doesn’t heat up your house. Shake up your normal grilling routine with an easy marinade or try a different presentation, such as making kabobs instead of just a plain chicken breast or  teriyaki pineapple burgers instead of regular hamburgers.

Use your crockpot.

Slow cookers aren’t only useful in the winter months. Kallaker likes to use her crockpot in the summer for set-it-and-forget-it meals. “I think it’s pretty nice to be able to use a crockpot because I don’t have to stand over it,” she says. “I can just put the stuff in and leave all day and come back and it’s done.” In the summer, she use the crockpot to prepare flavorful meals like jambalaya, Indian butter chicken and cilantro lime chicken to use in tacos or wraps.

Keep a stocked pantry.

If you want to throw together a meal on the fly, Kallaker suggests keeping some basic ingredients on hand at all times. This could be an actual list of ingredients you know you like to cook with or just a list in your head that you run through every time you hit up the grocery store. For Kallaker, the basics are things like baby sweet peppers, onions, potatoes, garlic, and some meat in the freezer. From those ingredients, she can pull together several quick meals without thinking too much about it.

Make someone else cook for you.

There is nothing wrong with strategically planning to eat take out one (or more!) nights a week. Instead of feeling guilty as you swing by Little Caesars to grab a $5 pizza, include it as part of your meal planning so it feels intentional instead of accidental. Kallaker’s market also sells ready-made meals you can grab and reheat at home for a semi-homemade meal.


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Natalie Hollingshead is a former magazine editor turned freelance writer and editor. She writes regularly about home, family, food and travel for a handful of publications, and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking” (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Elyssa Andrus. A native of Alberta, Canada, Natalie lives in Orem with her husband and their three children.

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