Hot Weather Meal Strategies
The last place you want to spend time in the hot summer months is in the kitchen where it’s even hotter. How do you produce meals for your family without suffering heatstroke, relying on expensive convenience foods or eating out too often? With planning and ingenuity, you can spend less time in the kitchen this summer, take advantage of nature’s most bountiful produce season and feed your family healthful meals.
Don’t wait until 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon to decide what you’ll have for dinner. Each week, go through the grocery store inserts in the Sunday paper to find out what will be on sale in the coming week and buy accordingly. Find recipes for these items—recipes for grilled entrees, cook-free cool salads and cold soups abound online and in cookbooks.
Use your freezer.
Freeze meat in marinades for quick, straight from the freezer to the grill entrees. Freeze grapes, banana slices and berries for a quick, cool snack. Search for freezable dessert recipes. Precook rice and pasta ahead of time for quick summer salads. Just thaw, add fresh vegetables, cheese and dressing and you’ve got a meal.
Cook with everything but the oven.
Use the rice steamer you received as a wedding gift. It makes perfect rice without giving off heat. Fire up your crock pot and slow cook meat while you’re at the pool all day. Learn how to use a pressure cooker, which can cook almost anything in a fraction of the time—or kitchen temperature—needed by an oven. And of course, don’t forget your charcoal or gas grill, which has the added bonus of fewer dishes and overall cleanup to do.
Don’t forget your microwave.
Microwave ovens don’t heat up the kitchen the way ovens and stoves do, so precook items in the cooler evenings for easy microwave cooking at meal times.
Take advantage of plentiful fresh produce. Don't forget the local farmer's markets! Vendors at farmer's markets are usually the farmers themselves, or people who know about the produce they are selling in great detail, including recipes.
Most fruits and vegetables are in season this time of year, so make up fresh fruit and vegetable trays as soon as you get home from the grocery store. You’ll be less likely to pig out on unhealthy snack foods.
When you cook, make it count.
When planning your menus, be sure to use ones that will serve double- or triple-duty: Put enough chicken on the grill to be used for three different meals—barbecued chicken breasts tonight, cubed chicken tomorrow for a salad addition and shredded the next day for chicken fajitas. Cook once, but plan to eat at least three times.
Make use of pre-prepared foods.
Pre-bagged salads are one of the greatest additions to civilization since the blender. The less time you have to spend in the kitchen in the summer, the better, and that includes chopping and dicing time. Most grocery stores now carry pre-assembled entrees such as chicken kiev and skewers of shish kebab vegetables. Wok and grilling vegetables come pre-bagged as well. Don’t forget about canned tuna, salmon and chicken, which are cooked and ready to use. A word of caution with pre-bagged produce: even if the bag says the contents have been washed, be sure to rinse everything before using.
Tuna Pasta Salad
1 cup light mayonnaise
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dill weed
12 ½ ounces tuna in water flaked and drained
1 cup shell pasta cooked and drained
1 cup frozen peas thawed
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped red onion
First, make the dressing by combining first 3 ingredients in a small bowl; stir well and set aside. Combine remaining ingredients in a serving bowl and stir in dressing. Chill. Yield: 4 servings