Cool Meal Ideas for Hot Days
By Emily McClements, Contributing Writer
It’s 90 degrees outside and the last thing that’s on your mind is cooking, much less turning on the oven! As summer kicks in full time, I find myself less and less motivated to spend time cooking, and working, in the kitchen. I’d rather be spending time outside – gardening, going for a walk, playing with my kids, even hanging out the laundry – as long as I get to be outside as much as possible.
But, my family still has to eat. And all of that playing and working outside makes for some very hungry appetites. So, I’ve come up with some ways to feed my family without slaving away in a hot kitchen every evening.
Photo by Rooey202
Make It Ahead
Summer is a great time for things like chicken salad, egg salad, pasta salad and tuna salad that can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge until dinner time. Pasta, chicken, or eggs can all be cooked in the relative coolness of the early morning or evening, thrown together into your favorite salad and then stored away – ready for lunch, a snack or a light dinner.
One of my favorite meals I remember my mom making when I was growing up was simply a fresh ripe tomato cut open like a flower (sliced into wedges, but not cut all the way through), and then filled in the middle with tuna salad. Now I realize, that for my mom, it was the simplicity and ease of that meal that made it one she served often in the summer (and needing to use up tomatoes from the garden!)
Photo by D’Arcy Norman
Use Your Grill
Of course grilling is great in the summer time because it keeps the heat of cooking out of the kitchen, and I also love that it makes after dinner clean up so much easier. Grilling is not just for meat either, you can really cook an entire meal on a grill. Meat as the main dish and a couple sides of grilled veggies is the most common, but I’m excited to try other things on the grill this summer like grilled pizza and grilled fruit.
Our grill also has a burner on one side of it, and although I haven’t used it in this way yet, I have envisioned the possibilities of cooking something on the burner alongside the grilled main dish.
Photo by janineomg
Use The Crock Pot
When you think of the crock pot, you probably think of heavy soups and stews that are more suited for fall and winter, but there a couple reasons I try to use my crock pot at least once a week in the summertime.
First of all, you can plug it in outside, or in the garage, or at least it doesn’t heat up the whole kitchen the way the oven does. And secondly, you can throw in the ingredients in the morning, spend the rest of the day at the beach, and still come home to a home cooked meal.
Photo by Maggie Hoffman
No Cook Meals
And then of course, there are lots of meals that you can make without any cooking at all. There are the obvious sandwiches, wraps and salads, that you can find lots of ways to get creative with. But you could also serve your family things like a spread of guacamole, salsa, and hummus dips with crudites, bread, crackers, and cheese to dip into them, chilled soups, or other types of no cook appetizers.
With a little creativity and planning ahead, you can make great, tasty, and easy summertime meals from real food while still keeping your house, and yourself, cool and comfortable.
Our most common summertime “meal” is grilled veggie sanwiches. We just brush our vegetables (peppers, zuchinni, mushrooms,onions) with olive oil and grill for a couple of minutes. We then place bread with butter and garlic side down on the grill and assemble with pesto, avacado or our favorite sauce. DELICIOUS! Herb breads are a great choice! 🙂
@Jennifer, That sounds delicious! I’ll definitely be trying that!
@Jennifer, That does sound awesome Jennifer – thanks for sharing!
@Jennifer, We’ve been making those a lot lately, too! 🙂 We like to add some balsamic vinegar, along with the oil on the vegetables. Yummy! Sometimes will add a bit of feta or mozzarella to the sandwiches, too.
We just cannot seem to escape 100+ degree days, so we definitely have been trying to figure out how to keep the kitchen cool these days. My husband, thankfully, grills quite often, and we’ll fix up a big batch of burgers or some other kind of meat and sort of batch grill them so we use that as cooked meat throughout the week. Even though I’m not normally a salad-y kind of person, I’ve been doing lots of those lately, too!
Great ideas! I love the suggestion to plug the crockpot outside if necessary. Why didn’t I think of that? 🙂 Thanks!
I love the idea of the cut up tomato filled with tuna! What a fabulous idea 🙂 We make lots of salads and grill out a lot, too. One of our family’s favorite dishes is to grill chicken and to top it with a home-made salsa that I purchase at the local farmers market. I squeeze a little lime juice on top and we have a salad and some tortilla chips and salsa on the side. It’s delicious and requires no cooking in the house; plus, our kids LOVE it, too!
I like to make “baked” potatoes in the crock pot. You scrub and wash them and poke a few holes in them just like for the oven and just toss them in the crock pot on low all day or on high for about 4 hours. I also make baked sweet potatoes this way. Yum yum! Throw a salad together and you have a nice meatless meal or make some chili to put on the potatoes.
I Have been batch cooking, and if I’m organised enough I can throw a couple of trays of chicken pieces in the oven when I’m up early with the kids, it warms the house a little when it is usually a little chilly anyway and I don’t have to spend so long cooking when it’s so warm late afternoon. I’ve also found using the George forman grilling machine doesn’t heat the kitchen in the same way our gas oven or grill does.
That’s a great idea to use the George Forman grill, Rachel! We have one, but it doesn’t see a lot of regular use. Thanks for the idea!
Oh the need for cool dinners had definitely plagued me as of late as we’ve been wanting to go on picnics with friends and family quite often. Those sound like great ideas!
The crock pot is definitely my friend. We too have been having temps 100 + I love that I can put a roast in there and then eat if for days. Just slice and eat with salads.
Great post!! Great ideas! How wonderful it is to read this as summer is just beginning here…thank you for sharing this post Stephanie. Wonderful inspiration Emily. 🙂
I love the ideas!
I never thought to grill fruits.
I also like the idea of making wraps.
Oh, that picture! My kids have been begging me for grilled peaches, but the freestones aren’t ready yet around here.
That layered salad is beautiful. I think I can pull that off in my own kitchen!
We had popcorn and smoothies for dinner last night 🙂
@Whopper, That’s one of our favorite simple dinners, too!
I’d love to make the Southwestern Saad pictured above.
Could you provide the ingredients for each layer?
@Erin, Unfortunately, I think the picture is just an image from another photographer (we often use photos that are free for use from other photographers), so I’m not sure that any of us know that particular recipe. But I do know that layered salad recipes are pretty easy to find on the web, so you may be able to find something similar.
Here it is! If you click on the photographer’s name above the picture, you’ll be taken to her Flickr page, where she’s linked to her blog post with the recipe. 🙂
The grill, and lots of fresh veggies are key to keeping the house cool.
We do a lot of “cold” food like Greek Salad with grilled chicken on top. I love the slow cooker for “lazy chicken” like BBQ chicken sandwiches or shredded taco meat. I also do a lot of cook-ahead pasta salads and other dishes I can prepare in the morning so they’re ready when we come in from a busy day or the pool.
I noticed at the top of the page is a pic of what looks like peaches cut in half on a grill. the pits removed. it also looks like something is put in the middle were the pits were, what was there
I love all of these ideas! I like to use my rice cooker as well. I’ll throw rice or quinoa in it with chicken broth, herbs and some cut up chicken thighs (maybe some sauteed onions and peppers if I feel like standing over a burner for a few minutes), and I have a one pot meal ready in minutes. We’ll eat it warm or chilled, tossed with fresh vegetables (or throw some in during the last minutes of cooking) or over a green salad. My personal favorite is a combination of chicken and artichoke hearts with Greek seasonings lots of lemon.