Written by Jenn D, Contributing Writer
Here in the Midwest, summer took its sweet time in coming. But we are now fully in the midst of it and I am loving the long days, slower pace, spontaneous day trips, and outdoor adventures.
However, all of this frolicking about means that our usual rhythms have been a bit thrown; dinner, which usually began at 5:30 sharp, now happens…whenever. Meal planning has lately amounted to me checking the pantry in the morning and mentally piecing some randomness together for that evening.
While I usually meal plan for the sake of my sanity and budget, summer seems to bring permission to take a more laid-back approach.
I’m also basking in the flexibility that a backyard garden affords (No dinner plan? Off to the garden to pick a salad!) and the freedom that comes from serving a platter of healthy snacks for dinner.
When summer ends, we’ll get back into more set routines. For now, it feels good to plan less, embrace spontaneity (even if it messes with the dinner hour), and enjoy summer’s bounty of fresh produce.
Here are some simple favorites from my home. Nothing revolutionary, just easy some ideas to make meal prep less daunting on those lazy summer days.
Poolside Picnic Lunch
A staple for days at the pool with the kids, I try to pack easy favorites:
- Peanut Butter and raw honey sandwiches :: Using homemade bread would be great, but lately we’ve been spreading ours on these Ezekiel sprouted tortillas.
- Medley of berries, melons, and/or carrot sticks
- Homemade trail mix :: Raisins, almonds, and chocolate chips
- Smoothies :: I leave these in a small cooler in the car so the kids have a cold drink to enjoy/spill on the ride home. Half of our fam is currently dairy-free, so we’ve been enjoying water kefir, mango, banana, blueberry smoothies with a couple heaping tablespoons of coconut oil. When we’re doing dairy, I’ll make strawberry/banana/orange/yogurt ones or a green smoothie.
Backyard Cookout with Friends
Anything that’s not cooked in the kitchen automatically feels like less work to me. Thank you, grill. Make the potato salad earlier in the day and when dinner rolls around, you won’t have cook inside at all.
- Grilled chicken thighs :: In my pursuit of serving real food on a budget, I’ll often make frugal choices like chicken thighs instead of breasts.
- Less-Dressed Potato Salad*
- Grilled Corn on the Cob :: To grill the corn, pull back the husks and remove the silk. Then, soak it in water for about 15 minutes. Dry and brush with olive oil or butter, rub with salt and pepper. Replace the rusks and grill until the corn is soft, about 15 minutes.
- Homemade Popsicles
*Less-Dressed Potato Salad (adapted from the Vegan Planet cookbook)
Ingredients: 1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes, 1/2 t dried fennel, 1/4 cup olives (the recipe calls for niçoise; I generally end up using Kalamata), 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 T lemon juice, 1 t Dijon mustard, 1 minced shallot, sea salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Boil potatoes, then chop them into small chunks. Put them in a bowl and add the fennel, chives, and olives. In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, shallot, and salt and pepper. Pour this mixture over the potatoes and gently stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary (I often add a little more salt). Serve right away or fridge until ready to serve.
Ode to the Salad
My (yummy!) basic salad recipe is as follows:
- Greens (either spinach or mixed)
- A soft cheese (crumbled goat cheese, blue cheese, feta, etc.)
- Caramelized nuts* (almonds, walnuts, or pecans)
- A fruit (apples, blueberries, strawberries, or oranges work well)
- A meat (grilled chicken is my go-to, but steak sounds wonderful too)
- Tossed in a vinaigrette**
For example: A grilled chicken and apple salad over mixed greens with goat cheese and caramelized almonds in a raspberry vinaigrette.
*To caramelize nuts, melt 3ishT of butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add a couple T of organic sugar (or Sucanat, Rapadura, etc.). Add some chopped nuts and stir continuously until the sugar has melted and the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat and continue stirring until cool.
**The simplest homemade vinaigrette ever: extra virgin olive oil + balsamic vinegar + some sea salt and a bit of pepper.
- Or try this easy cilantro-lime dressing!
Snacks for Dinner
In my book, if the snacks are healthy and come from a variety of food groups, they totally count as a meal. Put them on a platter and make it a family movie night.
- Homemade Popcorn :: I get organic popping corn from Azure Standard and pop it in coconut oil, then add some sea salt. When I’m feeling wild, I’ll add rosemary.
- Apple Slices and Peanut Butter
- Cheese :: My current favorite is a smoked cheddar goat cheese I get from Azure.
Breakfast for Dinner
Another lovely deviation from the norm, I just love breakfast for dinner.
- Fried egg sandwiches with cheese and turkey bacon :: These sandwiches have long been a favorite. Toss some sautéed tomato and onion on the egg, cheese, and bacon and you’ve got your veggies covered, too.