Summer is the hardest season of the year for me to find time to make dinner. During the school year I can usually find a way to squeeze in at least 30 minutes for me to make our nightly meal. But when summer hits, I'm equally relieved by the break from our school schedule and enticed by the warm weather and summer activities. This summer especially I've found myself shocked by how quickly supper time has arrived and caught me scrambling to find something ultra-quick, tasty, and filling for dinner. I've found a few planning strategies and mealtime tips that I'd like to share with you in case you're finding yourself similarly strapped at suppertime.
#1. Dear BBQ, I love you.
What's not to love? All the cooking heat stays outside, it heats up in a jiffy, and it's infinitely versatile. Most of my summer cooking is done on the grill. One tip that really helps me make fast dinners is to grill a large quantity of chicken breasts at the beginning of the week, serve a couple for dinner that night and then refrigerate the others. Leftover grilled chicken breast is a godsend. I usually slice it thin and put it in a wrap or panini, or cube it and toss it in a green or grain salad.
Leftover grilled chicken makes this zesty brown rice salad a satisfying meal for lunch or dinner.
My other favorite thing to cook on the grill during summer is pizza and flatbread. Our Friday pizza night is an al fresco affair during the summer. I use my usual pizza recipe, but instead of cooking it in the oven, I put it straight onto the grill and cook it outdoors. The method takes a little getting used to and I burned several pizza crusts trying to get it right. But now, I can't imagine cooking summertime pizza any other way. I also try to keep a batch of whole-grain dough from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day stocked in my fridge. I stretch it flat, grill it and top it various compound butters. A hot, chewy piece of garlic butter flat bread alongside a fresh green salad is one of my all-time favorite summer meals.
Chopped Greek salad with greens from our garden and grilled flat bread. Notice some of the aforementioned leftover grilled chicken starring in this meal, too.
#2. Keep the pantry stocked with quick-cooking grains
I’ve found that boxes of various whole grain pastas, couscous, bulger and quinoa can be a great jumping off point when I’m deciding what to make for dinner. Each of them cooks in under 10 minutes and is easy to pair with whatever I have in my fridge or garden. On the days that I cook brown rice I’ll cook twice as much as I need. The extra rice goes into the fridge and is ready when I need it to become part of a last-minute stir-fry or grain salad.
Whole grain linguine and quick cooking shrimp got this delicious dinner of shrimp scampi on the table in less than 15 minutes.
Thank you, extra refrigerated brown rice, for getting these Thai lettuce cups on the table in a record 12 minutes. Yep, I timed it.
#3. Keep the fridge and freezer stocked with quick-cooking proteins and meal making breads
If you opened my freezer today you would find it loaded with chicken sausages, turkey burgers, chicken breast, salmon, tilapia, cod, and bacon. Nearly all of these proteins can be cooked in about 10 minutes and that makes them perfect for my summertime schedule. I’ve also found that having artisan loaves of bread and whole-grain buns in my freezer can help me instantly pull dinner together.
This tasty loaf of artisan bread came from Anjou Bakery in Cashmere, WA and was the star of our meal. My kids polished the entire loaf off by dipping it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
#4. Breakfast for dinner? Yes, please.
This summer has been a scorcher and when the heat spikes up, my appetite cools down. Those are the days when I’ll try a simple, light breakfast dish and some fruit for a refreshing dinner. Sometimes its waffles with strawberries, other times its skillet potatoes and sunny-side up eggs. In our family, everyone is an early riser and we all wake up hungry. That means that breakfast time is usually kept simple, but breakfast for dinner time is a great opportunity to try enticing new recipes and enjoy perfectly ripe summer fruit in all its glory.
Almond cornmeal pancakes with sweet, juicy summer raspberries.
Hopefully some of these tips can help you get a simple, delicious meal on the table without taking time away from all your summer fun.