If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know I am a big fan of spending some time on advance preparation to make healthy and delicious weekday meals and to make clean up easier. Usually, when we think of cooking ahead, soups, stews, and casseroles come to mind, but typically that is not food most of us would want to eat on hot summer days. Now that we are well into the summer heat, many people want to spend as much time outdoors and as little time in the kitchen as possible. Of course, we still need to eat healthy balanced meals, so how can we put all that together?
Once again, for me the key is choosing cook ahead options, but with a summer flair! When I was growing up, our house did not have air conditioning and on those hottest summer days our Mom would announce in the morning, “Tonight we are having ‘cold supper’!” These meals were not less work for my Mom, but it was time spent chopping rather than time spent using a hot stove or oven that would heat up the house even more. I always loved “cold supper” because we got some great salads that Mom made like tomato and cucumber salad, homemade coleslaw, marinated green and yellow beans, potato salad and our favourite Italian cold cuts or cold roasted chicken from the grocery store. The store-bought chicken was a rare occurrence because our Mom usually made everything from scratch. It was all delicious and there was lots of variety in those meals!
In my own kitchen, I’ve used the memory of those dinners to keep cooking easy in the summer and always have cold salads and fresh marinated veggies on hand to make quick and easy meals. Planning ahead also takes the guesswork out of what you are going to make and also ensures that you have a healthy meal on hand. Each week, I spend an hour or two making either a rice, pasta, couscous or potato salad and then prepare some fresh beans to marinate, or Mom’s tomato and cucumber salad, or some grilled asparagus or zucchini. Then, throw a quick marinade on your favourite protein and grill away! I usually make enough of the salads and side dishes for four days worth of meals and we usually add a fresh green salad too.
As an example, here is how my 4 nights of summer cook ahead options looked when I made a rice salad, coleslaw, and marinated green beans a couple of weeks ago:
Day 1: Make the Rice Salad, coleslaw and green beans and have it with a burger
Day 2: Grilled chicken, rice salad, coleslaw, green beans (and a green salad, if you like)
Day 3: Grilled fish, rice salad, coleslaw, green beans (and a green salad)
Day 4: Grilled steak, rice salad, coleslaw, green beans (and I always add sauteed mushrooms with steak! It’s worth the extra few minutes of effort…)
Some skeptics might think this is a bit repetitive, but when you vary the protein, everything tastes different – and you’ll be so happy with the ease of not having to build an entire meal from scratch, while still getting to eat a great meal. Once you have all the sides decided on and prepared, it takes very little thinking or time to add the meat, chicken, or fish to complete the meal, which reduces the stress of the question…”What are we having tonight?”
At the end of day 1, put all of your pre-prepared salads and side dishes in containers and you’ll be so happy on day 2, 3, and 4 when all you have to do is pull out those containers from the fridge and grill your favourite protein! (Maybe it’s tofu for vegetarians or vegans!).
If you follow this plan, your prep and clean up will be a breeze. You can also follow this plan when entertaining large groups. Get as much done ahead of time as you can and all that will be left to do is the grilling and socializing!
In summary, here are my tips for easy summer cooking and eating:
- Fill your freezer with a variety of meats – buy what’s on sale in large quantities and bag them in freezer bags in smaller portions for easy use
- Marinate your beef, poultry, fish, pork, or lamb ahead of time with your favourite flavours and put the portions and marinade in a freezer bag for later use. (This saves time and clean up on the night you cook)
- Choose either a rice, pasta, couscous, or potato salad and make enough for about 4 nights to keep your weekday prep and clean up simple
- Decide on a vegetable side dish that can also be made ahead to complete the meal (my favourites are steamed marinated green beans, grilled asparagus, grilled zucchini and tomato/cucumber salad)
- Add a green salad to any meal for some variety, leafy greens and extra veggies
- For desserts: keep ice-cream, frozen yogurt and individual sponge cakes on hand. Top them with seasonal fruit, caramel or chocolate sauce and/or whipped cream. These are minimal prep, delicious and fresh tasting options
I’ll be featuring my make-ahead salad and side dish recipes for the next few weeks, so be sure to check back to get the recipes…Lemon couscous salad will be the next recipe! It’s yummy! Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave a comment with your tips for summer cooking, eating and entertaining! I’d love to hear your ideas.