Things are always heating up in the summer, but that doesn’t mean your kitchen has to! While winter calls for warm hearty meals, summer calls for light and fresh — not to mention easy.
To ease the dinner and meal rush, take advantage of slower days when you have time to grill or smoke food while the iron’s hot and the chef’s handy.
A good place to start are summer salads. Anything from a traditional green salad, a bound salad (which covers your creamy base salads like chicken or tuna) and lastly pasta salad.
Traditional green salads get a huge upgrade in summer, making them slide over from a side to the main event.
If you’re a salad lover, treat yourself and prepare by stocking up your favorite add-ons.
Sunflower seeds, pepitas, pecans and other nuts and seeds are great to have on hand for some crunch and flavor as well as your favorite dressing.
You could also keep the simple ingredients for your own dressing and shake together every few days to have on hand.
From there, be mindful to throw extra helpings of protein and veggies on the grill or in the oven at times when you’re already cooking.
Leftover flank steak is sure to take your salad up a notch, as well as leftover salmon or shrimp. Petite crab cake anyone? Shave off some corn on the cob or dice up some green beans.
Don’t forget about fresh fruit — strawberries, blackberries and even watermelon can all add an unexpected but delightful summer flavor!
For a filling component, try lentils, quinoa, hemp hearts and other grains.
Deconstruct your leftover kabobs right onto your salad.
With the right prep work and endless combinations, you won’t have to worry about your lettuce being wilted and forgotten!
Bound salads are also an easy thing to whip up for meals on the go, or meals after the go.
Enjoy your chicken freshly cooked the first day, but cook some extra to cube or shred for salad.
Picked out the rest of your crab bushel from the weekend? Savor every yummy and pricey morsel by making it into a salad. (Don’t have a huge amount left? Combine with some shrimp for a seafood salad!)
Boil some eggs in the cool morning to have a salad ready to go for lunch, making a few extra to slice onto a green salad another day.
To serve your salad, think outside the bun and use large Romaine, Iceberg or Butter lettuces as a wrap.
For a crunchy base, halve some larger size cucumbers and make a boat for your salad or make it more into a snack and serve with crackers.
You can still shop in the bread aisle of course, but reach for something other than sliced white bread.
Tortilla wraps come in flavors these days like spinach herb or sun-dried tomatoes, and pitas, thin sandwich breads or naan bread can all offer a new twist. A quick trip to the farmers market could turn up a lovely crusty bread that can steal the show!
Pasta salads and tortellini dishes are another dish often thought of as a side, but there’s no reason they can’t be a meal.
Go light with crunchy raw veggies like peppers and tomatoes or make it feel more hearty by mixing in grilled leftovers.
Mushrooms, peppers, squash, asparagus and other veggies can take pasta to the next level. Slice up some leftover brats, sausages or salmon to stir in.
Fancy cheese such as feta and mozzarella elevate the flavors too.
If you are an early riser, boil the noodles while you run around filling the pool bag, mix it up and let it all marinate so there is dinner ready when you get home (and unload the pool bag!)
While those three salad staples can surely get you a lot of quick and cool meals, it doesn’t end there.
Play with your food a bit, working with what you have on hand.
Extra meat and veggies can easily become a quiche or quick omelet for breakfast — or even dinner!
Keep flatbreads and sauce on hand to make some quick and fun pizzas to throw in the oven or on the grill.
Heck, you can even throw some asparagus or squash with fancy cheese on a frozen pizza to dress it up!
Eat pork shoulder freshly smoked, then make it into carnitas or barbecue sandwiches.
Make winter’s heavy grilled cheese a lighter one with brie cheese and fresh berries, served with a salad instead of soup.
Plug in your griddle outside and make them on your picnic table if you don’t feel like turning on the oven.
Nights when you just need a little something, mix some high protein yogurt with some fresh berries, honey and granola.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to use some cheats either.
Crock pots work perfectly to set it and forget it in the warm seasons too, while the microwave you typically shun might be fine for cooking your rice or pasta while you fiddle around outside.
Summer is full of fun and flavor, and you don’t want to be cooped up in the kitchen during it!