Wednesday, June 7, 2017

10 Best Ideas for Summer Meal Planning

Last night was one of those nights that you wonder as a parent, how you are ever going to get it done. My kids are out of school so the summer activities have started, but it was the last week of May and so the spring activities are just finishing up. 

I fed the kids yesterday at 3 before we started dragging everyone around to all our commitments and we ended up back at home at 7:30 with dinner needing to be made and a whole lot of people that needed to get ready for bed right after that. 

I feel like meal planning in the summer is a lot different that during the rest of the year. Schedules are one reason, but another is also the weather and how much you don't want to heat up your kitchen and how nice it is to be able to cook outside. And one of the very best reasons to change up your meal planning is to take advantage of all the fresh summer produce. Not just what is going to be on sale (and in season) at your local grocery store, but at farmer's markets and from your own (or your neighbors' gardens)

1. Make a Flexible Meal Plan - Instead of planning what you will eat each night, plan 4 or 5 different meals that you can have any night of the week. 

2. It Doesn't Always Have to Be a Meal - last night we had sliced apples, bowls of cottage cheese, cherry tomatoes, hummus with carrots, celery and pita bread. Nope it wasn't a meal that anybody made, but we sat around our table and nobody left hungry - that's a win. 

3. Don't forget Breakfast - Breakfast for dinner is a meal planner's dream, but don't just let it be a busy school night thing. Whole Grain pancakes, Eggs on toast, or a quick frittata can be a dinner time saver. 

4. Use Your Pantry - I am a big fan of having a few meals that you can make entirely with items from your pantry. Spaghetti is one for our family. Chicken and Rice that uses canned chicken is another. I can make each of those in under 15 minutes. 

5. Use Your Farmer's Market - One of my favorite summer time dinners growing up was cucumbers and tomatoes. That was all of it. My mom would slice up 5-6 huge tomatoes from the garden and then just as many cucumbers and put them individual plates and that was dinner. Sometimes she'd add corn if that was at the farm stand as well. Then we'd have peaches for dinner. I loved it! 

6. Use Your Grill - I love grilling because it divides the kitchen duties right in half at our house. (I don't grill, that is Joseph's job). He'll throw hamburgers on the grill and I'll make a pasta salad inside. Or I'll marinade a few chicken breast and some veggies during that day and he'll throw them on the grill when he gets home and I'll set the table. Everything tastes better on the grill and it won't make your house hot. 

7. Make it Salad and Sandwiches Night - I love nights in the fall / winter where you put on a big pot of soup, make some rolls or toast a grilled cheese. Try that same kind of thinking during the summer. Make a big green salad, add as many veggies as you can find and put together a simple sandwich or wrap. It doesn't have to be fancy, tomato sandwiches are my favorite in the summer. 

8. Make a Huge Salad - You can pretty much call anything a "salad" nowadays, but that is the beauty of it. Add some pasta or rice to your greens, or add a cans of beans. Make a pasta salad and add beans and spinach to it. It takes just a minute to mix up a healthy vinaigrette with a mild vinegar, some olive oil and some herbs. Toss veggies into it and a whole grain pasta or some brown rice and you have a one bowl dinner. 

9. Plan to Not Stick to the Plan -  This one is a hard one for me, because I really like things to go as planned, but summer just isn't that way. Baseball games go long, you just don't want to leave the pool or kids beg to play "just a little bit longer". Stay flexible, or plan to be able to be flexible. You'll have much less stress and lots more fun if you know it isn't going to stick to the list. 

10. Make it a Picnic - Everything tastes better outside, don't you think so? Spread out a blanket and take your spaghetti outside. It doesn't have to be sandwiches or fried chicken. I love to take our Peanut Noodles to the park or to the pool, it can stay room temperature or be eaten cold. I like to fill it with carrots and cucumbers during the summer months. I pack it in a big container and pack plastic bowls to serve the kids. 

Summer does look different than the rest of the year, and that doesn't have to be a bad thing. Family mealtime can be just as easy and even more important with everyone going their separate ways. Enjoy the seasonal freshness and cut a watermelon for dessert and eat it outside for good measure.