Whoever said summertime living is easy probably didn’t have kids – or at least wasn’t trying to figure out how to feed them. Meal planning during the regular routine is hard enough, but doing the meal prep to make healthy dinners for your family during your chaotic summer schedule can feel as impossible as getting your kids out of the pool.
Whether you’re too busy running from swim lessons to day camp to piano practice to plan a proper meal or the relentless heat has wilted your will to cook, these four simple summer dinners can help. Not only do they require very little (or no) slaving over at hot stove, but they’re also fun enough that your kids may even pitch in to put them together. Use them to help you chill out a little this summer – and be sure to check out HelloJoey’s “Meal Planning – What’s on the Menu?” kit for great ideas on how to bring your family to the table in any season.
Simple Summer Meal #1: Waffles for Dinner
When the temperature rises and your kitchen’s way too hot to turn on the stove – don’t! Grab your trusty waffle maker instead. While waffles are generally considered breakfast fare, they’ve recently been turning up as a sidekick for fried chicken on dinner plates everywhere. Of course, fried chicken doesn’t have to part of the deal (since it’s probably too hot to stand over a pan of bubbling oil), and luckily there are a variety of other ways to enjoy savory waffles for dinner:
Top them just like baked potatoes – with cheese, chili, veggies, sour cream, and more.
Make waffle sandwiches, adding meat and cheese between two waffles and throwing the whole thing back into the waffle maker for some squishy, melty deliciousness.
Mix your diced fixings – like ham, cheese, and broccoli or turkey and mushrooms – right into the waffle batter and cook your waffles as you normally would. Instead of syrup, trying topping them with fried eggs.
You can use your favorite waffle batter recipe or pancake/baking mix to prepare your waffles – even if includes a little sugar. Any sweetness will only add to the deliciousness – and your kids’ delight – of this clever and easy summer dinner concoction.
Simple Summer Meal #2: Veggie Boats
Set sail for a dinner adventure with adorable and easy-to-make veggie boats that may even get your picky eater “going green.” This dish will work with a wide variety of vegetables – from zucchini, summer squash, celery, and cucumbers to mushrooms, radishes, tomatoes, sweet mini peppers, and lettuce leaves. You can even include a couple of avocados for a little healthy fat – or a few boiled eggs for a protein boost.
For your boat filling, sauté a pound of ground meat of your choice and add any diced vegetables your kids will eat (carrots, peppers, onions, mushrooms, peas, corn) into the pan, sautéing until the vegetables are cooked but still fairly crunchy. Stir in 4 ounces of cream cheese and ½ cup of sour cream, season the mixture (taco, spaghetti, or ranch seasoning are all great options), and cook until it’s thick and creamy, adding more sour cream if needed.
To turn your vegetables into boats, slice squash or cucumbers lengthwise and hollow out a shallow channel in the middle, remove the stems from the mushrooms, trim and hollow the radishes or tomatoes, or halve and deseed the peppers. Boiled eggs, avocados, lettuce leaves, and celery are already natural boats – so just clean and cut them as needed. If your kids prefer veggies like peppers and mushrooms to be cooked, you can sauté or grill them before use.
Make your boats by spooning the creamy meat-and-veggie mixture into the vegetables, and top them with “sails” made from cut triangles of firm cheese – or create masts from thin zucchini ribbons speared on toothpicks. Serve them on a “green sea” of broccoli mash or an ocean of blue mashed potatoes, and watch these yummy veggies boats disappear down the hatch.
Simple Summer Meal #3: Sunny Day Sundaes
Next time the sun zaps your appetites and you’re looking for a light and refreshing summer meal, indulge your kids with this healthy twist on ice cream for dinner. Start with 4 cups of fruit – which is about a quart of berries, six bananas or peaches, or roughly two 10-ounce bags of frozen fruit. If you’re working with fresh fruit, slice it if needed, and freeze it on a cookie sheet. You’ll also need 1 cup of your family’s favorite yogurt (use Greek for extra protein – and remember, the higher the fat, the creamier the “ice cream”), along with 3 Tablespoons of sugar.
To make 4 cups of “ice cream,” combine the frozen fruit (slightly defrosted if needed), yogurt, and sugar in a food processor or blender, and blend for 2 to 4 minutes until creamy. Serve it in decorative ice cream dishes and let your kids top it with heart-healthy nuts, rolled oats, granola, flaked coconut, chopped fresh or dried fruit, crushed graham crackers or peanut butter sandwich crackers, rice krispies or another healthy cereal like shredded wheat – and ta-da! Dinner is done.
Simple Summer Meal #4: Burrito in a Bag
This take on everyone’s favorite Frito Pie mixes thing up – literally! Start with single-serving size bags of your family’s favorite salty snacks, allotting one bag for each member of your family. While Fritos work, you can get creative and use potato or tortilla chips, pretzels, veggie sticks, sun chips, pop chips, mini rice cakes, or even lentil curls. You’ll also need a pound of meat like cooked ground chicken or diced ham (or deli meat), an 8 ounce package of shredded cheese or melted nacho cheese dip, a can of refried or black beans, salsa or diced tomatoes, sour cream, sliced black olives, and chopped green onions.
Arrange all of your ingredients in a buffet line, and give each family member their selected single-size snack bag. (Depending on the size and fullness of your bags, you may want to remove some of the snacks in each bag to make room for your fixings.) Then, let everyone walk through the line, spooning the ingredients they want right into the bag, one on top of the other, until they’ve created their own burrito in a bag. Holding the top of your bags firmly, give them a gentle shake to mix up the ingredients inside – then grab forks, and chow down right from the bag!
Of course we want our kids to eat healthfully – but we also want them to develop healthy relationships with food. According to registered dietician Carol Danaher of the Ellen Satter Institute, there are no rules about which foods you can and cannot serve your family – as long as everyone gets the same thing. The Satter Institute does suggest you follow the USDA MY Plate Initiative guidelines and fill half your plate with veggies and fruit and the other half with grains and protein, but you won’t ruin your kids forever if you serve Burritos in a Bag on a hot summer night. Just reinforce those healthy eating habits with a fruit-filled breakfast in the morning.
Want to learn more about “Meal Planning – What’s on the Menu?” Start your path to a solid parenting foundation in just 10 minutes a day. Check out the HelloJoey app.