Who can imagine summer without summer food?
Steaming corn-on-the-cob, each kernel bursting with sweet flavor.
Burgers and barbecue. Ice cream sundaes.
The crisp red smile of a watermelon wedge, dripping with sweet juice.
There's a darker side to summer meals. Food budgets groan under the strain of substituting quick-cook steaks and chicken breasts for thrifty stove-top casseroles.
Ravenous children make the refrigerator door thump-thump-thump like a dog's tail. Catch-as-catch-can mealtimes, eaten on the run, substitute convenience for nutritional value.
What's a summer cook to do?
With creative meal planning strategies, summer doesn't have to bust the food budget, toss nutrition to the winds, or reduce the family chef to a melted, quivering puddle reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the West. Try these suggestions for simpler, cooler, more nutritious summer meals.
Plan your work and work your plan
Basic menu planning is useful in every season. Don't know how? Simple. Start with the weekly food sections and a half-hour of time (coffee optional). On a 3-by-5 index card, turned longways, note your supermarket's weekly specials.
Flip the card over, and list each day of the coming week. Take a moment and think about your calendar. No sense planning an elaborate gourmet meal when it's your day to work Cub Scout Day Camp!
Using the week's specials, match simple entrees with busy days, more elaborate meals with at-home evenings.
Pencil your choices next to each day, and go about your shopping—but don't finalize your menu plan until you get home. Who knows when the Great Grocery Gurus will send a beautiful bit of salmon or a mega-bargain on boneless chicken breasts your way?
Once home, match the food you bought with the food you've planned, and ink in the coming week's menus. Check pantry and vegetable crisper for salad and side dish components ... and relax!
For a final, sure-fire bit of motivation, post your menu plan prominently on the refrigerator door. Nothing like knowing the family is drooling for tonight's microwaved meatloaf to energize a reluctant cook!
Use everything but the oven
In summer, wedding-gift appliances earn their storage space. A rice steamer makes perfect rice, every time, with no excess heat to fog your kitchen. Spicy chili in the crockery slow-cooker is a super ending to a day at the park.
A pressure cooker can prepare family favorites in a fraction of the time—or kitchen temperature—needed by an oven. Hot bread from an automatic bread machine makes a light summer meal more substantial.
Finally, take a tip from our Southern friends, and cook chickens, roasts, or stews in a portable roaster, outside on the porch!
Make use of the microwave
Everyone knows that you can pop your Orville Redenbacher's in the microwave oven, but did you know that this versatile appliance can bake potatoes, cook a roast, or bake the moistest cake you've ever tasted?
Dig out the recipe book that came with your microwave and try a new technique.
The microwave's speed makes it a natural for summer cooking, and it won't overheat the kitchen—or the cook!