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Ask the Readers: Summer Meal Ideas?


Today’s questions is from Christy:

It’s warming up here in Missouri and I am wondering what kind of meals you make to avoid heating up your house more than it already is. We are trying to avoid using our air conditioner this summer to save money, but every evening when I turn on the oven, the temperature rises. I would love some helpful recipes and tips! -Christy

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  • Vicki Chase says:

    When it’s hot out, I make a crockpot meal and leave the crockpot in the garage so it doesn’t heat up the house. Hope this helps!

  • Jessica says:

    Grilled anything. Anything in the crockpot. Otherwise, quick meals on the stovetop like grilled cheese, omelets, quesidillas, pancakes and stir-fry. Don’t forget cold meal options like sandwiches (flat breads, tortilla rollups), smoothies, salads, fruit + yogurt, cheese + crackers, cereal…

  • Julie says:

    We’re in Missouri, too! A couple things I do are:

    1. Use the outdoor grill. You can do lots of stuff, not just burgers, hot dogs, and brats. We’ve done pizza, chicken breast, chicken legs and thighs, grilled veggies (these are amazing!), skewers, and grilled cheesy potatoes. You can look on Pinterest for more ideas, I’m sure.

    2. Use the crockpot. I’ll put meat in the crockpot and then at dinner time I’ll steam some veggies and cook some rice.

    3. Bake bread in the morning. We like to have some type of bread with about half our meals. I can bake it in the morning while getting breakfast ready and the oven is off by 10:30 a.m. Bake enough to last all week.

    Hope that helps!

    • Julie says:

      Another thing is to use a roaster as an oven and put it in an outside area or garage. If it’ll fit into a 9 x 13 it’ll go in the roaster. Use the temp just like the oven.

      • Tracy says:

        Juli – This is such a neat idea. I have a roaster and decided if I don’t use it this year I am going to have to give it away. What kind of things do you make? I have only done a ham and turkey in mine.

        • Julie says:

          Pretty much anything you would put in the oven you can put in the roaster. Just use it like an oven. You have to be sure you put the rack in the bottom though. You don’t want to put anything directly onto the bottom.

          Any type of bread/muffin, casseroles, chicken breasts, thighs, or legs. Just put the rack down and place your baking pan (muffin tin, loaf pan, 9 x 13, etc) in on top of it.

          My neighbor told me about it. So glad she passed it on.

  • Amy says:

    Someone once recommended using the crockpot in the garage or the back porch, or use the grill.

  • Jen says:

    Grill!! We grill meats and veggies all summer long! Also, I like to get a rotisserie chicken on occasion and then use it to top a big green salad one night, and then in pasta salad the next day (shells, misc chopped veggies/onion, dried cherries or cranberries, pecans, and poppyseed dressing… yummy and good as leftovers too). Also will do tuna/chicken/egg salad sandwiches to bring on a picnic supper at a park some evenings…’s more like lunch food, but the diversion makes it acceptable. 🙂

  • Kim says:

    We try to stick to easier, stove top meals when it warms up. With spring kind of here, if I need to use the oven I just open a few windows to let nature offset the heat.

    We also have a toaster oven. We use that to do a lot of our cooking – not only can it handle enough food for our current family size, it also limits how many cookies I can make at a time.

  • kate says:

    Green salads with all sorts of toppings
    Chicken/tuna/egg salad
    Pasta salad
    Soup – added to any of these, or alone
    Anything cooked outside on the grill
    Anything cooked inside in the crock pot

  • Jen says:

    I recently made meatloaf in my crock pot! It was delicious. I just made my favorite meat loaf mix, put it in a loaf pan and stuck the whole pan into my crock pot. I used the “probe” setting on my $45 crock pot and set it to the desired temp and it switched to keep warm setting. It was perfect and didn’t heat up the house at all!

  • Starla says:

    A love to lightly grill pieces of bone-in chicken (leg quarters, drumsticks, thighs, whatever you have). Season them while grilling with whatever seasonings you prefer.Then put them in the crock-pot, pouring bbq sauce over the meat. Put slices of onion in top if you prefer. I do this in the morning and turn the crock-pot on around lunchtime. Cook on high for one hour then turn back to low for the rest of the afternoon. The meat falls off of the bone and the grilled flavor makes it so yummy.

    You can also baste chicken with the sauce as you grill, and experiment with flavors of sauce for variety. So quick and easy and YUMMY! Serve with rice and a veggie or salad for a complete meal.

  • April says:

    Some of things I do to reduce oven usage from heating up our house in the summer:

    1. Crockpots are great! You can cook a hot meal with a fraction of the heat.
    2. We grill…a lot! Most meats and veggies do great, you can also do fish and potatoes, and we’ve even done breakfast when the power’s gone out!
    3. I’ll make rolls or flat breads instead of loaves of bread. I’m then able to cook them in my toaster oven and not my large oven. I also think this works well for cookies, then I only eat a couple and freeze the rest of the dough.
    4. Solar cookers…we don’t use this a ton since we have a lot of trees, but if you have kids, look up a free plan on-line and make one at home. Then you can experiment with different new reciepes!
    5. Often when I make things like apple chips I’ll plug the dehydrator outside. The constant air from the fan inside keeps the bugs out.
    6. Cook in bulk. If I make rice, I’ll make some for the whole week and put it in the fridge. Then I only heat my house once, but have plenty for quick lunches!

    Hope this helps!

  • Kay says:

    I try to make things that we can reuse a second night in another way. For instance, I regularly grill chicken tossed with olive oil and dry ranch mix for dinner one night with more chicken than we’ll eat. Then I use the refrigerated leftover chicken to make Caesar wraps the next night.

  • Meredith says:

    I also second the crock pot. Amazingly, you can do a lot in there you don’t even realize. Even baked potatoes (which I don’t do that often because they aren’t crispy skins) can be done. Take what you have and do a crock pot recipe search.

    Another good thing to do is think ethnic. Stir fry, tacos, burritos, Indian dishes, Thai, can all be done on the cooktop rather quickly.

    One other thing we do a lot over the summer is to make different grilled sandwiches. If you’ve never checked out “Sandwich King” on FoodTV, you need to check out some of his recipes. You can make anything into a sandwich. Put it on bread and voila. If you have a griddle you can make many at once.

  • Elise says:

    One of our favorite summer meals is salad with meat, boiled eggs, cheese, and whatever other goodies you come up with. Very satisfying, and easy to eat when you’re over warm.

    Another great idea is to use your bread machine, or a toaster oven in your garage or on the porch for making sandwich bread.

  • I still use my crock pot in the summer. I just put it outside on the porch to cook. I have 35 Crock Pot Freezer meals that I put togther and dinner is done!

  • Heidi says:

    Cook your pasta in the morning and chill it. There are 101 different cold pasta salads. Add chopped veggies, meat, cheese and/or boiled eggs and you have a complete meal.

  • Dianna says:

    Our favorite summer meal is sliced tomatoes and mozzarella marinated in dressing, eaten with French bread (from the bakery, of course).

    I also keep a pinterest board of recipes that sound good for summer. It’s a great resource when it start to heat up outside.

    Here’s my board:

  • jennifer says:

    We grill 4-5 times a week in the summer. For sides we do salads, fruit, grilled veggies or cooked veggies (brocolli, glazed carrots, corn, etc.) I love summer because of the simple meals! For us grilling is quick and easy and keeps the kitchen cool.

  • Patricia says:

    Sometimes it is even too hot to stand in front of a hot grill. I like to grill extras when cooking out. If grilling chicken double or triple the amount & you can use it on salads or pita sandwiches.

  • Margery H. says:

    Well, I live in sultry hot-Lanta (Atlanta) so I understand wanting to keep the kitchen cool. It’s so hot that we can’t turn off the A/C, but we can’t afford to run it full-blast either.

    *Grill up a bunch of chicken or other meat on the weekend.
    *Use above grilled meat hot for one meal, on salads for another meal, and in wraps for a third meal. (You can get really creative with this!)
    *Eat lots of salads and smoothies!
    *Put the crockpot on the back deck if you want to cook a whole chicken, a pot roast, or a big ole pot of pork BBQ – which in the south means cooked meat with BBQ sauce on it.
    *Do quick stovetop cooking for other meals, such as quesadillas, ham steaks, etc.

    I should clarify that here in the South we GRILL rather than BBQ for outdoor cooking. We call BBQ a kind of seasoning/flavoring, usually applied to pork!

    • Christy says:

      Charleston, SC here. When I read this post, I had to chuckle to myself a little at the thought of not turning the a/c on all summer–no way, that would happen here! Loving the food tips though!

  • Mel says:

    We live in IL and my husband and teenage daughter use the presto pizzazz pizza cooker to cook or reheat almost everything. We make roasted marshmallows, egg rolls, chicken strips, french fries, poppers, mozz sticks, totinos pizza rolls, and even cook a few cookies. I wash that tray every day. I am taking it with me this weekend for the post prom snack table. I am making hot dogs on it, I will not serve crock pot hot dogs that even I wouldn’t eat.

  • Kelly says:

    My mom would make a “cold plate dinner” once a week during the summer months. It includes any number of the following items
    A scoop of tuna, ham or chicken salad
    sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and celery
    deviled eggs
    fresh fruit
    fruit salad, pasta salad, or potato salad

    Another fun idea: A couple of times during the summer we would have banana splits for dinner. We would top them with fresh fruit: strawberries, pineapple, kiwi… Always a huge hit and made for great childhood memories.

  • When you do use the oven you can try to make as many things as possible, like throwing some potatoes in to bake, or making a double batch etc… That way when you are using the oven (and heating up the house) at least you’re getting multiple things from it.

  • Meg says:

    If you have a garage or back patio you can set your crockpot out there instead of your house 🙂

    Also, stores sell pizza stones for the grill so you can cook a pizza outside!

  • Terry says:

    Don’t forget that you can use your grill with cast iron pots and pans. I use a cast iron dutch oven on the grill if I want to make a roast of any kind. Also works for baking bread. Cast iron cookware and grill can keep your kitchen cool all summer. You just have to make sure that your temperature is VERY well controlled.

  • I recently made this chicken dish (Cilantro lime grilled chicken with avocado salsa) and it was SO good and summery.

    I like to make grilled dishes, crockpot dishes, or do batch cooking on the weekend so that the house only gets hot one time! I also have to reduce my baking for the summer so the oven isn’t on for such long periods of time.

  • One fast (and incredibly simple) stove-top dish we make is some shape of pasta cooked, some oil olive, seasoning, Parmesan cheese, and some pre-cooked chicken or turkey bits from the freezer. This is a quickie so it doesn’t heat the house too much and really is so easy I can’t call it a recipe. We actually make this lots in the summer and even throw it in the van to take with us to the pool to eat (so we’ll eat it closer to room temperature than hot sometimes). I’m sure you could easily throw in some steamed veggies too although my kids prefer raw veggies.

  • sue says:

    When summer arrives here in Minnesota, I have a rule: “if the air conditioner is on, the oven is not”. I use my grill for most everything, including pizza. Cook batches of rice when it is not to hot and freeze in meal size bags. When you get a cool day bake. Otherwise the treats are no bake bars & waffle maker cookies. You can make everything from breakfast to dessert in your crock pot. Good luck!

  • Raquel Evans says:

    We live in an apartment, so grilling all summer, as many have suggested, is not a good option for us.

    I sometimes put my crock pot in our extra bedroom when I do crock pot meals, as I find that running the crock pot all day in the kitchen will heat up the room as much or more than having the oven on for an hour or so.

    Cold/no cook meal ideas include chef salad (topped with ham and cheese) and tuna or chicken salad (on sandwiches, eaten with crackers, on a green salad, or eaten as wraps).

    Stovetop only entrees include tuna macaroni salad, sushi (just have to cook the rice), several ground beef based meals (stirfry, stroganoff over rice or pasta, spaghetti with meat sauce, etc), grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas. Any of these entrees can be paired with a green salad, fruit salad or sauteed vegetables to round it out without much cooking.

  • Kate says:

    I make pizza quesadillas – cheese & pepperoni in tortillas – and heat up some pizza sauce for dipping. It’s really a mamas-too-tired-to-think-about-feeding-you meal, but my kids think it’s amazing and I’m not telling them how easy it is! 🙂 Quesadillas with bbq sauce, pineapple, chicken & cilantro were also a big hit, even though the kids were skeptical at first. I have also instituted the policy that if the temperature hits 100 degrees, dinner will consist solely of all-you-can-eat popcorn and smoothies.

    • Lindsay says:

      If we lived by this rule in Oklahoma we would be eating smoothies and popcorn for 2-3 months straight 🙁

      • Kate says:

        Oh dear, that sounds rather unpleasant. I guess you’d have to raise the cut-off mark. 🙁 We’re in central Pennsylvania, where we usually only see 100 one or two days each year.

  • Crystal says:

    Along with grilling and putting the crockpot in the garage or on the porch, I use a toaster over and bake things in that instead of the conventional oven. I put it on my porch or in the garage, too, so it doesn’t heat up my house at all. If you do something like pancakes or grilled cheese, I have even been known to take my electric griddle outside and cook and eat outside so that doesn’t even heat up my house.

  • Bethany says:

    I sometimes do baking and cooking in the evening, when temps are dropping a bit and windows are open. I realize it’s too humid and/or hot for that in some places, but it works for us. I’ll do a bunch of prep work for meals I can make in the coming days with no/minimal cooking – the chicken to throw in a salad, muffins for breakfasts, etc.

  • R Kessler says:

    My favorite way to cook in the summer time is my george forman grill. It cooks meat quickly so it doesn’t use alot of electricity and it doesn’t heat the kitchen up because it isn’t on very long.

  • Rhonda says:

    If I want to cook anything, but don’t want to heat up the house, I use my crock pot like so many others have mentioned. It has been a lifesaver! We also have an electric griddle for doing quick things like breakfasts as well and that gives off minimal heat compared to an oven.

  • Penny says:

    My mother-in-law gave me this toaster oven(Oster TSSTTVXLDG Extra Large Digital Toaster Oven, Stainless Steel) for Christmas 4 years ago. I love it! Not sure where she got mine or how much she paid, but I will say that 4 years later it is still working great! I use it daily year round and during the hot months, here in So Cal, I use it 2 or 3 times a day. It is pretty big, so make sure you have enough counter space to fit it, but I cook, bake and toast everything in it. Cookies, casseroles, pizzas, corn dogs, Eggo waffles, toast, cinnamon rolls, etc. It does not heat up the house at all. Definintely worth the money!

    Here is the link to the one on Amazon, not sure if it is cheaper some where else, but again worth the money!

  • Many Asian meals require only a quick saute on the stove. We like ground turkey lettuce wraps, asian stir fries over (very quick cooking) rice noodles, cold asian noodle salads (but you do have to saute the meat or veggies before chilling and quick soups like Pho.

    No, we are not Asian, but find these to be simple, light, healthy and cheap meals for summer.

  • Sarah says:

    Use the grill! You can grill meat and roast veggies wrapped in tin foil beside at the same time. Or grill chicken for ceasar salad. Stovetop meals like rice and beans don’t heat up the kitchen too much.

  • Jennifer says:

    I’m from St. Louis and I clearly remember how hot Missouri gets. A recipe I like to make in the microwave on hot days, which we never get living in Maine, is to cook a couple packages of Ramen noodles then drain and toss with shredded rotisserie chicken from the deli, add shredded carrot and chopped cilantro. Toss with a few spoonfuls of peanut sauce (I really like Archer Farm’s peanut sauce from Target) and sprinkle with chopped peanuts, if you have them on hand.

    Or, make a baked potato bar and cook the potatoes in the slow cooker, this is good for a beach day:

  • Laura's says:

    We will grill enough meats for a weeks worth of meals all at once on the weekend. I freeze the cooked meats that we aren’t using immediately and pull them out as I need them. Grilled chicken is great for salad, quesadillas, tacos. to toss with pasta and sauce, or eat on a bun as a sandwich. We also grill smoked sausage for a quick jambalaya, sausage and veggies, or on a bun with grilled onions and peppers .

    Having my proteins cooked, makes it easy to pull together a meal with little effort and limited use of the stove.

  • Courtney M says:

    I didn’t see this mentioned above, I like to use my pressure cooker and rice cooker. The pressure cooker is on the stove, and since most things cook super fast, it doesn’t add too much heat, and it doesn’t have to run all day like the slow cooker.

    There are a ton of things that you can cook in the rice cooker besides just rice. Pretty much anything that can be steamed, can be put in the rice cooker. I like to do rice and veggies together.

    I like to cook shredded chicken when it’s cooler and throw it in the freezer. Chopped Chicken works too. Then if it’s super hot we have chopped salad. Clean out the veggies in the fridge, and if wanted add some chicken.

  • Sheri says:

    I have a convection oven in my carport/back porch. I baked bread there until it quit. I agree with the crockpot outside and I have recently acquired the electric roasting pan. I have been testing it inside during the winter. I looks like it will cook anything! I look forward to using it on my back porch. My friend does the solar cooking for six months.

    We also eat cold foods. We enjoying opening up a can of refried beans and making cold burritos with it! I agree with protein shakes, sandwiches, pasta salad, etc… Yeah, sometimes we skip dinner and go straight to dessert. They like that!

  • Tina says:

    My kids love it when I take a pound of browned hamburger, 1 can black beans (rinsed and drained), 1 can corn (drained), 1 can diced tomatoes with juice and taco seasoning and heat it on the stove. We eat it with blue corn chips or on tortillas. The kiddos add sour cream and salsa. Works with cooked and shredded chicken, too.

  • Jennifer H says:

    We like to do a picnic meal once a week or so. If it’s too hot outside, we just spread a blanket on the living room floor. Our picnics typically consist of hummus, cheese cubes, pecans or almonds, a loaf of bread from the bakery so we can just tear off hunks of bread for dipping in the hummus, grapes and/or apple slices, baby carrots and or yellow pepper strips (also for dipping!). Sometimes if I haven’t made it to the bakery, I’ll pop a bag of lite microwave popcorn for the grain – this seems extra special because it’s a SNACK.

  • Christine says:

    I’m looking forward to warmer weather her in Massachusetts!
    So typically i make cool&simple recipes that can be eaten on paper plates at home or on a picnic (less clean up = more play time) but still nutritious:
    -fresh fruit salad w/ quinoa
    -cold platter of pickled veggies, variety of cheeses & summer sausages, crackers, fruit
    -cold platter of chicken, tuna, egg salad in lettuce wraps, side of pasta or fruit salad
    -cold pasta salads w/ veggies, add meat leftover from another meal
    -grilled veggies w/ quinoa
    -grilled chicken: satay w/ peanut sauce or lemonade chix (both freezer friendly), grilled veggies & rice
    -grilled peaches, berries or pears on pound cake w/ ice cream
    -grilled bananas stuffed w/ choc&pb chips totally rocks!
    -fruit salad w/ cool whip dip
    -fruit smoothies for breakfast or add ice cream for a treat

  • Mississippi girl here, so I totally understand this dilemma.

    In addition to the grilling mentioned so many times above, we eat a LOT of brinner (breakfast for dinner) during the hot summer months. Omelets, pancakes, bacon, home fries, French toast, breakfast sandwiches, waffles, homemade hashbrowns, sausage…it’s all cooked in the stove top, and pretty quickly, too.

  • jen keith says:

    i didn’t see this mentioned but i bake my bread in the crockpot. i know, crazy!! i use the artisan bread in five minutes a day website for my instructions. i also make my granola in the crockpot; home with purpose website for instructions. finally, my family’s favorite mac n cheese is made in the crockpot with uncooked! macaroni (love that) – there are recipes all over the web.

  • Jodi says:

    Salads made with couscous or quinoa are quick. We like a Greek or Southwest type, which can be eaten at any temperature.

    Frittatas are quick and easy, and also can be eaten warm or hot.

    My family loves nachos made in the microwave for dinner!

  • Brighid says:

    So many good ideas! I have an extremely basic rice cooker which can’t even be used to make quinoa well but it does do rice and so it can be banished to the deck in the summer too. (We have 2 plugs out there: very handy. My husband thought it was to run the electric power tools. Ha!)

    Another idea that no one’s mentioned: use your waffle maker. And on really hot days, that goes outside too. You can use Jiffy muffin mix, for instance. My kids call them “wuffins” and it’s good when they’re craving something home baked but there’s no way in creation that I’m turning on the oven.

    If it’s possible given your family and finances, consider baking on the remaining cool days that you have and stashing things in the freezer.

    Quick cooking grains like couscous and quinoa are good, especially if you don’t mind cooking a big batch and using them over time. (They freeze too.)

    I have a cast iron circular griddle which my husband uses for making pizza on the grill. I know that others have successfully put the dough right on the grates but that doesn’t work for me. I make a big batch of dough, pat out 12″ circles, put them on parchment paper, and my husband parbakes them first. They come in, toppings are put on and then they go out to be finished. Any unbaked circles can be frozen for a future date.

    Cold fruit soup. Tabbouleh with lots of vegetables and chickpeas. Grilled lamb burgers with yogurt/dill/garlic sauce in pita bread or with rice. And the old standby for tired parents: cereal, fruit and milk.

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