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We have a treat for you today. Our friend Sarah French–who certainly knows her way around a kitchen, posts a breezy, summer menu plan that will keep both you and the heat out of your kitchen. I hope it inspires you. It does me. Because summer cooking…Ugh. Thanks so much Sarah!

I suspect many women have a similar perspective on cooking for their family as I do. When it’s going well – my fridge and pantry are stocked with ingredients, recipes flow from my mind like the waters of the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, people are gobbling up the food I cooked and murmuring their appreciation in between bites – I feel like a Midwest version of Ina Garten and Ree Drummond. In my mind I say, “Let the people nourish their souls and bodies around my graham-cracker crumb-flecked table”. And then there are the other days when I feel like Miss Hannigan in “Annie” telling the orphans, to wild applause, that they will not be having hot mush for dinner, only to be greeted by groans when she informs them they are having cold mush.

Early in my child-rearing years I realized that summer presented a unique set of challenges to overcome in the kitchen (at least for me). Maybe you can identify with some of them.

-It is hot. Who wants to stand over a stove or turn on the oven when it is 90 degrees outside? Granted, I am not a huge fan of air conditioning, but even when we have it on I’m not excited about firing up the oven or igniting a burner.

-Dinner prep time conflicts with neighborhood visiting time. I don’t think I’m all alone in this. I’ve heard other friends reflect that right about the time they go inside to start prepping dinner their neighbors are getting home from work or other activities and are visiting in driveways or over the back fence. It seems awful un-neighborly not to join in the fun, but it also seems like a bad idea to make my family wait till 8pm to eat.

-Many of my “go to” recipes do not sound good in the hot summer months. I love chicken pot pie, skillet dinners, soups, and breads but they do not sound half as appetizing when the sun is blazing bright. As my friend Erika said, “When it’s hot out I might just eat watermelon for dinner”. Too true. In the summer I like fresher, lighter, less bready food.

-Finally, I always think that summer’s relaxed schedule will make grocery shopping easier. I am always very, very wrong. Admittedly, grocery shopping is never one of my favorite domestic duties, but add a few more kids to my entourage, a hot sticky mini-van, and the knowledge that if we weren’t trolling Aldi, Meijer, Costco or Kroger we could be swimming or riding bikes and you understand why I want to eliminate unnecessary trips by stocking up on things and then using them alot.

Presented with this state of affairs a few years ago, and wanting to be more a Ina/Ree hybrid than a Miss Hannigan harridan, I developed a summer menu of 10 dinners that sounded good, wouldn’t break the bank, and were relatively fast/easy to prepare (or if not fast/easy could be prepped in the morning time). I chose 10 because I thought it would give enough variety (we’d only see each meal every two weeks) while allowing us some flexibility if we wanted to go out, try a new recipe, or my husband wanted to grill.

That system accomplished its goals relatively well. There will still some “downer dinners”, but having a system allowed me to enjoy more summertime fun and I never stared stupidly at the pantry or fridge wondering what to make for dinner. As I head into this summer I am hopeful that Amazon Prime and that Kroger’s new order ahead service might simplify shopping even more.

Without further ado, I present our 2016 Summer Menu. I hope it is a help to you as you plan for summer.

Rice Noodles with Stir Fry Vegetables and Peanut Sauce,9190769&hl=en

I know the link for this looks a bit sketchy. Just scroll down for the peanut sauce recipe – that’s why I sent you there. It’s amazing. You can make the recipe shown there or you can pair the sauce with a package of rice noodles, a package (or two) of stir-fry frozen vegetables, and some chopped and cooked chicken breast (1 lb). If there is leftover peanut sauce use it as a veggie dip.

Falafel Salad/Falafel Pita with Creamy Garlic Dressing

To be honest, I am mainly into this recipe for the creamy garlic dressing. I use a falafel mix rather than making them from scratch and and have no idea where to find pickled cherries in the store. This can be served as a salad or wrapped into pitas.

Barbeque Chicken Sandwiches

Such an easy summer dish! This can be as simple as some hamburger buns, your favorite barbeque sauce, and a couple of rotisserie chickens from the store. Or, it can be more involved as demonstrated by the recipe at the link.

Pizza on the Grill

We’ve watched a lot of “Beat Bobby Flay” the past month so I thought I should give his grilled pizza recipe a shoutout. The recipe says to use a store bought crust but I’m sure Bobby won’t mind if you’d rather use his pizza crust recipe.

And, if the whole thing seems overwhelming you can watch a video of Bobby preparing the recipe.

Grilled Chicken over Salad

There is no link for this because you already know what to do. Marinate some chicken breasts in Italian dressing (Aldi brand does just fine), keep the heat out of your kitchen by grilling the meat outside, bring it in and let it rest a bit, then slice it up and serve it over a salad loaded with your favorite toppings and a tasty dressing. Viola!

Sushi Hand Roll

I know this is not for everyone, but everyone in my family loves sushi and this is a cost effective way to satiate that yearning. Plus, I recently realized I can buy the ingredients in bulk through Amazon. I am trying the hand roll this year rather than a typical roll for practical reasons. My kids eat ALOT of this and I am hoping to fill them up with less work for me. Additionally, I will use fillings you find in a California roll – imitation crab, cucumber and avocado – rather than the suggested (and expensive) smoked salmon and shrimp.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

O my darling, these are good.

Pesto, Pasta, Presto

After a day in the sun at the pool or working in the yard this might be the easiest thing to whip up. Make and freeze the pesto in batches so you are ready to go when time or energy is ebbing.

Ratatouille with Crusty Bread

Like the food critic in the movie “Ratatouille”, I have the memory of a magical preparation of this dish that has never been matched. A college friend brought it to a reunion and I still pine for it. I’m thinking that the surrounding company helped make the dish so memorable. This recipe comes close. It is time intensive so I will do the prep work in the morning before lunch. Serve with a baguette, a little butter and cheese to spread, and enjoy.

Taco Salad

I love this. My friend Bianca introduced me to this dish when I was first married and it is one of my earliest recipe cards. I don’t even feel bad that it has Doritos in it. Everyone needs a little MSG, right?

Other thoughts to make feeding your people easier:

-Eliminate the tsunami of summer dishes. Give your kids a water bottle and show them how to fill it. Encourage them to bring it with them in the car.

-Keep emergency snacks and drinks in the car to avoid going through a drive-thru unnecessarily.

-Teach one of your kids to make a simple breakfast for everyone, or teach each of them to make something different and rotate through the mornings for variety.

-Make up snacks like cookies or energy bars to increase the quality and reduce the expense of summer snacking.

-Consider “closing” your kitchen at certain times. My friend Julie does this so her kitchen stays picked up and her kids aren’t always snacking. It also means they eat hearty at meal and snack time because nothing has taken the edge off their appetite.

Feel free to share other ideas and recipes to simplify the summer kitchen in the comments! This summer may your table overflow with good food and the joy of having friends and family gather around it.

Many blessings,

Sarah French

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