Summer may officially be almost over (tear) but you know this heat isn't going anywhere anytime soon. And because nobody wants to cook when it's blazing hot outside, I've been pulling together some easy dinner ideas (and healthier cool treats, too) that take it easy on the heat.
Think crock pot meals. Beautiful, bulky salads. Anything on the grill. And popsicles. Lots and lots of popsicles. Some ice cold cocktails too...
More of all that is coming up in the next few weeks on the blog... and they're in my new online whole-foods cooking program + 4-week meal plan: Dinner in 10.
This easy dinner idea is one of my regular, go-to's when it's too darn hot to cook. The best part about this one is it's simple as can be. And you can use the same basic recipe and change it up with different ingredients and flavors so even though it's basically the same meal, it tastes totally different.
This is my secret.
Having go-to meals that I can make without needing a recipe is everything. That's the trick for endless easy dinner ideas and being able to cook dinner most nights out of the week, and do it quickly too.
I realize if you're not used to cooking or don't like to do it, the idea of cooking without recipes may sound like a joke. I can tell you it's easier than it sounds though. And it doesn't require any special talent.
Everyone starts from scratch. You learn and get better as you go. And what's the worst that can happen? You burn the rice. Your salmon's over cooked. You light something on fire....
So what. You learn. And you know how to do it better the next time.
I say all this because that's exactly how I got started and learned.
Believe me, I've burnt my share of Everything.
I've set off the smoke alarm more times than I'd like to admit. And set my heart racing when I've opened the oven to find a steak in flames (true story).
I'm no five-star chef. But over the years I've learned (and laughed) along the way. And I'm still figuring it out. I know enough though to make cooking and eating homemade meals all week long pretty painless. And that's all that matters.
Now I watch the same evolution happen in my clients. And the difference it makes for them is inspiring. When they get more comfortable in the kitchen and have a few easy go-to healthy recipes that make cooking so much easier, it's a game changer. And their health follows.
When you don't have to spend hours flipping through recipe books and scrolling Pinterest... or make an extra trip to the store to get X random ingredient that costs $10 and you'll probably never use again.... all to make something that turns out just so-so... you can save serious time, money and stress when it comes to your food.
You can enjoy the process so much more. Create healthy meals to feed your family, that bring everyone together... Even if it is for only a few minutes before someone yells, "I don't yike it!"...
This is what you learn in Dinner in 10.
I believe everyone should know this secret, have these skills, even at the most basic level. Because when you do, you're not only empowered with endless easy dinner ideas... you're more empowered in your health.
There are a few basic strategies and principles for making homemade food simple, easy, nutritious and delicious. They are...
Keep it simple.
Start by implementing the 6-10 ingredient rule and only consider recipes with as few ingredients as possible. Dishes don't have to be super complicated with a long list of what goes in it to taste good. Some of the best dishes you'll ever have, are the simplest. Caprese salad, anyone?... Start there and find some good stand-bys you can use over again. Make them a few times and before you know it, you'll know them by heart. The recipes section on my site is a great place to start.
This is my biggest time saving trick. The weeks I really have it together and everything else in life runs smoother, easier, better, it's usually because I put even just a little bit of prep in. Giving one hour (or whatever you can) at the beginning of the week to get some of the basic tasks done, like washing greens, chopping veggies, can save you HOURS during the week.
Cook once, eat twice.
I remember when I figured this one out it felt like the biggest a-ha (well, duh) moment. I was like, what have I been doing all this time??? This one trick alone has saved me more time, energy, clean up, not to mention more bad takeout, than anything else. It all comes down to working smarter not harder - just like anything else in life. The time you put in in the kitchen is an investment and you want to maximize it as best you can. So I like to say I'm always thinking about my next meal (hello, aren't we all?!) - how much leftovers are we going to have? enough for lunch tomorrow? what can I make extra of so something's already done for tomorrow night's dinner?
Change it up.
I like to say I cook using more of a template than a recipe. I have a handful of template meals that I can change up and customize to turn into a bunch of different meals, but essentially it's the same recipe, just with a few tweaks.
The summer salad here is a perfect example. Try it out using the recipe below as a base and add things (any of the ingredients listed below are fair game), or sub this or that using your own favorite ingredients. Get creative and have fun with it.
Here are just a few ideas of how you could change this recipe up:
- Sub strawberries for peaches or nectarines
- Sub strawberries for raspberries, blackberries or blueberries or mix them!
- Sub strawberries for tomatoes
- Sub radishes for beets and strawberries for watermelon
- Sub radishes for red bell pepper, red onion for green onion, strawberries for corn
You get the idea...I could go on and on. That's the beauty of a summer salad, pretty much anything goes!
I like to think of a good salad as a work of art.
It should be pretty, colorful, and heavy. And the whole is greater the sum of it's parts.
So mess around, try something new... if you like the ingredients separate, for the most part you're gonna like them together. I mean, you may not have thought to put chocolate and bacon together but someone did and now it's a whole thing.
I hope this way of cooking inspires you as much as it has me, and maybe makes it feel less like a chore and more like an adventure... or an art project.
If you like this style and want more, try Dinner in 10.
Summer Strawberry Salad + Simple Salmon
For the salmon:
4 6 oz salmon filets
2 cloves garlic, minced
zest of 1 lemon
1/4-1/2 cup avocado oil
Change it up:
- add fresh chopped herbs like parsley and dill
- add a squirt of dijon mustard and honey
For the salad:
1 bunch spinach
1/2 a cucumber, thinly sliced
3-4 radishes, thinly sliced
about 1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup strawberries, stemmed and quartered
For the dressing:
juice of 1 lemon
2x as much extra-virgin olive oil
1 squirt dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced
For the salad and dressing:
In a salad bowl, layer spinach, cucumber, red onion, strawberries.
To prepare the dressing, in a small bowl combine all ingredients. Whisk to combine.
Drizzle dressing (note: you may not need all of it, just use enough to coat) over salad and toss.
For the salmon:
To prepare the salmon, combine garlic, lemon zest and avocado oil in a bowl. Whisk to combine.
Place salmon filets in a prep dish and coat with marinade. Season with salt and pepper. Let marinate in fridge 30 minutes or longer.
To pan fry: Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp avocado oil and coat pan. Place filets flesh side down and cook 3-4 minutes. Flip and cook another 3-4 minutes depending on desired doneness. To remove from pan slide spatula between flesh and skin to leave the skin behind.
To grill: Heat grill to about 375°. Place filets on grill flesh side down and grill 5 minutes. Flip and grill another 4-5 minutes depending on desired doneness. To remove from pan slide spatula between flesh and skin to leave the skin behind.
To broil: Preheat broiler and make sure oven rack is at least 6 inches from heat source. Place filets skin side down on a foil-lined baking sheet and cook 8-10 minutes to desired doneness. To remove from pan slide spatula between flesh and skin to leave the skin behind.
- 4 6 oz salmon filets
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- zest of 1 lemon
- ¼-1/2 cup avocado oil
- 1 bunch spinach
- ½ a cucumber, thinly sliced
- 3-4 radishes, thinly sliced
- about ¼ of a red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 cup strawberries, stemmed and quartered
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2x as much extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 squirt dijon mustard
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- sea salt
- black pepper
- In a salad bowl, layer spinach, cucumber, red onion, strawberries.
- To prepare the dressing, in a small bowl combine all ingredients. Whisk to combine.
- Drizzle dressing (note: you may not need all of it, just use enough to coat) over salad and toss.
- To prepare the salmon, combine garlic, lemon zest and avocado oil in a bowl. Whisk to combine.
- Place salmon filets in a prep dish and coat with marinade. Season with salt and pepper. Let marinate in fridge 30 minutes or longer.
- To pan fry: Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp avocado oil and coat pan. Place filets flesh side down and cook 3-4 minutes. Flip and cook another 3-4 minutes depending on desired doneness. To remove from pan slide spatula between flesh and skin to leave the skin behind.
- To grill: Heat grill to about 375°. Place filets on grill flesh side down and grill 5 minutes. Flip and grill another 4-5 minutes depending on desired doneness. To remove from pan slide spatula between flesh and skin to leave the skin behind.
- To broil: Preheat broiler and make sure oven rack is at least 6 inches from heat source. Place filets skin side down on a foil-lined baking sheet and cook 8-10 minutes to desired doneness. To remove from pan slide spatula between flesh and skin to leave the skin behind.
P.S. Get more easy dinner ideas in Dinner in 10: my online, week-by-week, real-food cooking class that makes eating healthy simple, easy, quick and delicious. See how it works here and give it a test run with my FREE 3-Day Meal Plan.
Megan Adams Brown, CHC, helps people take charge of their health and to start listening to themselves over the latest diet trend to optimize their own wellness, happiness and potential. Her family-friendly meal plans help parents take charge in the kitchen, too. This leads to more vegetables, less junk, and happier, healthier kids and parents. Megan shares kid-approved, allergy-friendly recipes on her blog. To learn more click here.