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By NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health
In the summer, comfort food looks different.
Instead of hearty stews and pots of chili, we gravitate toward cool salads and backyard cookouts.
It makes sense that people would be ready for something laid back. It’s a myth that summer is less busy than the rest of the year. Between softball games and vacations, kids’ training camps and parties, ice cream can become the go-to dinner. Many of us are looking for ways to eat healthy without intense meal prep.
Try these five easy, healthy meal ideas for the days you don’t want to cook this summer.
The snack dinner is underrated, yet so perfect in its simplicity. It’s literally what it sounds like — a compilation of food that, alone, could be a snack but together blends into the perfect, easy evening meal.
It can be fun to create a snack dinner, like designing a charcuterie board. It can also be as basic as randomly stacking a platter.
The formula is simple. Choose a fruit, vegetable, grain, protein and dairy. Something to dip things in would be a great addition.
The beauty of snack dinner is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Most of the components are likely already in your fridge and cabinets.
Here’s a sample menu: hummus and whole grain crackers, sliced cucumbers and carrot sticks, grapes and strawberries, sliced turkey or chicken from the deli, and cubed cheddar cheese.
Dinner = done.
Appetizers for dinner are a close relative of the snack dinner, just slightly more elaborate.
Random apps you personally enjoy can work, or try a theme like Mediterranean or Greek food, and choose your components.
Mozzarella tomato basil skewers are so simple the kids can put them together while you work on a Mediterranean cheese spread to go with sliced veggies, pears and toasted baguette. Complete the meal with fresh dates stuffed with rosemary mascarpone and walnuts (it’s easier to make than it sounds).
Obviously, salads are a summer staple. How great is it to chop up an assortment of foods, toss them all in a bowl, mix in some dressing and voila?
But how could a salad, so often a starter or side dish, be enough for dinner? It starts with protein, which can turn a salad into a satisfying meal.
This Tuscan bean salad with tomatoes and arugula could serve that purpose. Adding lots of vegetables and beans can turn a salad into a meal, as well as grilled chicken, lean deli meat, boiled eggs, salmon, tuna, tofu, lentils, nuts and seeds.
One important note about salads: They are notorious for getting wildly out of control when it comes to calories and fat content, and dressings are one of the primary culprits.
Instead of dousing your beautiful salad with a creamy, high-calorie option, try tossing it with an olive oil vinaigrette. It’s lighter, better for your heart and tastes just as good.
You can easily make a vinaigrette at home, as the dressing is essentially olive oil mixed with vinegar. There are endless variations to experiment with, like adding mustard and honey or other seasoning.
Firing up the grill is technically cooking, but it’s so easy (and outdoors) that it doesn’t feel like cooking, not the same way using the kitchen stove does.
It’s also easy (and fun) to make healthy, satisfying meals on the grill. You can grill meat, obviously, but also vegetables, fruit, or even dessert. Imagine the possibilities!
Use up some of that summer squash by slicing it lengthwise and grilling it as a side for your grilled tuna steaks. Make grilled kebobs and serve with a side of fresh fruit (or grill fruit kebobs).
The slow cooker is an indispensable summer appliance. It’s mostly hands-off, doesn’t heat up the house and makes it easy to have dinner ready with minimal planning.
Like dumping everything into a bowl for a salad or onto a platter for a snack dinner, the slow cooker can transform a “dump” of ingredients into a delicious meal. Or part of a meal — the slow cooker could prepare the chicken you use to top your salad!
Or take the taco bowl idea. Set the meat to cook in the slow cooker, then shred, toss it in a bowl and top it with things like diced tomatoes, beans, avocado, shredded cheese, salsa and rice. Or try using slow-cooked shredded meat for sandwiches.
Start the slow cooker in the morning, walk away and by evening you’ve got dinner for the whole family ready to go.
Don’t sweat meal preparation, especially in the summer. Healthy eating can be easy!
Talk to your doctor or dietitian before starting a new meal plan. They can give you the support and tools you need to make smart food choices. Get more healthy recipes.
Need a doctor? Find the right one for you at NorthShore University HealthSystem.