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Desperately Seeking Dinner (meaninful dinnertime)

I'm stuck in a "Simple Summer Meals" dinner making rut already! We have had lots of kabobs and taco nights! What kinds of things do you like for summertime? I am looking for ideas that don't heat up the kitchen,are refreshing to eat in the summertime heat, and will appeal to families with children so we can have some good family time to talk! Whew!

Thank you!

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  1. Not sure whether you grill or not...

    How about paninis? Customizable and easy to do with minimal heat.

    Bean/rice/lentil/grain salads

    chilled (non fried) spring rolls and potstickers

    if you grill, this opens up another avenue.... Grilled pizzas esp

    1. A staple in my home growing up was chunky tuna salad. Canned tuna, but not mashed fine as if for sandwiches. It was dressed with a lemon & olive oil & herb dressing, the celery was a little chunkier, big chops of hard boiled egg, etc. Served with a nice chewy french or italian loaf, and sorbet for dessert.

      1. How about simple pasta dishes? If you make the kind you put together with quickly sautéed toppings like chicken tenderloins and veggies rather than heavy and long-cooking red sauces, you can have that stove on and off pretty quickly. I use the leftovers the next day as the basis for a salad.

        1. There's a great and simple preparation that will suit your family if they like olive oil and you have access to some good Italian bread and decent fresh mozzarella. The Italians call this a summer sauce, because the sauce itself requires no cooking. It's bowtie pasta (or penne can work) with tomatoes and mozzarella, etc., warmed up in the pasta's residual heat. Specifically:

          --Cook a pound of bowtie pasta;
          --Meanwhile, cut about a half pound of fresh (not brick) mozzarella into roughly half-inch dice (and, following a Cooks Illustrated tip, lay out the mozzarella cubes on a plate and place for a few minutes into the freezer, this keeps them from getting gummy later);
          --Chop or chiffonade a handful of fresh basil;
          --Take 10-16 ounces of cherry tomatoes and cut each one in half;
          --have your best olive oil and (if you like) parmaggiano cheese ready.
          --When the pasta is ready, drain it and empty some of it into a bowl; dump in the mozzarella cubes, tomatoes, basil, salt, pepper, and olive oil to taste; give a stir and then the rest of the pasta. Let everything sit a minute or so to warm all the ingredients.
          --Give it another toss, add some oil or salt maybe, and then serve with crusty bread and, if using, parmesan.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Bada Bing

            Yum, and if you toss some fresh baby spinach leaves in at the end, you'll have a full meal.

            1. re: Bada Bing

              I've been making something very close to this lately--only difference is a pint of grape tomatoes gets chopped in the mini FP along with some fresh garlic, parsley, oregano and thyme...totally love this and it's even nicer because I can pick all the herbs right off my deck...and soon I'll be able to pick tomatoes, too. And I'm a pecorino romano girl rather than parm reg...but that's just how it always was in my house. Either works!

              Here's how I roll:

              Rather than crusty bread, I've been serving it with freshly made chicken sausage from my favorite local Italian market. I agree--having GOOD fresh mozz is key...but I live in Melilli's sister city, so it's no problem here. :) A leftover portion heats up nicely in less than a minute in the micro.

              1. re: Bada Bing

                I really like bushwickgirl's and kattyeyes' suggestions. Will try both asap. I even have some fresh baby spinach in the garden....

                About the bread: we know it's a superfluous starch, given the pasta, but wherever there is delicious olive oil and drippings at the bottom of a bowl, we demand bread for sopping up every drop.

                1. re: Bada Bing

                  I hear you, Bada Bing...with my sweet tooth, I try not to do double starches, but don't think for a minute it doesn't sound very tempting and wonderful...for sure, it does! And resisting is tough if it's right there (must be the Italian in me!).

                  So lucky you have fresh spinach in your garden! If you have extra fresh mozz you don't want to waste, I have a breakfast idea for you...just check the recipe I posted right above the caprese capellini for Iron Skillet Spinach ‘n Eggs with Fresh Mozzarella...you can make that for more than one person and call it dinner, lunch--whatever! Easy, quick, fresh, delicious!

              2. I've been grilling chicken breasts marinated in Italian dressing often. Served with sides of (a) "oven roasted" potatoes prepare on the grill (there's a separate thread on this if you are looking for recipes & techniques) and (b) green salad. If you want, you can cut up the chicken and toss both the chicken and potatoes in the salad; we typically keep them all separate.

                When it's too hot to even grill, our go-to meal is egg salad and/or tuna salad, served with some bread or rolls and carrot sticks. Also salade nicoise but not sure if that is something your children will eat.

                1. This was an interesting article I just happened upon


                  I rely on these when the tired / hot factor comes into play.

                  1. One of my favorite summer meals is grilled steak salad. We'll grill extra steak (even cheap round steak) and save it in the fridge. The next day, we'll make a large green salad with whatever fresh veggies and herbs we have and top with cold sliced steak. Dress with whatever dressing you like. Delicious! Other main-dish salads we enjoy during the summer include chef's salad and taco salad. Also, hummus w/ toasted pita and veggies makes a cool lunch.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: egging

                      Yes, you can make a wonderful steak salad, and or, you can make quesedillas with steak, spinach, and scallions. Yummy. Cut into triangles, add some guacamole, cool sour cream, tomatoes and cilantro. Ya got yer self a pretty stepped up grilled cheese.

                      I like to make lttle jack in the box tacos too. They're really quick and easy. I use ground turkey and cook it with chili sauces or powder, fry it quickly to crisp up the corn tortilla, then add lettuce a little cheese and tomato, and of course salsa.

                    2. A year round staple in our house is pizza. When I was little, my mom would buy premade pizza shells or we would just split bagels and I got to make my own pizza just the way I liked! A great conversation starter in our house too. It was the reason my friends wanted to come over for dinner.

                      Now, we make our own pizza starting with the dough. Tonight, my SO and I made stromboli - we each had our own and still sat down to a great dinner together at the dinner table.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: TampaAurora

                        great idea, esp if you buy the pre-made raw pizza dough from TJ's... or even your local pizza place might sell you some dough.

                      2. I'm thinking back to our summertime meals when I was a wee lass... before my parents got air conditioning

                        Main-dish salads -- huuuuuge Greek salads, lots of olives and feta and with dolmades on the side if we could get 'em. My brother and I loved this as kids, but I know not all kids do "strong" flavors. Spinach salad with bacon and soft-boiled eggs was another one. Sometimes we'd do some cheesy toast under the broiler, maybe with a couple slices of tomato or a schmear of pesto.

                        We ate a lot of BLTs or (more often) bacon-egg-tomato sandwiches once tomato season rolled around.

                        Many, many nights when it was just plain too hot to cook anything, even an egg, we ate sliced tomatoes and cottage cheese and bread and butter for supper.

                        How do your kiddos feel about cold soups? Gazpacho is really refreshing and fast to make.

                        Cold pasta salad or potato salad are both make-aheads, easy to get on the table with some grilled chicken and veggies.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: LauraGrace

                          A former co-worker told me that his oldest daughter liked "grown up" food practically from the time she graduated from Gerber's applesauce. One of her favorites was garlic stuffed olives. He said it was a bit disconcerting to have an angelic blond toddler give you a big hug and practically knock you over with her buffalo breath.

                          1. re: mandycat


                            I have a friend whose kids are just like that -- they will (and do) eat garlicky hummus with a spoon, and request hummus sandwiches as often as PBJs.

                        2. If you make a decent amount of quinoa, you can use it as a base for innumerable dinners, warm or cold. It's pretty much safe to mix the quinoa with any combination of seasonal veggies, some herbs, and a vinaigrette. Lots of veggies can be eaten raw, and that saves the heat (and energy, and time) in the kitchen.

                          A fave around here is a southwest-ish mix of tomato, corn*, jalapeno, red onion, cilantro, and lime. Another example is zucchini, corn, onion, mint, and lemon. You could go Greek and use tomato, cuke, red onion, bell pepper, feta, mint, oregano, lemon, and red wine vinegar...or you could go north African and use carrots, raisins, cumin, orange, and lemon.

                          Basically, mix in whatever you want with some of the quinoa from the fridge. If you have some leftover meat, chop it up and add it as well; if not, the quinoa makes a meal on its own, too.

                          *Good sweet corn is perfectly tasty raw. And if it's not good sweet corn, why eat it? :D