Some Assembly Required: No-Sweat Summer Meals
Tips and recipes to help you keep your cooking cool
The last thing you want to do at the end of a hot summer day is stand in
front of the stove, stirring something, or fire up your big oven. It's summer,
for Heaven's sake! There are other things we'd rather be doing. There are
movies to see and swimming pools to dive into. And the higher the mercury
climbs, the less energy we seem to have for preparing dinner.
Sounds like a job for (drum roll, please) ... convenience foods! But many
convenience products add a heap of calories, fat grams, and sodium to your
daily nutritional totals. Besides, to many of us, these products just don't
taste as good as freshly prepared meals.
What's the answer? I like to call it "some assembly required" -- not
so much cooking as putting together a meal, using some of the better-for-you
convenience products. We're still whipping up a "made-fresh" meal, but
without spending too much time in the kitchen.
None of the following tips or recipes calls for using the big oven, though
some involve the toaster oven or microwave. Both appliances are great for
summer because they let us cook without heating up the whole kitchen.
10 Tips for No-Sweat Summer Meals
1. Frozen pesto is one of my all-time favorite convenience products
(I like Armanino Pesto, from the freezer section. It's made with canola oil,
which is high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fat, and has a
bit less fat than other brands). Use it as a dressing for hot or cold pasta, a
spread for gourmet sandwiches, or a sauce for fish (see recipe below). Just
keep your serving to about a tablespoon, because each tablespoon has 47
calories and 4.5 grams of fat.
2. Using the outdoor barbecue keeps the kitchen cool, and all you
need is a piece of meat or fish (or some vegetables) and a good sauce or
marinade. Any bottled, reduced-fat vinaigrette can serve as a quick marinade.
Keep in mind that meats and poultry should marinate for at least two hours
while fish and veggies only need one hour.
3. The sandwich, the epitome of easy-assembly food, makes a great
summer dinner entrée. Think beyond peanut butter and jelly and try some new
sandwich ideas! Choose whole-grain breads and reduced-fat fillers and spreads
whenever possible. Double up on the lettuce and tomato to boost the nutritional
value and fiber.
4. Prewashed salads in a bag are great, especially when they go on
sale. Just cut (the bag), dump (it in the bowl), and drizzle (the dressing). I
like to spruce them up by tossing in canned beans (kidney, black, edamame, or
garbanzo, rinsed and drained); more veggies; cubed or shredded reduced-fat
cheese; and cooked, shredded lean beef or pork, skinless chicken breast filets,
or shellfish; fruit; toasted nuts; and/or fresh herbs.