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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.

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