Quick Cooking Tips to Get You Out of the Kitchen

6 strategies to help you beat the heat and join the summer fun.

From the WebMD Archives

If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen! That's what I say when it's summer, and the very thought of turning on the stove or oven inspires beads of sweat to form on your brow.

But how do you "stay out of the kitchen" and still fix dinner for yourself and your busy brood?

Eating out or ordering takeout gets expensive and tiresome. But cooking dinner in the summer can be a challenge. Not only do we want to avoid the kitchen as much as possible, we need something we can prepare with a moment's notice, since school-free family members may be coming and going all evening long.

Never fear. I've got some ideas on how you can minimize your kitchen time and this summer.

1. Get 2 Grilled Entrees for the Price of 1

While the barbeque is all fired up on the weekend, go ahead and throw tomorrow's dinner on, too. Roasted veggies or kabobs, chicken, lean steak, pork tenderloin or prawns are all great choices.

  • If you throw four chicken breasts on the barbie while grilling tonight's salmon, tomorrow's grilled chicken Caesar salad will only take five minutes to make.
  • Throw on a peppered pork tenderloin while you're grilling tonight's light hot dogs, and you can make BBQ pork sandwiches or pork tenderloin sandwiches with pesto and tomato the next night.
  • While grilling tonight's hamburgers, put on tomorrow's shrimp and veggie kabobs or chicken sate skewers. All they need is a quick reheat in the microwave (be sure to pull the skewers off first if they're not microwave-safe).

2. Blend up a Summer Soup

Cold summer soups can be savory or sweet. The sweet types feature ripe summer fruits like berries or melon; the savory ones are usually based on a vegetable like cucumber, zucchini or carrot, or a veggie wanna-be like tomato or avocado.

Two big summer favorites are gazpacho, the Spanish tomato-based soup with bell peppers, onion, garlic and cucumbers; and vichyssoise, which features pureed potatoes, leeks, and a swirl of cream.

3. Summer Salads + Protein = Dinner

Salads are a refreshing change from hot dinner entrées. But how does a salad become a meal with a minimum of fuss? In a word, you need protein! From plant, fish or fowl, the choice is yours.

Here are some quick picks for salad add-ons:

  • Roasted turkey from a deli or supermarket, cut into strips or cubes
  • Thickly sliced extra-lean ham from a deli or supermarket, cut into strips or cubes
  • A can of water-packed tuna or a pouch of pre-flavored tuna (available in most supermarkets)
  • Defrosted pre-cooked shrimp (available in the frozen food section of your supermarket)
  • A can of beans. Black, kidney, or garbanzo work well in salads.
  • Shredded meat from a roasted whole chicken, from your rotisserie or supermarket
  • Baked tofu (available in packages). It comes cooked, flavored, and ready to dice.
  • Roasted nuts, a perfect topper to a main-dish salad. They add fiber and protein along with some crunch.
  • Summer fruits, which can complement the protein ingredient in your salad
  • 4 ounces of sliced or diced cheese. Cheese adds flavor and color along with milk protein (each ounce has 7 to 8 grams of protein).
  • A couple of chopped or sliced hard-boiled egg whites. Each egg white will bump up the protein by 3.5 grams.

Here's how much some common ingredients can pump up the protein of your salad:

Food____________________Amount________Protein (grams)
Turkey breast, roasted1/2 cup, diced21
Tuna, water-packed1/2 cup20
Chicken breast, roasted2 ounces17.5
Sirloin steak, broiled2 ounces17
Shrimp/prawns, cooked2 ounces11
Tofu, diced1/2 cup10 (depends on brand)
Cheese1 ounce7 to 8 (depends on type)
Black beans, canned1/2 cup7
Kidney beans, canned1/2 cup7
Garbanzo beans, canned1/2 cup6
Egg white, hard-boiled13.5
Pecans1/4 cup2.3

4. Slap Together a Sandwich Supper

A sandwich doesn't necessarily require the stove or oven and can be assembled in a minute or two. Can't beat that on a hot weekday night!

If you want to melt the cheese or lightly brown your featured filler, just broil your open-faced sandwich briefly in your toaster oven. This won't heat up you or your kitchen much at all. You can make sandwiches using any of the items listed above in the protein table - or use your imagination!

You can fancy up your sandwich by adding a fun condiment or spread like:

  • Pesto
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Fruit chutney
  • BBQ sauce
  • Flavored olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Salsa
  • Honey mustard
  • Olive spread
  • Less-sugar preserves
  • Goat cheese

5. Put Together a Picnic-Style Meal

Think about what you like to throw into your picnic basket or backpack when you are packing lunch for a hike or fishing expedition. Your picnic favorites work well for a cool dinner out on the porch as well as at the park in town.

You can make a cheese and cracker and fruit platter, with assorted cheeses, crackers or sliced baguettes, and some fresh fruit that's easy to eat (berries, grapes, apricots, apple slices and so on). Or try packing some cold oven-fried or barbecued chicken with simple side dishes like green salad, or raw veggies with ranch dip or bread with flavored olive oil for dipping.

6. Sip Your Supper

Drinking your dinner doesn't sound that satisfying, does it? But there are times when a light, cool and refreshing drink or shake might just be what the dietitian ordered. They're quick to make and easy to eat on those hot summer nights when you have a lighter appetite.

If your drink is replacing a meal, make sure you're getting some protein and some fiber along with the carbohydrates. That narrows your options to either a tofu-based shake; a drink with dairy (like an iced latte) plus a fiber source; or a smoothie made with yogurt, frozen dairy products, or tofu, along with fruit.

Invent your own smoothies by using different flavors of yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, and a variety of sherbets, light frozen yogurts, or light ice creams. If you're thinking of adding raw egg whites for a protein boost to your blended shake or smoothie, try egg substitute instead. It's mostly egg whites, but it's pasteurized, which eliminates the risk of salmonella from raw eggs.

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own