I am of the Mark Bittman school of thought when it comes to meal planning and diet: "the principles are simple: deny nothing; enjoy everything, but eat plants first and most. There's no gimmick, no dogma, no guilt, and no food police.” (For more absolutely enjoyable wisdom about food and eating, check out this great interview with Bittman and Dr. David Katz, it's the best piece of writing on diet I've ever read.)
I've been vegetarian. I've been vegan. I've eaten fast food 3-4 times a week at certain points in my life. I've induced ketosis. I've followed the FODMAP diet. I've lived on Trader Joe's frozen Indian food and pre-made protein shakes. I even went to raw vegan culinary school. As far as I'm concerned, unless you have a specifically diagnosed health condition with a prescribed diet, any diet with a name is not going to help you in the long term.
Cooking at home from ingredients as opposed to processed foods is your best chance of eating a healthy, enjoyable, and budget friendly diet. It's the best way to create lasting good habits, as opposed to the constant merry go round of varying food restrictions. If you're not at a point where you have the time or energy to cook at all, and you need to just focus on keeping yourself fed, check out my post on Simple Meals and Snacks When You're Short On Spoons.
I'll be honest, in summer I rarely feel like cooking. Planning meals I'm going to actually want to cook and eat in the summer is key to meal planning (and therefore budget!) success for us. Nothing that involves standing over the stove for long, nothing that involves the oven being on, and nothing that takes too much prep time. We're still getting back into the swing of regular life post-renovations, and so we've been eating a lot of really easy meals and patting ourselves on the back for not just living on the abundant good take-out near our house.
Here's my round up of the summer dinner recipes my family is loving, with our eat-less-meat omnivorous diet. Many of these recipes feature meat, but in small quantities for flavor as opposed to a starring role, and vegetables make their way into every recipe without having to separately prepare a side dish.
A Great Big Salad Full of Good Stuff
Salad for dinner might sound like you're somehow depriving yourself, but this salad is filling and fun to eat, with tons of different textures and flavors. This salad of my own devising is a more exciting take on a classic chef salad. We just throw together:
-Mixed Baby Lettuce
-Grilled Sweet Potato Wedges
-Grilled Local Nitrate Free Bacon
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- Blue Cheese Crumbles
- Dried Cranberries
- Pecan Pieces
We grill the bacon & sweet potatoes on our cast iron griddle, the hardboiled eggs I make earlier in the day, and we dress the whole thing with a homemade dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, maple syrup, and salt & pepper.
Garlic Lemon Steak & Green Beans
I love the Eating Well website for meal inspiration, and this is another recipe that you can use cast iron on your grill rather than your stove indoors, both the beans & the steak are cooked together in the same skillet. Get yourself the recipe and try it out with some delicious locally raised steak. This is something we'd make for a "fancy" dinner on a Friday night and splurge on the meat.
(Image via EatingWell)
Trader Joe's Pesto Gouda Carbonara
We made this last week with some modifications, and we were all happy to eat leftovers for lunch most of the rest of the week. If you like to shop at Trader Joe's, their website has a ton of great recipes using their particular in-house products. We made ours with regular old parmesan cheese instead of their Pesto Gouda, but this was an overall good framework for trying a brussels sprout packed carbonara that wasn't too heavy for a sweaty summer weeknight.
(image via Trader Joe's)
Pulled Jackfruit Sandwich
Another Trader Joe's fave, I make the pulled jackfruit in the Instant Pot (BBQ sauce and 3 tablespoons of water, cook on high pressure for 15 minutes), whip up the coleslaw while that's cooking and leave it to chill, and with only 5 minutes of prep (if that) I feel like I've done basically nothing and yet dinner is ready a little while later. Go forth and get thee the recipe for some delicious meatless summer bbq.
(Image via Trader Joe's)
Greek Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce
Okay, so this recipe from Little Spice Jar does require using the oven, but everything is done in 20 minutes and it's so so worth it, especially because you'll have leftovers for quick delicious lunches for a few days if you have a little family like mine. The spicing of the meatballs is perfect, the sauce is tangy, the vegetable prep is minimal. This was a huge hit with everybody here.
(Image via Little Spice Jar)
So now you have a work-week worth of truly easy dinner recipes for even the laziest chef to jumpstart your summer meal planning. Let me know which ones you love!
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