By Emily McClements, Contributing Writer

It’s 90 degrees outside and the last thing that’s on your mind is cooking, much less turning on the oven!  As summer kicks in full time, I find myself less and less motivated to spend time cooking, and working, in the kitchen.  I’d rather be spending time outside – gardening, going for a walk, playing with my kids, even hanging out the laundry – as long as I get to be outside as much as possible.

But, my family still has to eat.  And all of that playing and working outside makes for some very hungry appetites.  So, I’ve come up with some ways to feed my family without slaving away in a hot kitchen every evening.

Photo by Rooey202

Make It Ahead

Summer is a great time for things like chicken salad, egg salad, pasta salad and tuna salad that can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge until dinner time.  Pasta, chicken, or eggs can all be cooked in the relative coolness of the early morning or evening, thrown together into your favorite salad and then stored away – ready for lunch, a snack or a light dinner.

One of my favorite meals I remember my mom making when I was growing up was simply a fresh ripe tomato cut open like a flower (sliced into wedges, but not cut all the way through), and then filled in the middle with tuna salad.  Now I realize, that for my mom, it was the simplicity and ease of that meal that made it one she served often in the summer (and needing to use up tomatoes from the garden!)

Photo by D’Arcy Norman

Use Your Grill

Of course grilling is great in the summer time because it keeps the heat of cooking out of the kitchen, and I also love that it makes after dinner clean up so much easier. Grilling is not just for meat either, you can really cook an entire meal on a grill.  Meat as the main dish and a couple sides of grilled veggies is the most common, but I’m excited to try other things on the grill this summer like grilled pizza and grilled fruit.

Our grill also has a burner on one side of it, and although I haven’t used it in this way yet, I have envisioned the possibilities of cooking something on the burner alongside the grilled main dish.

Photo by janineomg

Use The Crock Pot

When you think of the crock pot, you probably think of heavy soups and stews that are more suited for fall and winter, but there a couple reasons I try to use my crock pot at least once a week in the summertime.

First of all, you can plug it in outside, or in the garage, or at least it doesn’t heat up the whole kitchen the way the oven does.  And secondly, you can throw in the ingredients in the morning, spend the rest of the day at the beach, and still come home to a home cooked meal.

Photo by Maggie Hoffman

No Cook Meals

And then of course, there are lots of meals that you can make without any cooking at all.  There are the obvious sandwiches, wraps and salads, that you can find lots of ways to get creative with. But you could also serve your family things like a spread of guacamole, salsa, and hummus dips with crudites, bread, crackers, and cheese to dip into them, chilled soups, or other types of no cook appetizers.

With a little creativity and planning ahead, you can make great, tasty, and easy summertime meals from real food while still keeping your house, and yourself, cool and comfortable.

How do you keep your family well fed in the summertime without heating up the house?

Top photo by mccun934