I love the seasonal wax and wane of meal planning. Summer always seems to arrive right when my regular weekly meal plan hits a rut. Meal planning is really regimented for my family during the school year, but as summer roll in, we get to plan things faster and looser. This makes meal planning more fun — as does all the fresh produce and grilling — but it certainly creates some other challenges too.
Here are five of the most common questions that every home cook must conquer in the coming months, and our favorite meal planning solutions for each.
1. I just really want to grill. Can I still meal plan?
Yes! The grill is a summer meal planner's best friend because you can use it to get a jump-start on meal prep once a week. It's also a great tool if you've only got time to cook one or twice a week, but need no-cook meals the rest of the week.
Try this: Grill a big batch of chicken breast on Sunday evening and turn the leftovers into sandwiches, salads, wraps, and more all week long.
Get the recipe: How To Make Juicy, Flavorful Grilled Chicken Breast
2. It's too hot and I don't want to cook! Can I still meal plan?
If the idea of even turning on a single stovetop burner has you sweating, plan your meals around no-cook staples and grocery-store shortcuts, and take advantage of your slow cooker to beat the heat.
A summer slow cooker strategy: Like the grill, the slow cooker can cook a batch of beans or pork that can be turned into other no-cook meals throughout the week. Run your slow cooker overnight when the house is typically cooler anyway.
3. How do I meal plan using my farmers market finds?
This is quite honestly my favorite question! Once you become a farmers market veteran, you'll have sort of sixth sense about what will and won't be at the market each week, but until you do you'll want to shop first and meal plan after the market for the first few weeks.
Try this: Shop for one to two proteins, five to six vegetables, and a loaf of bread at the market and make your meal plan after you get home. Make a grocery store run or use a grocery delivery app to grab any missing items.
4. My kids are home and they are eating a ton of food. How can I plan meals that make lots of leftovers?
Oh, how I feel you. Summer camp, trips to our friend's pool, even just playing out in the heat has turned my children into fiends for more meals and snacks, and done a number on my grocery budget.
Big salads are your best friend: Sure, you're going to invest some time slicing and dicing up front, but lettuce-less salads (think pasta, bean, and grain salads) keep well in the fridge, can be self-serve for older kids, and fill them up fast.
A few good ideas: 25 Delicious Lettuce-Free Summer Salads
5. Can I meal plan for vacations?
We think you should — especially if you're staying at a vacation rental! Remember that your rental kitchen might not be super stocked with staples or essential equipment, so take along a few things to guarantee success.
Do this: If you can, pack a good knife, peeler, salt, and olive oil. Once you arrive at your rental, scope out the kitchen and plan your meals based on what is available. One-pan dinners are great for minimalist rental kitchens.