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Keepin' It Cool: Summer Time Stove-Free Dinner Ideas

 Photo © Gabriel Bucataru/Stocksy United
Photo by Gabriel Bucataru / Stocksy United

When it’s so blazing hot out that it feels like a monumental achievement to simply blink or breathe, no one wants to stand over a steaming pot on the stovetop or stare into the fiery abyss of an oven to make dinner. But kids need more than ice cubes to survive, as do you, so we’ve compiled our best kid-friendly ideas for two no-cook dinner staples: salads and sandwiches. No microwave cheats—just fresh, healthy, and most importantly, tasty meals that (bonus!) can all be made in 30 minutes or way less.

Now wipe that brow and get to not-cooking!

Super Salads

Soaring mercury aside, we’d all love for our kids to eat more salad anyway—so make one they’d actually love to eat! Does little Lily loathe lettuce? Skip it and pile on the carrots, red peppers, and radishes she adores instead. Build your salad into a filling, flavorful meal that everyone will love with awesome add-ons:

  • Toss in some fresh fruits and berries: Sweet additions like apple, pear, pineapple, peaches, nectarines, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, figs, etc. can turn a simple salad into something glorious—and coax a veggie-wary child into giving salad a shot.
  • Bulk it up with protein: We suggest shaved or chunked cheese (Parmesan, ricotta salata, white cheddar, feta), cottage cheese, hardboiled egg slices (if you have some hanging out in the fridge already, that is), canned tuna, strips of uncured salami, shredded rotisserie chicken or roasted turkey, and canned garbanzo, black, or cannellini beans (rinse in cold water after opening to reduce sodium).
  • Include healthy fats: Avocado and pitted olives add in extra nutrition with delicious flavor—and use olive-oil–based dressings.
  • Whip out the can opener: Canned corn is a great option for a Tex-Mex salad (along with black beans, mild pico de gallo, shredded cheddar, and low-fat sour cream) and we challenge you to give canned beets a go with the kiddos at least once—they’re especially tasty with mandarin oranges, avocado, and chickpeas.
  • Lay out your fixins’ salad-bar style: Let the wee ones decide what they want for themselves! If they’re old enough, let them practice serving themselves.
  • Don’t forget grains: Serve with whole wheat baguette or crackers. You can often find quinoa or other cooked grains in the salad bar, deli, or prepared foods section at your grocery store as well.
  • Feeling more gourmet and have a kid who’s willing to try anything at least once? Check out Food & Wine’s deliciously simple zucchini ribbon salad—just hold the pistachios if your child is under four, or grind them up! Chances are your children may also like a minty watermelon salad, like Ina Garten’s version for the Food Network. If they’re not fans of arugula, swap it out for baby spinach leaves or shredded romaine.

Supper Sandwiches

Lunchboxes shouldn’t have a monopoly on the handy sandwich. Get creative with these twists:

  • P.M. PB&J! Peanut butter is actually a good source of tryptophan (as are bananas, dairy, and tofu), an essential amino acid that aids in healthy sleep. Slather wheat bread with peanut butter (or the nut or seed butter of your choice) and then top with any of the following: sliced banana and a drizzle of honey; thick-cut strawberries or whole raspberries; raisins and chopped celery; a thin piece of cheddar cheese (really, it’s delicious!); or a slab of baked tofu and a sprinkle of bean sprouts for a little Thai flair—grownups can add a squirt of Sriracha.
  • Summery sub! Substitute Greek yogurt for mayo in a shrimp, crab, or chicken salad sandwich. Pump up the flavor by adding a splash of lemon juice and a pinch of fresh herbs, like dill or chives. Add more fiber and crunch with slivers of celery, cucumber, carrot, radishes, and/or green apple—and pile it all into a whole-wheat hoagie roll. You can find precooked seafood and chicken at the meat counter or in the prepared food section at your local market.
  • Bagel bar! Trust us—bagels and cream cheese are just as yummy in the evening. Serve them open-face and let kiddos add toppings like tomatoes, cucumber, capers, sprouts, olives, avocado, deli turkey breast or ham, and fresh fruit.
  • Pita party! Stuff whole-wheat pitas with hummus, shredded cheese, and lots of veggies, or fill with kid-friendly bocconcini pearls, cherry tomatoes, and chopped basil picked from your window garden!
  • Rice paper rolls! All you need is warm water from the tap, rice paper sheets, and your fam’s favorite fillings—just check out Yummly's options. We also recommend wrapping up some sliced veggies along with any leftovers you have sitting in the fridge, such as sausage and eggs; potato salad and diced chicken; coleslaw and barbecue; and grains with canned tuna or tofu. You’ll stay cool, be full, and save $.
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