Summer is a time to relax and make memories with your family. Research shows that children whose families eat together are more confident, have better vocabularies and higher test scores. Make time to schedule regular meals together to strengthen family bonds. Here are some ideas to prepare quick and healthy meals this summer.

Many people think of the slow cooker as their go-to in the middle of winter for hot soups and stews. But it is great to use in the summertime as well. It allows for easy cleanup and it doesn’t heat up the house like your oven. Slow cookers can be used for roasts, chicken, pork or convenient one-dish meals like lasagna. Toss together a salad, warm up some rolls, and dinner is ready.

Another way to keep your house cool is to use your grill to cook dinner. Almost anything can be prepared on a grill, including baked potatoes, zucchini, corn on the cob, burgers, fish, chicken, steak, kabobs and veggie burgers. Cooking and eating outside is a great way to enjoy the summer weather. Another easy cleanup meal!

Frozen and canned foods can help out in a pinch to get a quick meal on the table. Stock your kitchen with frozen ravioli and stuffed shells, whole-wheat pasta and tomato-based pasta sauces. Add a side salad and dinner is ready in less than 30 minutes. Pick up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store on your way home and cook some fresh or frozen vegetables and mashed potatoes. If you have a few minutes to spare, slide some frozen whole-wheat dinner rolls or French bread in the oven, and the smell will draw your family to the dinner table in a jiffy.

When the temperatures start to sizzle, a cold meal may be the perfect ending to the day. Create a make-your-own salad bar with one or two types of greens (the darker the leaves, the more nutritious); protein toppings like rotisserie chicken, shrimp, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, cheese and beans (kidney, black, garbanzo); a variety of cut-up vegetables and fruits (bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, strawberries, pineapple, blueberries). Offer a few salad dressings for your family to choose. Salad bar choices are endless, and each person creates their own. Another no-cook meal is a sandwich bar. At the bare minimum, you’ll need bread or rolls, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato and some kinds of spreads. You can add sides like vegetables, salads and some fruit. Leftover deli meat and breads can be frozen to use later.

Planning ahead is important to save you time in the kitchen and assures you have everything you need. When planning meals for the week, be sure to include at least one selection from each of the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein foods. For recipe ideas, go to https://eatsmart.umd.edu.

Lisa McCoy is a family and consumer-sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.


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