Cold Food – Surviving the Summer w/o Your Oven


Does summer have you off your dinnertime game a bit? With kids out of school, getting used to new schedules and taking advantage of being outside later, it’s likely your normal dinner routine may not be as ‘routine’ as it was during the fall and spring. Couple that with the higher temps that make us even more unlikely to cook at home, and you have a recipe for too much take-out!

I love summer as much as the next person, but the heat makes me cranky. (We don’t have air conditioning, as many of you can relate, I’m sure.) The last thing I want to do on a hot day is turn on my oven, and I find I’m often busier in the summer than the winter, so my weekly food-prep habit often falls by the wayside. We end up eating out or ordering pizza (gasp!) WAY more than we should, simply because we don’t have pre-prepped food to eat after a busy day working in the yard.

Here are a couple ways you can make sure you have quick, healthy options stocked away any time of day, whether it’s your kids (and their friends!) at lunch, or trying to get dinner on the table for whole family after afternoon at the pool. Don’t miss out on the best of summer’s produce just because you’re busy!

Be Strategic about Meal Prep

Summer weekends tend to be busy, and afternoons are hot—your usual Sunday afternoon meal-prep session probably isn’t realistic right now. Instead, do any cooking first-thing in the morning or in the evening, when temps are cooler. I have definitely had to point a fan directly into the kitchen while cooking before! I often hard-boil eggs in the morning because that’s when I think about eggs. Also, do a little at a time so you don’t work up a sweat. Cook eggs in the morning, slice extra veggies while prepping salads for lunch and mix up your overnight oats before you go to bed. It’s not uncommon for me to check the weather while planning my weekly meals! If we have an unseasonably cool day and your schedule allows, consider making a big batch of rice or roasting veggies for later.

Stock Up

Do yourself a favor and keep foods that require little prep and can be eaten without cooking during these busy, hot months. I know I don’t have the energy to do much in the kitchen after a hectic day, or hours spent outside in the sun. Meals like chicken or tuna salads, overnight oats, smoothies and ‘snack’ dinners (plates of small items, like veggies and hummus, cheese cubes, deli meat) are way easier than trying to cook something from scratch.

Pantry: canned beans for salads, oats, canned chicken or tuna

Fridge: fresh fruits and veggies, yogurt, deli meat, hummus, cheese, salsa

Freezer: bagged fruits and veggies, pre-made smoothies, pre-cooked rice, microwavable steamer bags of veggies

Use the Grill

While I don’t like to grill (it’s one of my irrational fears), I love it when my husband does! Grilling creates fewer dishes and keeps the house cooler. Bratwurst and Italian sausages are his favorites, and we should start buying hot dogs and hamburgers in bulk with all the hosting we’ve been doing now that our patio is finished. However, you can grill more than just meat! Wrap ears of corn in foil with a little butter—delicious! I also like to use foil to make ‘packets’ for veggie mixes; try cut-up sweet potatoes with fresh thyme and green onions dressed in olive oil. You can also grill romaine hearts (cut them in half lengthwise first), and stone fruits like peaches do very well on the grill. You can even use the grill in your meal prep—have your hubby grill the chicken for your weekday lunches while he’s cooking dinner!

E-Z Meals

On a hot day, the thought of simply pulling something out of a cold fridge and digging in sounds glorious.


-Overnight oats: mix oats, yogurt and milk (nut or dairy) in a 1:1:1 ratio (i.e. 1/3 cup each) with ½ mashed banana and place in the fridge for at least 5 hours. In the morning, add additional liquid if necessary and mix-ins, like fresh fruit or granola.

-Hard-boiled eggs with fruit

-Salad! (Why not?!)


-Homemade ‘Bento’ boxes with assorted fruits and veggies, deli meat or cooked chicken and nuts or cheese

-Turkey Roll-Ups: sliced peppers rolled up in turkey slices with guacamole


-Chicken or tuna salad on greens or sliced apple and whole-grain crackers


-Cold soups, like gazpacho

-Roasted chicken (purchased at a local grocery store), paired with salad or steamed veggies

It’s ironic that I often feel flabbier during the summer when I’m baring more skin, likely because we get ice cream too often! Or maybe we’re all just a bit too critical of ourselves. Either way, making sure you eat fresh, healthy meals most of the time lets you enjoy a meal on the deck at Rick’s or walking to the Caboose for ice cream that much more enjoyable.



Meal-Planning 101

Meal-Planning 101: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snacks

  1. Getting started
    1. Have your planner/schedule handy
    2. Piece of paper for writing down your menu
    3. Know what you already have in your fridge and pantry
  2. Questions to ask yourself
    1. How much time will I have to eat?
    2. Will I need to drive/walk while eating?
    3. How much time will I have to prepare dinner?
    4. Do I need to eat any meals away from home?
  3. Plan your meals and snacks
    1. Include carbohydrate, fat and protein in each
    2. Ensure your meals match your schedule (ex. will you need a microwave?)
    3. Include variety by meal, day or week
    4. Ensure you have enough plastic containers for your meals
  4. Choose a day to grocery shop
    1. Helpful to bring a grocery list and your meal plan to the store
    2. Be sure to cool and chill foods properly after returning home
    3. Don’t forget plastic snack and sandwich bags!
  5. Meal Preparation day
    1. Start with a clean kitchen and plenty of room to work
    2. Budget 3-4 hours to prepare all your food
    3. Begin with items that need to bake (ex. muffins or chicken)
    4. Keep cold items in fridge until you use them
    5. Helpful to focus on one item at a time (ex. assembling all your bags of trail mix at once)
    6. Don’t forget a water bottle and cooler bag with ice pack if necessary
  6. Store Safely
    1. Chill items within 2 hours of removing from fridge or cooking
    2. Chill quickly by placing hot items in the freezer for 10 minutes
    3. Be sure meat is cooked completely
    4. Cooked items last 4-6 days in the fridge; best to prepare the day before you plan to start your week of meals (i.e. prep on Sunday to begin eating Monday)
  7. Methods:
    1. Plan meals only for your busy days/days you aren’t home
    2. Plan breakfast, lunch and snacks only
    3. Plan and prep dinners only
    4. Plan and prep breakfast, lunch and snack, prep dinner (up to point of cooking)
    5. OK to have the same menu all week; change it up the next week

Buffalo News Refresh Blog – February 2016

Sunday meal planning can make a week’s worth of healthy choices

by: Holly R. Layer

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

One of the biggest challenges to eating real, healthy food is a busy schedule. Unfortunately, we’re all busier than ever, and the healthy food in your fridge isn’t going to prep itself. If you’re hitting the drive-thru more often than you should, perhaps it’s time for you to embrace the art of meal planning.

Basically, meal planning is simply preparing your meals ahead of time, once a week. It can be as many meals as you want, as basic or as gourmet as you want. For example, if you work full-time outside the home, it might be helpful to prepare your breakfast, lunch, a snack and even some dinners. For others, it might just be packing all your lunches, or prepping all your dinners.

When I went back to school, I found I was spending almost an hour each night packing my breakfast, lunch and snacks for the next day. I finally started meal planning, and it’s relieved so much stress and given me back so much time. Instead of spending an hour each night, I spend a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon doing everything once. I still do it, even though I’m home more now.


First, meal planning begins with the PLAN. Plan out your meals. This could look like two egg muffins, toast and an orange for breakfast; a large salad for lunch; an apple and a cheese stick for a snack; and chili with salad and cornbread for dinner. Do that for every day. It’s helpful to repeat or alternate meals, to keep it simple. For example, you could have the same breakfast and snack every day, and alternate lunches. Consider using leftovers as part of your meal plan, as well. Be sure to ask yourself if the meal you’re planning matches where you’re going to eat it – you don’t want to get stuck eating cold lasagna in your car because you don’t have a microwave.

Next, decide what day works best for you to spend about three hours in the kitchen. Ideally, that would be Sunday afternoon or evening, if your meals are designed for Monday through Friday. Be sure to have gone to the grocery store and start with a clean kitchen with clean tools and lots of containers.

Finally, start with the recipe that takes the longest to prepare. Using the example above, get your egg muffins in the oven and the chili cooking on the stove first, and then gather your apples and cheese sticks together in the fridge for easy access. Wash your salad ingredients and chop veggies for the week and put in containers for lunches. Make sure you also have enough salad for dinner, as well. Once the egg muffins are done, pop in the cornbread. Peel all your oranges and put them in containers or baggies. Be sure to follow food safety rules and keep cold things in the fridge for as long as possible before taking them out, and chill items quickly.

Meal planning will relieve stress, save you time and money, and ensure you eat the healthy food you buy each week. Your meals can be as basic (simply assembling items like yogurts, fruit, veggies, nuts) or as gourmet (muffins, soups, stir-frys) as you’d like.

Now, eating healthy food is as easy opening the fridge each morning!

Holly R. Layer is a registered dietitian who lives in East Aurora. She provides nutritional counseling to students at SUNY Buffalo State, and teaches cycle and fitness classes at the Southtowns YMCA. She loves running, reading, fine stationery, colorful kitchen gadgets and ALL things food-related. An avid cook and baker, you can find her in the kitchen most days whipping up something yummy. Too bad her husband, Andrew (an East Aurora native) is the pickiest man alive! In addition to writing for the Refresh Buffalo Blog, you can find her at