Easy Theme Night Dinners for Summer

This is our first official week of summer vacation and so I’m getting some theme night dinners going for summer to make life — and meal times — a little easier in the coming months. This past year has been a whirlwind of activity for me personally with two new ebooks and The Cookbook, plus regular everyday life with six kids.

So I’m really looking forward to this summer to spend more relaxing times with my peeps. Since we love to eat together, I am hopeful that a new round of theme nights will make our evenings more restful as well as delicious.

Slow Cooking

A few years ago a friend and reader mentioned that her summer meal planning often included her slow cooker and her bread machine. I was kind of surprised because I associate those kitchen helpers with cozy winter suppers. But, she pointed out that she placed both machines in her garage or even outside in the shade so that they didn’t heat up her kitchen. Brilliant! A hot meal was ready when they wanted it, but she didn’t have to fuss in a sweaty kitchen to make it so. Thanks for the tip, Alicia!

So, this summer, I’m going to include one night a week where the slow cooker does the work. But, instead of hearty soups and stews, it’s going to be preparing taco and sandwich fillings that we can spruce up with fresh veggies and cool side salads. Those might include BBQ Pork Sandwiches, Shredded Beef, and Salsa Verde Beef.

Fish Suppers

We’ve been exploring all kinds of fish these past couple months — and it’s making for a nice weekly tradition. Usually, hubs grills it after I concoct a spice rub, marinade, or compound butter. It keeps things exciting and flavorful.

Thankfully, we have friends willing to share their catch, literally, which is nice since that offsets the high price of fish at the store.

Side dishes that we like to have with fish include salads, corn, Lemon Roasted Potatoes, Quinoa Pilaf, Rice Pilaf, and Cilantro Couscous Salad.

Portable Meals

With tv, internet, and video games, it can be too easy to stay housebound. So, I am planning one meal a week to take with us somewhere, probably to the beach or the park. Foods like sandwiches, wraps, salads, and snacky dinners all fit the bill pretty well. Not only will we be “out and about,” but hopefully, there’s no mess to clean up at home.

The Super Secret Sub, Turkey Baguettes, and Bagel Sandwiches are some of my personal favorites.

Beans and Rice, etc

My go-to bargain meal that the kids just devour is Beans and Rice. Really. Now that we have it only once a week, it’s a welcome meal. (When we were actively digging out of debt, we had it three or four nights a week!)

This meal is easy! Black or pinto beans, brown rice or Mexican rice, and all kinds of toppings like grated cheese, sour cream, salsa, chopped tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, and chips. This meal often morphs into chimichangas, burritos, quesadillas, or tacos on any given night.

Cooking Out

I love to let my husband do the cooking. I prep the meat and the sides and then sit back. Now that he has a talking thermometer, I don’t have to nag, either. And if I play my cards right and plan enough, we can have leftovers the next day.

Tri-tip is a big favorite, but lately chicken breast is the only thing going on sale. So, I anticipate a fair number of grilled, marinated chicken nights in my future.

Lotsa Pasta

We are now a two-pound family. On many nights my family can scarf two boxes of noodles! I know that it is a filling dinner and I usually try to serve a sauce, a protein, and a veg. Since we often go meatless, the protein could be garbanzo beans on the salad. Since pasta goes on sale so often, this is a sure-fire, budget-friendly meal for our family.

Some favorite pasta dinners include: Sundried Tomato & Brie Pasta, Eggplant Bolognese, and Shrimp with Noodles and Cream Sauce.

Pizza Night

We love our pizza. And it’s getting easier to make our own. In summertime especially, we enjoy pizza and a movie, while a cool, ocean breeze comes through the window. This summer I want to figure out the grilled pizza thing. I’ve heard rave reviews from others, so I’m now gearing up to try it.

Last summer I had a great time creating new pizza toppings, so I plan to get those creative juices flowing again. But, my 13-year old absolutely loves the Burrito Pizza, hubs favors the Jalapeno Burn, and I can’t get enough of Feta and pesto on a pizza. So, we’ll be revisiting our favorites, too.

So, there are my “themes” for the coming months.

Here’s how it works out this week:

Slow Cooking: a whole chicken in the pot to turn into chicken salad and to add to chicken pastas

Fish Supper: Crumb-Topped Cod, Green Salad, Quinoa Pilaf

Portable Dinner: FishPapa’s Favorite Sandwich, Veggies, Chips

Beans and Rice: ‘nuf said

Pasta: Pasta Salad with Chicken, ChiChi’s Salad

Cooking Out: Grilled Spicy Southwest Chicken

Pizza Night: Pepperoni, Burrito, and Shrimp, Pesto, & Feta

How does YOUR meal planning change during the summer?

For more meal planning inspiration, visit I’m an Organizing Junkie.

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Comments

  1. I grill everything all summer long. From appetizers to dessert. Panini’s to pizza. Plus all the good stuff too,like veggies, beef, chicken and pork.
    As a side dish we grill dough. We buy rhodes dough and thaw it (even in the micro for this), spray with Pam or Olive oil and grill. This will build your confidence in trying pizza. Same concept. Only you are working with something much bigger. TIP :: I use a cookie sheet to flip my pizza.
    We also own a traeger so we smoke things as well during the summer, including pizza.
    Now if the sun would just come out in Portland so I can grill I would be a happy girl.
    I also love that my summer meals are completely different than my winter meals.

  2. I love theme nights. I first heard of them from the Food Nanny.

    http://www.byutv.org/foodnanny/

  3. Lynette says:

    We have weekly friday night dinner’s with my parents – but we rotate houses fall, winter and spring. Mom cooks for 9 one week, I do the cooking the following week. In the summer we switch it to BBQ on Fridays, where we each bring our own meat to grill (we meet at her house – pool, fire pit, bigger yard!) and we collaborate on bringing sides (depending on what we feel like and what’s on sale – corn on the cob? I’ll bring, you provide potatoes!) That’s all I can think of for now that definietly changes!

  4. I use my slowcooker frequently for cooking things like casseroles, lasagna, enchiladas, and meatloaf. Well, meatloaf I think of more as a winter food so we don’t eat it when it’s warm. It’s easy to take something out of the freezer and throw it straight into the slow cooker just a few hours before dinner.

    Random crock pot tangent I’ve meant to bring up under freezer cooking posts. I have a few corningware dishes that fit in my big crock pot so I line them with foil and stick the assembled casserole in the freezer. As my kids get older and start eating more I may have to have to figure out something else as we’ll outgrow those pans. Not sure I want to put the crocks in the freezer. Maybe heavy duty foil would hold up after assembling a casserole in the crock, chilling in the fridge, then removing to freeze. Anyone tried this?

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @Beth, hmmm. Well, I’ve heard that you aren’t supposed to put frozen items in the crockpot. I know tons of people do, but it isn’t considered as safe as food that has thawed. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/focus_on_slow_cooker_safety/index.asp Just fyi.

      I usually cook my casseroles in the oven. That way I can cook a lot if I need to.

      • @Jessica Fisher,

        I will admit to sometimes putting a frozen meatloaf in the crock pot which I know you technically aren’t supposed to do. Mine runs hot enought it’s usually cooked in 3 hours so I’m not terribly worried. In terms of casseroles or enchiladas the little meat I’ve got in there is always already cooked. If I have meat at all. Something that’s just beans, corn tortillas, and cheese, doesn’t really concern me in terms of food safety. Maybe it should. :)

  5. I LOVE grilling pizza! The key for me is parchment paper. My husband actually does all the work. Get the grill really hot, transfer the pizza, paper and all onto the grill. 8 to 10 minutes later – DELICIOUS!!

  6. We do grilled pizzas built on tortillas instead of pizza dough. Just top the tortilla with sauce, cheese, meat, and veg and then put on a medium grill for 3-4 minutes. The tortilla gets nice and crispy, and it’s super fast! You could even set out the toppings and have everyone build his/her own.

  7. Pesto and feta pizza? Yummy!

  8. Jessica says:

    Love it!
    And I love that someone else relied on beans and rice as the “go to” recession meal. We are still eating it!
    Our family has “Brinner Wednesday” – which is “breakfast for dinner.”
    It’s really convenient that kids get excited about pancakes or eggs and toast for dinner because all of the above ingredients (flour, sugar, eggs, bread, etc) are SUPER CHEAP.

  9. My meal planning goes out the window in the summer! I get too hot/loose energy/don’t want to cook. I need to make better use of the crockpot so that I can put everything in it in the morning and then dinner is ready when we get hungry.

    One thing we made a lot last summer was tomato and zucchini broiled either on bread or not and topped with Italian seasoning and whatever cheese we had available. I did it one night in desperation and we all liked it so much that we started making it several times a week.

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