Simplifying Summertime Meal Planning

Cooking used to be my jam.

I’d get home after a long day of work, uncork a bottle of wine, turn up some tunes and immerse myself in a new creation.

I’d seek out new and different recipes; never deterred by the level of complexity or use of a new ingredient or technique.

I looked forward to it.

And now? Gone are the days of cooking to unwind. Or sipping a fresh and fruity glass of vino while a yummy creation comes together.

Now, more than ever, I’d resorted to simplifying our dinner routine.

Life is becoming more and more about simplification for me, have you noticed? LOL

I’m finding less and less brain power for the planning and shopping (ensuring we have everything we need for the week because I refuse to make a last minute trip to the store for one or two items). The thrill of testing new recipes is long gone. Frankly, I’m too tired to care a whole lot about dinner by the time dinnertime rolls around.

But, I have a family and I insist on feeding them well.

So I continue with cooking – but scaled wayyyyyyyy back.

My simplification process involves a night of pizza – every week (I’ve yet to hear any complaints) – and choosing simple dishes from a short list of genres without worrying too much about repeats.

I used to care about repeats. We’d go months before I repeated a dish.

Now I just want to get dinner on the table with minimal effort and clean-up.

And I want to deliver dishes I feel somewhat confident will go over without having to coach my kids through every bite (not that I do much of that anymore – read here – but I do prefer they go to bed with full tummies whenever possible).

And so, our summertime meal line-up includes:

1. Burger Night: the ways to mix up burgers is numerous and it’s grilling season so any opportunity to keep the mess outside is an added bonus. Pizza burgers, Swiss mushroom, Guacamole bacon, Bacon cheeseburgers, Taco Burgers….seriously, endless options and they’re all simple! Generally served with french or sweet potato fries and possibly a salad or fruit.

2. Mexican Food: Tacos, burritos and fajitas can come in a variety of flavors as well (chicken, beef, shrimp, steak….) and a side of rice that can be made in big-batch and stored in dinner sized portions in the freezer further simplifies things.

3. Italian Food: It doesn’t get much easier than choosing a pasta, a sauce and a protein. Salad makes a quick and healthy side and no one ever complains over garlic toast.
As an alternate (if Italian food is just sounding too heavy, or if I’m having trouble finding gluten free pasta…which is becoming an issue thanks to the pandemic) I’ll plan a stir-fry dish. Prepping ahead of time is key to keeping stir-fry quick and simple at dinnertime.

4. Crockpot Night: Generally toward the end of the week, I like to plan a meal that’s a one-dump into the crockpot and call it good. And if I have to make the veggie and/or starch separate I try to keep that low key and roast some veggies and potatoes…or drop them into the air fryer.

5. Casserole: I don’t shy away from casseroles, even in the summer. A nice hack to keep the house cool is to purchase a toaster oven that can be set outside…AND if you use disposable pans for the casserole itself, clean up is as simple as tossing that thing in the trash!
I’ll note here that the knock-off KFC Bowls are a hit. We eat that a couple times a month and I file it under the casseroles category.

6. Grilled (or smoked) Meat Night: Typically on the weekend when there are more hands on deck with the kids we opt to grill (or smoke) some variety of meat. Steak, chicken, pork chops, ribs, pork loin, brats/hotdogs…and whenever possible we opt to grill the side dishes (generally a veggie and potato) as well or call upon some fresh sliced veggies and hummus and cottage cheese.

7. Pizza: Pizza night doesn’t mean ordering in, although, we do on occasion. Celiac disease prevents me from eating takeout pizza anyway (even if the restaurant boasts a gluten free crust, there’s too much risk of cross-contamination…tummy troubles and intestinal damage to follow).
I keep a stack of frozen pizzas on hand (particularly gluten-free: through trial and error I’ve found a couple varieties that are actually quite good), sometimes we home-make our pies, and rarely we may grab a hot-and-ready or have something delivered.
Pizza night always involves paper plates – it’s sort of a “moms night off” scenario and I love it!

Leftovers: We never forget our leftovers. I keep an eye on the status of our leftovers through the week and nix one of the planned meals (one that doesn’t involve a lot of fresh ingredients that will spoil if not used timely) and we take a night to clear out the fridge.

Alternates: I’ve recently opted for some breakfast for dinner dishes. Used to be that I’d make one nice breakfast each weekend but with the warmer weather the kids are usually itching to get outside ASAP and are as content with cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, fruit, etc as anything and so I figure: why bother with the mess?

Have you found yourself doing more in the way of simplifying dinner? Do you have any super simple, super awesome, no one cares if you repeat them often, go-to meals to share?

I’m keeping my list of options super short but there’s always room to add some truly amazing and simple dishes to the mix — especially if they are tried and true and perfect for this summertime weather!


  • Lisa A

    While you do a bit more actually planning and prep than I do, this is sort of the way I approach dinner. I don’t have a family to feed, but my work day can be hectic (especially during ‘crunch time’), so I have a few things that are always in rotation. And summertime is pretty much a grill almost every night situation. I like your idea of a theme for each night though…..I may borrow that for when grilling season is over.

    • Hilary Doyle

      I love to grill but with three little ones to keep track of, even grilling can be tricky unless I have an extra set of hands. That will definitely change as they age tho! The theme helps me organize my thoughts and make a decision about meals otherwise I find that even planning can be a task with not knowing what to choose (and where to start). What’s in your regular rotation?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: