Summer Meal Planning Tips (Video)

Summer Meal Planning Tips

Like me, do you dread turning on the oven to cook dinner when it’s sweltering hot outside? Sure, you can use the grill and we do use ours quite a bit during the summer.  But what if it’s raining?  Here are some meal planning tips to keep your kitchen cool this summer!


  • Pan Frying Meats or Stir Frying Veggies on the Stovetop

  • Toaster Oven – Bake a single piece of salmon, a small batch of sweet potato fries, or a few dinner rolls.

  • Crock Pot – Use it year round!

  • Veggie Steamer

  • Of course, the grill!  Try batch cooking a whole bag of frozen chicken breasts.  Dice up the extras and toss it onto salads for those nights you don’t want to cook at all.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Slow Cooker Comfort

Hello. It’s Heather popping in from Real: The Kitchen and Beyond. The dreariness of fall has hit in full force. I hear the rain falling outside as the damp seeps in. Fall is my favorite time to pull out slow-cooker meals. With school in session and fall activities starting up, there just never seems to be enough time and the first thing to go tends to be dinner time.

Besides the questionable healthiness of swinging through the fast food drive-thru, we also have the cost factor. With a family of 5, 3 of whom are growing children, fast food definitely isn’t very frugal. Having a meal plan and making it functional for busy days and evenings, ensures I hit that drive thru less. Freezer meals and slow cooked meals save the day and budget.

I have a new healthy favorite slow-cooker meal that is easy and packed with hidden veggies. After dinner I asked my thankfully not too picky eaters if they knew there was zucchini in it. (Tip one, puree it well and nobody will know.) This recipe will make two batches, filling two goals for me. One, a great healthy slow-cooker meal, and two, a freezer meal. The best part is this meal is egg-free for those who may be allergic to most lasagna dishes.

Chicken Sausage Zucchini Lasagna Casserole


  • 2 pounds chicken sausage, cooked (I make them ahead of time in the oven then fridge for meals)
  • 1 box lasagna noodles
  • 2 – 24 ounce cans crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups diced zucchini
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium sweet pepper
  • 32 ounces ricotta
  • 24 ounces mozzarella, shredded
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic/3 cloved, diced
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon basil


  • Boil water and cook lasagna noodles to al dente, drain.
  • Finely chop sausage in food processor or blender with a bit of tomatoes, be careful not to puree.
  • Blend rest of tomatoes, zucchini, onions, peppers, and garlic in blender or food processor then mix with sausage.
  • Mix together ricotta and seasonings.
  • Put 2 cups of meat and veggie sauce mixture in bottom of pan.
  • Fill surface with one layer of noodles, slightly overlapping them.
  • Cover noodles with about 1/2 cup ricotta mixture.
  • Add another 2 cup layer of sauce.
  • Add another layer of noodles.
  • Add another 1/2 cup of ricotta.
  • Add one more layer of noodles.
  • Dot with ricotta mixture and 1/2 cup sauce.
  • Cover with 8 ounces of mozzarella.
  • Slow-cook on low for 4-6 hours. Should be ready at 4 hours.

For freezer meal:

  • Preheat oven to 325.
  • Using a 9 x 13 aluminum pan,
  • Start with a layer of noodles.
  • Add a layer of meat sauce, then ricotta.
  • Continue layering until all ingredients are gone.
  • Cover with 16 ounces mozzarella.
  • Bake for approximately one hour, or until cheese is golden brown.
  • Let cool.
  • Wrap with several layers of plastic wrap.
  • Wrap with foil.
  • Tape reheating directions to package.
  • Freeze.
  • Pull out to thaw in refrigerator about 1 day in advance.
  • Pull plastic off, replace aluminum foil, and bake at 350 for 45 minutes – 1 hour.
  • If still frozen, add 20-30 minutes, depending how frozen it is.


Here are four more great slow-cooker meals that will have dinner on the table almost as soon as you get home. The best part is that if you do most of the prep work the evening before or that morning it will really make dinner quick and easy.
  1. Chicken Tacos – shredded taco meat, tortillas, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and salsa
  2. Change up your traditional Chicken Noodle with this Chicken Couscous Soup.
  3. Slow-Cooker Vegetarian Cheesy Cauliflower Soup
  4. Slow – Cooker French Onion Soup + Slow Cooked Brats


Heather writes at Real: The Kitchen and Beyond where the food is (mostly) real and the making’s easy. She believes any one can cook. Just follow the steps, starting at #1. Read, follow, taste, venture out. Don’t be afraid to fail, then try again. Her other hats are homeschooling, editing fiction, ghostwriting, and culinary marketing. Oh, and she believes life is always better with dessert.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Changing Gears

This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.

When my husband started a new job two months ago, he went from working first shift to second shift. I was a little worried about the transition and how it would affect our eating arrangements. Ever since we’ve been together, my husband has worked first shift. I’ve always had dinner on the table when he gets home, so not having him home for dinner was a little sad. The kids didn’t seem too sad; as long as I feed them they seem to be happy. Since I would be the only one making dinner and cleaning up, I have made most of my meals in the crockpot. I wanted to share a few of my favorite crock pot recipes.

Chicken and Dumplings ~ I LOVE Cracker Barrel chicken and dumplings but don’t always have the budget to eat out. Making chicken and dumplings at home is not only inexpensive but delicious!

Black Bean Soup ~ My middle child (aka Picky Kid) isn’t too fond of this soup but my other two love it. With so many different ways to make this I suggest trying a few different recipes to see which one fits your taste the best.

Parmesan Honey Pork Roast ~ I was a little worried about this recipe but it turned out great!

Broccoli Cheese Soup ~ The recipe I use is totally unhealthy but absolutely delicious! Anything that uses Velveeta cheese is delicious in my book!

Beer Chicken ~ Whole Chicken, can of beer, garlic, salt pepper, and paprika is all you need to make a tasty dinner. I use the leftover chicken to make chicken enchiladas for dinner the next day.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

1/2 cup onion, chopped

2 tablespoons butter or 2 tablespoons margarine

1 (10 ounce) can cream of chicken soup

1 1/2 cups milk

1 lb. Velveeta cheese, cubed

1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped broccoli


1. Sauté onion and green pepper in butter.

2. Combine all ingredients on low in crockpot for 3-4 hours. Do not add salt.


Meal Planning Monday ~ Bits & Pieces


This week’s blog post is by Christine Luken.

I have all these great ideas floating around in my head for this week’s blog post, but I also have a nagging feeling that I need to give you some updates and follow-up on some of my past posts!  So this week’s post is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge of updates and helpful miscellaneous meal planning tips.

  • I have finally perfected my Awesome Granola Bar recipe to have less sugar without sacrificing any flavor!  If you try them, I bet you’ll have a hard time going back to store-bought ones.  I usually make 2 pans of them, cut them into bars, put them into individual snack sized baggies, and freeze most of them.  A perfect snack that tastes like dessert, but comes in at right about 200 calories!


  • I made the crock pot applesauce recipe I included in my apple blog post this past weekend.  Holy Moly, was it ever good!  My only disappointment is that a double batch – 12 medium sized Jonagold apples – only produced about 5 cups of applesauce.  So, my advice is to make at least a double batch!


  • I found a great deal on whole chickens at Sam’s Club last month – a twin pack of good sized birds for less than $10!  I tried this recipe for Rotisserie Chicken in the crockpot, which was fabulous!  (I only used about 2/3 of the spice mixture.)  Nick and I got several meals out of this one chicken!  We had the rotisserie chicken with mashed potatoes, chicken gravy, and veggies for dinner that night.  I sent Nick to work with leftovers for lunch the next day.  I shredded the remaining breast meat and made chicken salad for lunch the following day – I added mayo, a bit of honey mustard, red grapes, and chopped pecans to the chicken.  I shredded the remaining dark meat, mixed it with BBQ sauce and froze it.  We’ll have quick and easy BBQ chicken sandwiches for a busy weeknight dinner.  That’s pretty good for a $5 chicken!  Next time I make it, I’m going to try this variation, made with steak seasoning.


  • Yes, I did FINALLY get my coupons cut, organized and in my binder!  It took a few hours, but was worth it. Last week I was a shopping maniac.  I hit up Kroger, Target, and Meijer within 24 hours.  I saved over $200 and restocked my shelves and freezer.  So, for the rest of the month, I’ll just be buying produce at the co-op and fresh dairy products at the grocery store.


  • One of my “church peeps” introduced me to white whole wheat flour, which is my new baking best friend!  (Thanks Ann!)  I try to refrain from using white flour when I bake, but sometimes whole wheat flour is too “grainy” for certain recipes.  White whole wheat flour seems to be a perfect solution – not too grainy, but it’s got 4 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per ¼ cup!  I’ve been using it to make my chocolate chip zucchini muffins and pumpkin bread with delicious results.  However…. It was a little too grainy for my family’s famous sugar cookies, which my Mom and I baked with my niece Ayla for Halloween.  Don’t get me wrong, all the cookies were eaten within days!  But white flour will be used for the quadruple batch of Christmas sugar cookies in December!  If you’re not burnt out on pumpkin yet, be sure to try my pumpkin bread recipe.  I make a double batch and freeze one of the loaves.  I love to have a piece of it with cinnamon butter and hot cup of coffee!


Pumpkin Bread

(Makes one loaf)

½  c. Domino Light (or 1 cup of regular sugar)

½  c. coconut oil

2 eggs

1 cup canned pure pumpkin

1/3 cup water

1 ½  c. white whole wheat flour

1 tsp. baking soda

¼  tsp. table salt

1 ½  tsp. pumpkin pie spice

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease loaf pan with non-stick spray.

2. Beat the eggs with a whisk.  Add the coconut oil and Domino Light (or sugar) and blend well.  Add the pumpkin and water.  Mix
just until well blended.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Combine with the pumpkin mixture and mix just until blended. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

4. Bake for 45 minutes — the loaf is done when center springs back when touched.



Meal Planning Monday ~ Keeping It Cool in the Kitchen

This week’s blog post is by Christine Luken.


We’ve been blessed with a nice cool spell here in the Ohio River Valley, which has been a welcome relief to the sweltering heat.  As the saying goes, nothing good lasts forever!  August is bound to have some red-hot days, which makes me NOT want to turn on the oven to make dinner.  The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get a tasty meal on the table without adding too much extra heat in the kitchen.  Besides the obvious choice of grilling, here are some of my favorites.

  • Stovetop – If there’s any way I can make something on the stovetop versus the oven in the summer, I’ll do it.  Using the stovetop does put off some heat, but not nearly as much as using the oven.  Rather than baking fish or chicken, I’ll pan-fry it with a little bit of olive oil or Smart Balance cooking spray.  Stir-frying meat and veggies makes a great summer dinner, too.


  • Toaster Oven – I use my toaster oven all the time!  Since it’s just my husband and I, it’s the perfect size to roast some cauliflower, bake some sweet potato fries, or cook up a piece or two of salmon.  Because of its small size, it doesn’t put off much heat at all.  However, if you have a large family, this may not be a good option for you.


  • Crock Pot – Some people tend to think of the crock pot as a winter appliance, which always puzzles me.  We love bone-in chicken in the crock pot!  Whenever our local Kroger store has chicken on sale, I stock up the freezer.  Because I’ve got so many great recipes, we could have chicken in the crock pot once a week and not get tired of it.  Last week I threw in some carrots, potatoes, chicken broth, and a little parsley and basil with the chicken and it was fantastic!  Some of my other favorite recipes are Maple Dijon Chicken Thighs, Beer Chicken, Crock Pot Buffalo Chicken, Pesto Ranch Chicken, and Chicken with Artichoke Hearts.  You can even make dessert in the crock pot!

    • Steamer – Several of my friends and my husband are convinced that the microwave is not good for us, so we’re trying to use it less.  I picked up this steamer (pictured above with my homegrown Swiss chard) at Wal-Mart for $20, and I must say that I love it!  There’s a second basket that can be stacked on top, so that you can steam two different things at once.  Veggies taste so delicious in the steamer; they almost don’t even need butter!  We also like to steam ears of corn, but they have to be broken in half to fit in the basket.  The base is less than 12 inches across, so it doesn’t take up much room in the cabinet or on the counter, which is another big plus.

  • “Baking” with the Grill – The obvious choice for summer cooking is the grill.  Think outside of the box for firing up the grill!  Many recipes that are baked in the oven can also be made on the grill.  We purchased a new grill this summer and I love that it has a temperature gauge.  I can now “bake” my roasted salmon or my Portobello mushroom pizzas without worrying about  vercooking (or burning) our dinner!


  •  Zero Heat Cooking – Sometimes we will take leftover grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp, or taco meat and make some huge dinner salads.  A satisfying dinner with zero heat required!

What is your favorite summer recipe to make that doesn’t require slaving over a hot stove?

Meal Planning Monday ~ The Glory of Autumn


This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.

Cooler temps, the leaves are starting to change colors, and Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back.  Yep, it’s officially autumn.  This is my favorite season ~ Halloween, pumpkin farms, and cozy sweaters are just a few reasons why I love this time of year.  I also love cooking in the cooler weather.  I tend to use my crock pot more in the fall and winter.  I thought I’d share a few of my favorite fall crock pot recipes.

Chili ~ My husband loves chili, so this is a staple in our house.  I like experimenting with different chili recipes: black bean chili, vegetarian chili, and white chicken chili to name a few.  Chili also freezes very well, so I make a double batch and freeze half.

Ham and Green Beans ~ This is so easy to throw together.  All you need is ham, green beans, salt, pepper, and chicken broth. Cook on low for 8 hours.

Black Bean Soup ~ A friend of mine in my Facebook recipe group recommended this recipe.    It’s so good and it also freezes well.

Pot Roast ~ there’s nothing like coming home to the smell of roast cooking in the crock pot. My family loves leftover pot roast sandwiches.  I love meals I can make once and get two to three more meals out of.

Baked Apples ~ I haven’t tried these yet.  I did put them on my “To Make” list for fall foods.

Carnitas ~ I don’t instantly think fall when I think of carnitas, but this recipe is so good and it’s another one that makes my house smell amazing.

Pumpkin anything ~ Alright that doesn’t fit into the crock pot category, but who doesn’t love pumpkin flavored anything in the fall?  Here’s a great recipe for pumpkin pancakes.

Here is the recipe for Baked Apples in the crock pot.  If you try them out let me know how you like them.

Baked Apples

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons trans-fat free margarine
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 Gala or Macintosh apples, cored
1/2 cup apple juice or apple cider
2 tablespoons orange liquor (optional)


Preheat a large crock-pot on high heat and preset it for 3 hours.  In a large bowl, mix brown sugar, walnuts, margarine, and cinnamon.  Fill the apples with the filling and place them in the crock-pot.  Pour in the apple juice or cider and the liquor, if using.  Cover and cook 2 1/2 to 3 hours on high heat until the apples are soft and begin to collapse.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Keeping It Cool


          First of all, I want to wish everyone a Happy Independence Day on Wednesday!  Second, I want to wish my wonderful husband, Nick, a very Happy Birthday today!

            For most of the country it has been miserably HOT the past few days and the weatherman is calling for more of the same this holiday week.  I don’t know about you, but when it gets this hot, I don’t feel much like cooking.  And I definitely don’t want to turn the oven on!  Does this mean that I throw the meal plan out the window?  Nope!  Here are some things I do to keep the kitchen cool when it’s this hot out.

  • I use the crock pot.  I’m always puzzled at people who put away their crock pots when winter’s over.  This awesome little appliance is in use at my house at least once a week.  You can make many of the same meals that are normally baked in the oven.  This past weekend, I put some bone-in chicken thighs in the crock pot with a bottle of BBQ sauce.  Easy and delicious!
  • I make use of my freezer meals.  Now is a great time to use your freezer meals!  Most of mine can be reheated in the microwave.  I’ve got some turkey chili that I’ll be having later this week.
  • Make the most of your grill!  Sometimes it’s nice for me to have a night off and let my grill-master husband cook dinner!  We’ll cook everything for our dinner on the grill, not just the meat.  Lately, I’ve been buying tiny Yukon gold potatoes and putting them raw on a skewer to cook alongside of our chicken and steak.
  • Don’t forget your toaster oven and microwave.  I really wanted garlic roasted asparagus the other night, which I usually make in the oven.  Then it dawned on me that I could use my toaster oven instead!  Same result with much less heat in the kitchen.  When it’s super-hot out, I don’t even want to cook veggies on the stove top.  So I keep a stash of Ziploc steamer bags to cook my veggies and keep the kitchen cool.
  • No-cook meals.  Sometimes, it’s just easier to make a nice big salad for dinner when it’s sweltering outside.  It’s easy to grill some extra chicken and keep it in the fridge just for this occasion.

What’s your favorite hot-weather meal?  Enjoy the holiday and stay cool!