15 Quick and Easy Summer Dinners
Summer is a time to have fun outdoors and not be tied to the kitchen, regardless of how much you love to cook. With these 15 quick summer dinner ideas, you can get back to fun, family, and friends as quickly as possible, without having to rely on expensive or unhealthy takeout or delivery. These delicious, cheap, and nutritious recipes use inexpensive, shelf-stable ingredients for extra convenience, and most are adaptable to substitutions, so they'll work with what's already in the pantry or refrigerator.
Related: 25 Dishes to Make the Most of Summer Produce
Keep handy something that can be used as a wrap, such as large tortillas (or tender collard leaves), for a quick meal with wide appeal. Combine leftovers and staples to fill and roll the wraps -- any sandwich combination works. Greens, other vegetables, herbs, spreads such as hummus and olive tapenade, and deli slices can be served with the sauce of your choice, such as salad dressing, sweet chili, or even barbecue.
Nachos are quick and so, so good, and most of the ingredients are shelf-stable pantry items: a bag of chips, a jar of salsa, and a can of beans. Top with cheese and broil until hot and melty for an indulgent summer meal that will disappear in as little time as it took to make. Sautéed veggies, meats, and fresh onion, herbs, and tomato add substance and layers without much more time or cost.
Related: 11 Ways to Enjoy Summer Beans on the Cheap
Dinner salads are especially satisfying in hot weather without weighing you down. Keep washed lettuce and cut vegetables in the fridge to make this a five-minute meal and encourage healthy eating. A traditional Greek salad from My Greek Dish combines summer garden produce such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers with olives, feta, oregano, and a simple wine vinegar dressing. Rub a clove of garlic on toast for a side that completes the meal.
A familiar recipe for many college students can also offer full flavor and nutrition to a family in a pinch. All you really need is a can of beans, some tortillas, and some cheese to combine, roll up, heat in the microwave or oven, and devour. Throw in leftover vegetables or meat found in the fridge to work in tasty layers and bulk.
An omelet is quick and adaptable, accommodating ingredients from fresh herbs and garlic to leftover pulled pork. Even a large omelet takes only five minutes to cook and provides a filling meal. Serve with simply dressed greens on the side for variety and to get even more vegetables.
This Chinese restaurant favorite takes less time to prepare than it takes to deliver and can be made with less-expensive cuts of meat. Simply Recipes suggests using thin slices, which cook quickly and stretch a small amount of meat to feed a group. Loaded with broccoli and accompanied by rice, this meal is as nutritionally sound as it is quick and easy to make any night of the week.
A sandwich made from a tempting Real Simple recipe falls somewhere between a classic salad and pizza. Dress it up for sit-down affairs with a side of simply dressed arugula and a bottle of wine, or serve this kid-friendly dish family style. It takes just a few simple ingredients -- classically, tomato, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil, although chicken can be added from the skillet -- to prepare this meal in a flash for last-minute get-togethers.
A pressure cooker is a must-have cooking gadget for anyone pressed for time in the kitchen. It can cut cooking time by more than half on many dishes. By more traditional means, risotto is labor intensive; it takes a long time stirring and slowly incorporating liquid to make the rice creamy. Mastering a hands-off, 15-minute risotto recipe from The Kitchn is a game changer.
Panini are delicious and diverse enough to serve for any meal. Pour a glass of wine for a casual yet chic dinner, or cut the pressed sandwiches into quarters and arrange on a platter for an informal poolside dinner. Using leftover roasted or grilled vegetables works well, and so do a few slices of fresh veggies, a jar of roasted red peppers, and a recipe from Skinny Ms. Feel free to swap out the goat cheese for mozzarella or any other type of melting cheese.
It's hard to go wrong with a classic BLT made from fresh summer tomatoes and crunchy lettuce. Smear toast with mayonnaise, add the bacon (or vegetarian-friendly fake bacon) of your choice, thick slices of tomato, and a few leaves of fresh lettuce and serve with potato chips for an easy, quick, and comforting dish. For informal gatherings, consider making BLT sliders on mini buns.
Veggie-loaded French bread pizzas can be ready faster than Domino's. Substitute any vegetables handy or some family favorites for the suggested ingredients in a recipe from About.com's food section. Even stale bread works well for this dish, which makes it a go-to when looking to reduce waste and save money as well as time.
A fun, hand-held treat the entire family will love, quesadillas are ready in minutes. They are also cheap and adaptable to any ingredients you have on hand. A plain tortilla-and-cheese quesadilla is complete on its own but can also take any combination of fresh or cooked vegetables, cooked meats, or herbs, as suggested by Simply Recipes. Eat them plain or top with salsa, hot sauce, guacamole, or sour cream.
This fancier French cousin of the grilled cheese sandwich is loaded with ham and topped with a fried egg, adding flavor and filling protein to the dish. In true French cuisine fashion, a croque-madame is a bit more labor intensive than an American grilled cheese sandwich, but instructions from the Food Network are not particularly difficult or time-consuming, and the results are impressive and worth the bit of effort.
Couscous is a busy cook's best friend. It cooks in 10 minutes or less, costs very little, and takes on a variety of flavors easily. Create a one-dish meal out of this pantry staple by mixing in Moroccan spices, dried fruits, and nuts. A recipe from cookbook author Cynthia Presser uses broth instead of water to cook the couscous, adding even more flavor.
Panzanella is a classic Italian bread salad full of juicy ripe tomatoes, topped by a tangy dressing. In a classic rendition from the Barefoot Contessa, toasted fresh bread imitates the stale bread cubes traditionally used in the dish. But if you have some on hand, stale bread makes the recipe quicker and more efficient while cutting food waste. Add a can of drained and rinsed chickpeas to the salad to make it a complete meal of vegetables, protein, and delicious bites of crunchy, dressing-soaked bread.