It�s summertime and the living should be easier � at least in the kitchen. Nature gives us everything we need to create simple, luscious, healthy meals -- it�s up to us to slow down long enough to enjoy the bounty. With extended daylight hours, and no need to nag our children about homework, dinnertime can take on a whole new tone.
Shake things up a little bit this summer and have fun with these simple dinner ideas. Even the pickiest eaters will be won over.
*Picasso in the Kitchen
Allow the vivid colors of summer fruits to become your palette. Grab a large white plate or pretty tray and arrange slices of watermelon, kiwi, peaches, mango, grapes, and strawberries. This beautiful arrangement can become your table�s centerpiece. Add a few bowls of various yogurts around the table and your hungry brood can dip to their delight. Warm a loaf of crispy French bread, wrap it in a festive cloth and add it to the table. Arrange some sliced cheeses and smoked or roasted turkey slices (pick these up at the deli counter) and you�ve got an easy does it, display that�s good enough to eat.
*Participation is Key
Less structured summer days give kids the opportunity to join in meal prep. When kids cut the carrots chances are they will eat the carrots. You might even assign your older kids a specific night to select and prepare the menu -- with you as their sous chef. Offer them a few ideas such as �breakfast for dinner� or �mac and cheese night.� The new social networking site for moms, MomJunction.com, recently posted an easy, tried and true Mac & Cheese recipe:
Boil 8 oz. small pasta. Drain, then stir in 1 cup milk, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar OR 8 oz. American cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle more cheese on top. Bake at 350˙ until heated through. Easy and yummy and plain!!!
You will want to help with boiling the pasta but other than that it�s a cinch for kids about 8 years and older. To make this recipe even healthier, throw some peas (frozen or fresh) into the boiling pasta for the last few minutes of cooking time.
Even if it�s raining outside think �picnic.� Who said a picnic needs to be under the sky? Pitch a pup tent in the living room or use paper plates in the dining room � the idea is simplicity and a lighthearted approach to mealtime. Buy a precooked roasted chicken from your local supermarket. You can often find organic, barbequed, or even provincial chickens for under $10.00. Assemble a large salad from the salad bar or buy a Caesar salad in a bag. Finally, pick up a container of vanilla frozen yogurt and some chocolate chip cookies. When you get home all you�ll need to do is cut up the chicken, add it to the Caesar salad and scoop some frozen yogurt between 2 cookies, wrap them in cellophane and freeze for dessert.
Create a weekly summer pot luck dinner gathering with neighbors. Harkening back to those beach days where everyone contributed to joint family dinners, enlist your neighbors to join you in creating the ultimate summer easy potluck, one night a week. Your kids will love the cooperative feel where gathering together is what counts. Get out a picnic bench, paper tablecloths, and come up with simple contributions from participating families.
The combination of fat, protein and fiber in peanut butter makes it hard to break down, so it lasts longer in our systems � providing us more energy. A perfect, protein packed, summer dinner kids adore is Spicy Peanut Noodles. It�s served chilled or at room temperature so this is a great dish to make in the morning before the day begins. Edamame is also packed with protein punch and would make a great accompaniment to these noodles. You can buy them in the freezer section of your local grocer for ultimate ease.
Spicy Peanut Noodles
-4 Tablespoons each creamy peanut butter (organic if available) and low-sodium soy sauce
-4 teaspoons fresh lime juice and a pinch of red pepper flakes
-4 Cups of cooked pasta (spaghetti holds the sauce well)
-A seeded, sliced cucumber
-Top with a few sliced scallions
-Grated ginger and/or garlic
-Chopped fresh cilantro
Mimi Doe is the Chair of the http://MomJunction.com Board of Advisors. She is a national parenting expert and the award-winning author of "Busy but Balanced" (St. Martin�s Press).