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Tips for Quick & Easy Family Meals to Maximize Summer

Summer is officially here, with its days spent building sandcastles at the beach and t-ball games in the evening. Summer has a way of starting out long and lazy, but then it quickly gets filled with activities and impromptu get-togethers, and it’s all those things that start to interfere with family dinnertime.

It’s easy to get into the habit of picking something up while you’re out anyway, stopping and grabbing something to eat between your daughter’s soccer practice and your son’s baseball game.

Before you know it, family mealtime can fall to the wayside as summertime activities fill your schedule.

Why Dine Together as a Family?

Family dinners serve several important functions. Studies have long shown that children who sit down to dinner together with their family are less depressed and get better grades than their peers that do not. They are also less likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Beyond those studies, preparing and serving a family meal also gives you control over what is going into your children’s bodies. Focusing on real food is important, and eating a diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in preservatives and deep fat fryers goes a long way in maintaining our health and energy.

How Do You Make Time?

So, we know it’s important to eat well and eat together, but how do we manage this in the midst of summer? The answer is not to always plan on being home every day at dinnertime, though that would also work. Instead, plan for the unexpected meals on the go.

Photo by Shaina

Instead of hitting the drive-thru on your way from the beach to your child’s sporting event, hit the park for a picnic instead. Here are a few things to remember when dining on the go:

  • paper or polycarbonate plates, one for each member of your family
  • forks and knives
  • napkins
  • bibs for younger children
  • wet wipes
  • a bed sheet or large blanket for when no picnic table is available

Cook the food at the park.

Probably the most often thought of solution is to simply pack the food and bring it along. Make sandwiches ahead of time, or bring grillables to the park. Use the picnic tables and park grills for their intended purpose.

Pack a picnic basket.

You don’t need an actual picnic basket, just a small collection of items on hand in the car that will allow you to stop and eat on the go. With just a few essentials, your family will be picnic-ready:

Photo by Shaina

Cook extra protein.

Whether you’re grilling a few extra chicken breasts to turn into a chicken pasta salad or hard boiling eggs for an easy lunch, having extra protein cooked and ready to go is usually the largest part of the meal-on-the-go battle. When no grill is available, proteins that can be packed in the cooler are key.

Consider the supermarket the new drive-thru.

An organic rotisserie chicken from the deli, a bag of fresh grapes, baby carrots and your picnic pack (above) make an easy meal that isn’t fast food. When you find yourself stranded and looking for food, remember that real food can be quick, too, and head for the grocery aisle.

Eating as a family can be done even when you’re running from one place to the next, and it doesn’t have to mean giving up those activities and outings that happen in the summer.

With just a small amount of foresight, you can be ready to to embrace mealtime on the go.

What are your favorite on-the-go meals to bring along? Do you prefer cooking outdoors or packing the already prepared food along?

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  1. andie

    i was hoping this blog would be about recipes. we live overseas and can’t do most of these things. oh, to treat the grocery store like my drive-thru! 🙂

  2. Trudy G.

    Great idea to use the grocery store as a drive-thru! Will definitely keep that one in mind.
    .-= Trudy G.´s last blog ..Week 3: June 19, 2010 =-.

  3. Kate

    I have been thinking a lot about this! With baseball practice or games almost every night, right at dinner time… this is tricky! I would love some ideas of quick, child friendly meals….:)

  4. Mindy

    Great ideas! Just yesterday I did some cooking/prepping ahead (rainy day here so it was a perfert afternoon for it) and we have a majority of the next 4 days dinners done. It’s such a good feeling to not have that panickly “what’s for dinner” feeling since the next few days will be hectic.

  5. Susan

    I love these ideas and will share these with my readers! I have been doing the “Extra grilling” so that I have items to make into salads, etc. Thanks for sharing and bringing home the idea of family meal time!
    .-= Susan´s last blog ..Beating the Clock =-.

  6. WorkingMom

    Even during the summer, the kids and I have family dinners (Hubby works second shift and takes the leftovers as his dinner the next night). I also have to plan for lunches and more people eating over as we are Neighborhood Central for the kids’ friends, and find a way to cook that doesn’t involve turning the oven on while not grilling on my own (long story). My solution is to have Hubby do the grilling in the early/midmorning, make liberal use of the crockpots, and to have salads at every meal (very easy to throw stuff on top of, and very filling!).
    .-= WorkingMom´s last blog ..Home Economics 101 =-.

  7. Sherry

    I enjoyed your tips. It is too easy to just drive through a fast food window isn’t it? I had never thought of it this way before, but I’ve been using the supermarket as a drive thru for awhile now; love the deli and there’s even more organic options now. Thanks!
    .-= Sherry´s last blog ..How to Make a Fortune Promoting Other People’s Products =-.

  8. Greta @ Mom Living Healthy

    We’re really trying to do this more this summer. Tonight my husband has a softball game, so I’m packing egg salad sandwiches, fruit and veggies to avoid the drive thru. Thanks!
    .-= Greta @ Mom Living Healthy´s last blog ..This Week’s Menu Plan =-.

  9. jill

    Thanks for the tips Shaina. I have been packing lunch (and supper) on Thursday evenings when my daughter has 1 1/2 hours between dance classes. Cooking extra protein is something I had not thought of. Staying hydrated is important so we have been making Crystal Lite to take along so we stay away from soft drinks. We like to put fruit in our water and make our own flavored water too.

  10. Rachel @ the science of music

    With two (and soon to be three) boys playing baseball, the weeks get really hectic. There are practices and games almost every night of the week. We pack picnics all the time. I fix sandwiches for everyone – customized to their preferences. I put those in a cooler with some ice a few bottles of water, and fruit (usually grapes and apples). In a reusable grocery bag, I put cups, plates, a roll of paper towels, a bunch of bananas or whatever else we might want to eat. Then we eat wherever is most convenient. Last night, we had dinner in a parking garage in downtown Houston, but it was so much tastier, healthier, and cheaper than ballpark food!
    .-= Rachel @ the science of music´s last blog ..Book Review and a Giveaway! =-.

  11. Elizabeth Regalado

    We had a quick picnic night by throwing some frozen meatballs in the microwave, heating up a little marinara sauce, and putting these on some hoagie buns with mozarella on top as meatball subs. We also had carrot sticks and grapes and strawberries for dessert. Very filling! Thanks for the ideas, keep them coming! It’s so nice to eat outdoors even when it isn’t schedule induced! 🙂

  12. Julia

    An idea I need to try is to keep all those picnic supplies (blanket, plates, forks, etc.) IN the car so that we can easily do a spur-of-the-moment outdoor meal. I think I will put that task on my to do list tomorrow!
    .-= Julia´s last blog ..Fast and Easy Star Pinata =-.

  13. Penny

    This is great adivce! I love all of this ideas – especially cooking at the park. As a busy mom I’m always on the go, and quickness and efficiency are SO necessary. I’ve actually been grilling a lot and using these great sauces from this brand called Tastybite. They’re pan-asian sauces and really help change/spice things up when grilling. They also make ready-made meals that only take 90 seconds, and they’re preservative-free, all natural, low sodium/fat/calorie so I’ve been buying these up like crazy and serving them for lunches and dinners whenever I really don’t have time, which is often! I definitely recommend them for super quick meals. Otherwise, enjoy summer and thanks for the great article!

  14. Tia

    These are great ideas for saving time and getting to play a lot more. Living in Arizona means that it’s hot and sunny all the time, and the last thing we feel like doing is hanging out in the kitchen. I especially like the idea of cooking up more protein to create additional meals.

  15. Beth (Pot Luck Mama)

    On picnics: I can’t tell you how many uses my mom made of her swiss army knife as I was growing up. I’m pretty sure there was some peanut butter in there that never made it out again…;)

  16. Christa

    Great ideas! Summer is about dropping the schedules (at least for me) and having a picnic planned for a summer of fun is just the ticket. And the suggestion of having extra protein already cooked is fantastic!

    I always forget about hard boiled eggs. Thanks so much

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