Summer meals to help you keep cool in the kitchen

Sizzling Tips for a Cool Summer Kitchen

by Amy Burns


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Ah, summer... Fourth of July, family vacations, ice cream cones, and delicious, casual dinners filled with fresh seasonal produce.

Eeek, summer! hot kitchens, kids home from school, blood sucking insects, and a sweating, ill-tempered cook.

Has the need to prepare summer meals ever driven you to ordering take out or turning the air conditioner up to compensate for the oven? Check out the tips below to save on the food budget and the electricity bill.

  • Cook double portions in the cool of the morning. Put one in the fridge for tonight's meal and freeze the other for later. Warm tonight's meal in the microwave.

  • Turn the slow cooker on low when you go to bed and wake up to meals to eat or freeze. (Practice safety first. Know your slow cooker, your recipe, and don't sleep 15 hours.) While slow cookers generate heat over a long period of time, they are a very localized and low level heat source. As an added bonus, cheap cuts of meat work great in the slow cooker.

  • Microwave white, brown and wild rice, couscous, and vegetables instead of using the stovetop or oven. Use more of these items as they are naturally frugal and nutritious. Buy in bulk and keep even cooler by reducing trips to the grocery store.

  • Carefully choose summer vegetables. While crisp salads are very appealing in the summer, lettuce is actually a cooler weather crop. Instead try cucumber and tomato salads with homemade vinaigrette for higher quality and lower cost. Or choose bargain seasonal fruits and make a fruit salad. Keep it raw or microwave it for a cooler kitchen.

  • Consider broiling lean and boneless pieces of meat and fish. Although the oven gets very hot, it takes far less time to broil than to bake, reducing the heat factor. Heat contained in the oven is better than heat pouring off the stovetop, especially if you have an older electric stove like I do. Try broiling instead of sautéing, too. Check sales flyers for "London broil" beef, tilapia fish fillets, or boneless, skinless chicken thighs. All of these can be found cheaply if you are really watching the ads.

  • Rethink the summer barbecuing strategy if you have one. Setting up a large barbecue, procuring charcoal and lighter fluid (or propane), keeping the barbecue clean, and monitoring the cooking (and the little kids near the hot barbecue) can cost a lot and make you sweat. If you love to barbecue, buy charcoal on sale and consider downsizing to a small barbecue. Or, save the barbecuing for frugal entertaining; provide the side dishes and have your guests bring their own meat.

  • Serve fancy ice cream sundaes instead of baking cakes for summer birthdays. Fruit parfaits and instant pudding are also cool and frugal summer desserts.

  • Make sun tea from regular, decaffeinated, or herbal tea bags and skip the soda and powdered sugary drinks. It's healthier, it's cheaper, and you use the sun's heat. Cold sun tea can be an excellent substitute for coffee on a hot morning as well.

  • Use canned tuna and salmon to make cool and nutritious summer sandwiches. Remember that "light" tuna contains less mercury than albacore tuna and also costs far less. However, more than one can a week for a small child is not recommended, nor is taking these sandwiches on a picnic (think peanut butter instead).

  • Prepare ahead for kid snack attacks. Buy baby carrots and ranch dressing on sale. Stock up on seasonal and dried fruit. Portion sale price pretzels (then wash the baggies and reuse them). Use a hot air popper for popcorn (in this case, the small amount of heat definitely outweighs the cost of microwave popcorn). Make your own pure juice popsicles with a reusable mold. Use the toaster oven to make mini English muffin pizzas instead of turning on the big oven for a regular pizza. Many of these snacks are portable, too, for those summer baseball games and car rides.

With small changes in the way you buy and prepare foods in the summer, you can save some cash and some stress… and keep your cool!


Amy Burns is a stay-at-home mother of two young children. Having recently survived a move from the Southwest to the much more expensive Windy City, she is enjoying applying frugal living techniques in a new environment.

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