Summer Recipes: 5 Healthy, Quick and Easy No Cook Family Dinner Ideas

Debbie Koenig teaches a unique cooking class for new parents, called Parents Need To Eat Too, from her own Brooklyn kitchen, where she arms her students with tips, techniques and recipes to make sure putting a delicious and healthy dinner on the table doesn't get put aside along with your pre-baby jeans.

We got Debbie to share some easy, healthy no-cook recipes that are perfect for enjoying this summer, when the last thing you want to do is sweat over a hot stove. Thanks, Debbie!

If you go by the calendar and not this bizarroland weather, summer’s coming. Someday soon, even. And when it does, that sticky New York City heat will come with it and I’ll want to swan onto the divan like Blanche DuBois, dabbing a hanky to my glistening forehead. The mere thought of turning on the oven will sicken me. So I’ll turn to no-cook dinners, satisfying, cooling, nutritious meals inspired by what’s in the farmer’s market, none of which ever touch heat. Here are five options, each so simple it’s hardly even a recipe:

HOMEMADE SALAD BAR
If you’ve got picky eaters, this one’s a home run: it’s flexible, it’s fun, and it offers the little ones a sense of control. And it’s easy to prepare in stages, using a technique I call Nap-Time Cooking.

Rummage through your fridge and pantry, and pull out everything you think might taste good in a salad. Include the obvious, things like baby spinach, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, carrots, as well as more unusual items like marinated artichoke hearts, hard cheeses, dried fruit and nuts, olives, pickles, cooked rice, pasta, or any other grain, and whatever cooked protein you have on hand (a rotisserie chicken comes in quite handy here, as does a can of tuna in olive oil). Don’t shy away from using fresh fruit, too—strawberries and orange segments add a little unexpected sweetness.

Over the course of your child’s naps (or all at once, if you prefer), cut each item into cubes that are roughly the same size, and refrigerate in its own little bowl. At dinnertime, arrange the bowls on the counter, give each family member a salad plate, and let them help themselves. There are no rules here, so don’t stress if junior decides he’d like a bowl of nothing but tomatoes. (Heck, I’d be thrilled if my toddler, Harry, ate tomatoes voluntarily!)

If you’ve got bottled dressing you’re good to go, and if not here’s a kid-friendly recipe from Harry’s preschool teacher: In a small airtight container, put equal amounts of a neutral oil (like canola), rice wine vinegar, and brown sugar (I usually go light on the sugar). A pinch each of salt and pepper. If you like, a smashed garlic clove. Shake.

PLOUGHMAN’S LUNCH
Another works-with-what-you’ve-got favorite, this is nothing more than fleshed-out cheese and crackers with a funny name. Supposedly it’s the lunch English housewives would pack for their farmer husbands before they went to plow the fields: cheese, bread or crackers, pickles, mustard or chutney, and maybe a fresh vegetable or fruit. Start with those basic ground rules, and improvise away. Serve parmigiano reggiano, taleggio, and provolone with jarred giardiniera (Italian pickled vegetables), mostarda (a mustardy Italian jam—Harry likes pear best), red grapes, and fresh Italian bread. Or give it a Mexican slant with cotija, manchego, and queso fresco, salsa, avocado, mango, and tortillas.

GREEK PITA
This one involves a cheat: cooked chicken. Pick up either some grilled chicken cutlets at your local deli (Trader Joe’s sells some pretty good ones, too) or a rotisserie chicken—lemon-pepper seasoned would be ideal. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Put it in a big salad bowl with chopped romaine lettuce, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, chopped olives (please, I beg you, not canned!), and small chunks of feta cheese. Drizzle some good-quality extra virgin olive oil on top, squeeze half a lemon, and add a splash of red wine vinegar. Add a pinch of dried oregano, salt, and pepper. Toss, and stuff into warmed (in the microwave: that’s not really cooking!) whole-wheat pitas.

MEZZE FEAST
A salad bar with a Middle Eastern twist, mezze offers your kids the same “no thanks” opportunities as the good ol’ American version. The only difference is, these ingredients all have a little spice to them. And I’ll let you in on a secret: you can get some really good Middle Eastern salads in the supermarket; we really like the Sabra brand, for example. If you’re lucky enough to live near a neighborhood with good Greek or Arabic shops, your only limit is your appetite.

Start with hummus and warm pita. (Easy trick for making store-bought hummus look homemade: drizzle some olive oil on top, and add a sprinkling of paprika.) Add some baba ganoush, tabboule, stuffed grape leaves, and olives, maybe some feta. Make a quick Moroccan carrot salad: toss a package of baby carrots in a dressing made with the juice of half a lemon, a glug or two of olive oil, a few drops of honey, and half a teaspoon of ground cumin.

Also good, Israeli salad: finely dice a seeded cucumber and a tomato, and toss with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

THE TONY SOPRANO
Full credit for this one goes to my husband: He saw Tony ordering this sandwich on an episode and became obsessed with it. If you’ve got a good Italian deli near you (we like Emily’s Pork Store), it’s as easy as assembling ingredients. If not, you’ll just have to sit this one out—since it’s so simple, the right ingredients are key: thinly sliced cappicola (a cured, spiced Italian ham; twist my arm and I’ll say prosciutto would be ok, too), sliced provolone, and vinegar peppers (sold in jars—they’re nothing more than bell peppers in white vinegar). The best Italian bread you can find (we like Napoli). A drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the bread itself. Eat.

And here are three more no-cook recipes, each with a full recipe and back-story on my blog, Words to Eat By:

Gazpacho with Honeydew and Peppadew

The above link will also take you to Black Bean, Corn, and Tomato Salad

Summer Friday Salad: Sugar Snap Peas, Strawberries, Cucumber, and Pecorino

Find out more about Debbie's cooking classes on her blog, Words to Eat By.

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