Summer Dinner Ideas For Families

One of my favorite things about the transition to summer involves food -- no more school lunches to pack and far less rushing around in relation to meals in general. But that doesn't mean meals -- particular dinnertime -- are easy. There's still the planning and the making and the inspiring kids to come to the table and eat something other than popsicles. I thought it would be helpful to share some of my favorite summer dinner ideas for families, and would love to hear your ideas as well (feel free to drop in the comments below)!

1. Make a butler's salad

I first learned the term butler's salad from my dear friends Anne and Michael. Butler's salad is my favorite way to clean out odds and ends in the fridge yet make dinner look pretty. Seriously, go make one today.

2. Embrace the nibble platter

Similar to how I like raiding the fridge for leftovers to make butler's salad, summer is perfect for what we call nibble platters. Instead of turning on the stove, we'll pull out all sorts of odds and ends (cheese, crackers, veggies, leftover chicken, pasta, etc.) and arrange them on a big platter. Not only does this strategy save on food waste and energy use, but we find that there's something lovely and communal and fun about picking dinner items off a big platter.

3. Prep a few things on Sunday

One of my favorite things to do is enjoy some relaxed food prep time on Sunday so I can avoid the frantic end of work day mealtime scramble. On a recent Sunday I knocked together a tortilla pie (a cousin of this Mexican casserole), a giant bowl of pico de gallo, and these crispy Korean tofu bites. This took care of dinner on Sunday and also set us up with weekday leftovers.

4. Hit the farmer's market

I get it, the struggle is real with kids and vegetables but they will eventually eat them, I promise. I truly believe that our job as parents is to put out the options, not force feed our kids. Laurel and Violet both used to be steadfast members of White Food Nation (mac n' cheese, grilled cheese, cheese OMGGGG) but now eat plenty of vegetables. I highly recommend hitting a farmer's market so they can see lots of colorful produce and connect the people who grow food to the food itself, and having your kid choose some vegetables (because really, kids just want some control). 

5. Put your kids in charge of meals

One of the great things about moving into summer mode is not being as rushed around mealtimes. Take advantage of the looser summer schedule to encourage your kids to experiment in the kitchen -- it can be as simple as assembling sandwiches and salads.

6. Head outside

Speaking of sandwiches, eating outside is THE BEST because you don't have to worry about sweeping crumbs off the floor! Plan some of your mealtimes so you can enjoy them in the backyard or toss them in a backpack to take on a picnic in the park or at a beach. Just keep it simple with things like sandwiches, fruit salad, pre-sliced baguette + pre-sliced cheese, a sampler of antipasto items, and a sweet treat.

7. Raid the garden

This one requires more advanced planning but I can't recommend enough involving your kids in planting (and harvesting!) veggies. We have only ever had small garden boxes but have been able to grow peas, beets, radishes, and herbs. Jon is even trying corn this year (in a seriously small place...and it seems to be working!). Kids are more likely to eat veggies when they see them grow. Just yesterday Laurel and Violet harvested and ate a bunch of snap peas!

8. Toss it all on the grill

In addition to the standard burgers and dogs, we always get a high level of intrigue and consumption when we do things that feel special (while not actually being hard!). Kabobs are a big hit, as are veggies or fish grilled in foil, and also pizza on the grill.

9. Keep some easy, basic crowd-pleasing produce on hand

Just last week during the first full week of summer, it just felt unbelievably summery when we found ourselves with 5 kids in the house. We ordered a couple of pizzas for dinner but otherwise I tossed together a simple salad, and put out watermelon wedges and a big bowl of grapes and everyone was so happy.

Do you have other favorite summer dinner ideas? Share them in the comments below!

Summer is a great time to jumpstart new food habits. Hopefully these summer dinner ideas will help you get there!

Summer is a great time to jumpstart new food habits. Hopefully these summer dinner ideas will help you get there!