Nutrition Column – Too Hot to Cook?

Think it’s too hot to cook? As the dog days of summer drag on, the last thing many of us want to do is turn on the oven to cook a meal. When it comes to cooking during the summer months, preparing meals that are quick, simple and don’t require the use of the oven is a great way to go. To still serve a good meal, without slaving over the stove, consider the following suggestions:

Go for the grill.  From traditional barbeque fare, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken, to more unique choices like fruit or veggie kebabs, fish and corn on the cob, there are any number of grilling possibilities. When grilling:

– Choose lean cuts of beef (round, sirloin and loin cuts). If you wish, tenderize the meat to increase flavor and texture.

– Experiment with different herbs, spices and marinades. Always marinate in the refrigerator and turn the meat occasionally. Once the meat has been put on the grill, discard any leftover marinade.

– Grill meat, poultry and fish on both sides. Turn hamburgers several times to ensure even cooking. Fish that is less than 1/2 inch thick doesn’t need to be turned.

– Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness. Chicken parts should be cooked to 170 degrees F. Hamburgers and other ground meats need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. To test the temperature of a hamburger, lift if up off the grill with a spatula and insert the thermometer from the side.

– Clean the grill between uses.

Serve up a salad. Fruits and vegetables are readily available during the summer months, making salad another mealtime alternative. When making a salad:

– Color your plate with a rainbow of colors. Different color families of fruits and vegetables provide different nutrients.

– If your salad is serving as the main dish it’s important to include protein-rich ingredients. Try garbanzo beans, kidney beans, tofu, lean ham, turkey or chicken strips, or canned tuna in spring water.

– Spoon on low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese or other cheeses to add calcium, that bone-building, osteoporosis-fighting nutrient, to your salad.

– Toss on some chopped nuts such as almonds, walnuts or cashews. Although nuts are high in fat, they contain mostly "heart-healthy" monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated fat.

Prepare a good, cold meal.  Although we often associate dinnertime with a "good, hot meal," cool, refreshing foods can be more satisfying when temperatures outside approach triple digits. Try:

– Tossing cold pasta with vinaigrette or light dressing along with some of your favorite vegetables.

– Preparing a sandwich and salad rather than that favorite winter meal – soup and salad.  

– Serving a dip, such as hummus or bean dip, with raw vegetables, pita wedges or fresh bread.

– Making a chicken salad by mixing chunks of cooked chicken with mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks. For dressing, use mayonnaise, Dijon mustard or reserved juice from the mandarin oranges.

– Making a tortilla wrap by spreading a whole wheat or spinach tortilla with hummus or low-fat cream cheese. Add chopped cucumber, tomatoes, and scallions or red onions for crunch, tuck in ends and roll.

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension