Summer is my favourite time of the year for food. There are so many different types of fruits and vegetables available. Combine that with warmer weather and longer days, and throw in a summer holiday to boot!

Although not many of us want to be stuck in the kitchen when we’re on holiday, so quick and easy meals are what I go for when planning summer holiday food.

Cooking Outdoors

Of course nothing beats cooking outdoors in the summertime!

BBQ vegetables

BBQs don’t have to be limited to sausages and salad. Try chopping up chunks of courgette, capsicum, mushrooms, red onion, tomato and whatever else takes your fancy. Put it all on the hot plate of your bbq with a bit of oil. Cook for 5-10 minutes.

Alternatively you can marinate the veg in some oil, brown sugar and a splash of balsamic vinegar or fresh herbs before putting them on the BBQ for a different flavour.

BBQ corn

Fresh corn on the cob is a summer classic and this too can go on the bbq. First, soak the corn cobs in water for 10-15 minutes, this helps to steam the corn without burning it. Pull back the husk, but leave it intact, and remove all the corn silk. Smear the corn all over with some butter, and season with salt and a little pepper, or paprika. Tear off one husk leaf, and use this to tie the husk ends back together. Place it on the bbq and cook for 25 minutes, turning frequently.

BBQ rhubarb desert

Particularly with modern BBQs you can cook whatever you usually cook inside but you get to do it outside and it is often more of a shared cooking experience, which I love. A quick easy dessert idea is to cut up 600g of rhubarb. Wrap it in tinfoil with fresh ginger and sugar, BBQ for 10-15 minutes. To reduce the sugar required, add a sprinkling of baking soda.

Rustic fire-cooked sausages

A BBQ isn’t the only way to cook outside. Last weekend I came home after being away to find my husband and children had built a fire pit and were cooking pre-cooked sausages and bread on sticks. The kids thought it was fantastic!

My husband had laid some wood to make a square and placed dirt in the bottom to prevent the fire spreading and burning the grass!

He then made a fire on top of the dirt and once the flames had died down the kids held their sticks over the embers.

They soon got bored of holding sticks but they thought it was the greatest thing to have dinner cooked over a fire. Once we were finished we piled dirt over the embers to ensure the fire was completely out and the next day returned it all to the garden.

Probably not the easiest dinner, but so much fun and everyone had the chance to get involved.

Summer Fruit Snack Ideas

Frozen grapes or berries can be a great snack for the kids. Pop them into the freezer and you have a ready supply of simple treats.

Another option is to make frozen yoghurt. Mix plain yoghurt with berries or even a spoonful of jam if that’s what you have. Pour into ice block moulds or ice cube trays and freeze overnight.

Another idea is to cut up chunks of watermelon and send the kids outside to eat. As a child I remember competing with my cousins to see who could spit the seeds the furthest. Perhaps not that PC now, but great fun as a child.

Have a ready supply of fruit on hand so the kids can help themselves.

If your child can’t manage a whole piece, cut up a selection and place it in the fridge. This way it’s ready when needed. A little orange juice will stop fruit browning.

Bag a Lunch

Recently I was lucky enough to have a friend prepare a picnic lunch for our family (her way of returning a favour).

I was expecting a few sandwiches and some fruit. What the children and I got was an adventure.

She had taken the time to pack individual paper bags with loads of goodies. We had tortillas stuffed with lettuce, cucumber, cheese, carrot and dressing then wrapped in paper and tied with a string bow.

A lovely bit of cake again wrapped and tied.

There were individual punnets of nuts and dried fruit and it was finished with a banana and a small piece of chocolate.

The food itself was yum but it was the presentation that made it special. The kids thought they were having a real treat and liked the idea that they had their own bags with their names on it. They couldn’t wait to open the next parcel to discover what was inside!

It probably helped that it wasn’t mum packing the same old sandwiches.

Fresh Summer Salads

I love using all the lovely fresh vegetables that are available during summer.

An obvious choice is the humble salad but it doesn’t have to be humble nor does it have to be just lettuce, tomato and cucumber. A plain lettuce salad can be turned into a taste sensation by adding extras like beans, courgette sticks, celery, strawberries, orange segments, broccoli florets, mushrooms, radishes, spinach, carrot, capsicum, fresh herbs, seeds and/or nuts.

Croutons can add a different dimension. Just heat oil over a medium heat, toss in cube cut bread, herbs and salt and pepper, shake frequently until crunchy.

The seeds and nuts provide some protein but you can also add some diced, cooked bacon or chicken or spiced chickpeas.

Our usual vinaigrette is simply olive oil, balsamic vinegar, wholegrain mustard, salt and pepper. Shake and drizzle.

Another salad I’m loving at the moment is couscous salad.

To create it for yourself fry up some of your favourite vegetables like capsicum, onion, courgette, mushrooms. Prepare the couscous with a few extra flavourings such as chicken stock, soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, olive oil and fresh ginger.

Mix the vegetables and couscous together and you have a quick, flavoursome, satisfying salad. It can be served warm as a side dish or salad, otherwise chill it in the fridge and take it with you to a picnic or BBQ.

Our family eats a lot of salads in summer. Not just because it’s healthy but because they are so fresh and the hot weather really inspires that sort of food.

Easy Summer Chicken

Summer holiday mealsA favourite meal in our house is chicken, chips and salad.

This is often my go-to meal when I want something easy. I set the oven to 200°C with a large roasting dish heating inside.

I peel and cut up chips, about 1cm thick. Place in a pot of cold, seasoned water, bring to the boil, and boil for 3 minutes. Dry them on a clean tea towel. Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of oil into the hot roasting dish and toss in the chips to coat. Season if desired. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown. There’s no need to turn the chips, as this will just cause them to stick to the dish.

I place the chicken drumsticks into a separate dish and bake as well. These take about 30-40 minutes too.

Make a simple salad, and dinner is done!

If you don’t want to cut up chips then jacket potatoes cook in about an hour or so, depending on size. Simply scrub the dirt off then cut a cross in the top. Serve with cottage cheese or lite sour cream, or whatever you fancy really.

A tasty marinade for the chicken is:

1 tablespoon honey

4 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon of chili can be added if your family likes spice

Brush over the chicken. If the skin is removed first and the chicken is left to marinade for at least 2 hours it is more flavoursome but it still works well brushing it on just before baking.

Summer Antipasto Platter

Family Antipasto lunch

I have to say my favourite lunch meal for sunny days is the antipasto platter.

Now this doesn’t have to be fancy, just grab your biggest chopping board or platter and pile on whatever takes your fancy from your kitchen.

A jar of chutney, pickled onions, olives, gherkins, a chunk of cheese, tomato and cucumber wedges, boiled eggs, ham, hummus, seeds, nuts, fruit, bread, crackers … the options are limitless.

The point is that you put it on the table and family and visitors just help themselves.

The great thing about putting it all on one tray is that it looks nicer and you can carry it outside if you wish which can turn a normal lunch into more of an occasion with minimal effort.

Whatever you choose to cook this summer, just enjoy it!

Summer is full of fresh fruits and vegetables that make meals a taste sensation. Go on experiment!

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Andrea has a passion for food and health and has turned her passion into a profession. As a qualified dietitian and chef Andrea wants to help others feel the same way, which is why she started her own business Food Habits based in Lower Hutt. To find out more go to www.foodhabits.co.nz.

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