Savoring the End of Summer – Home Cooking Without the Hassle

Summer is my favorite season—as a New Englander, I live for our narrow window of beach days and cold ocean swims, camping trips, and long evenings on the porch. As a home cook, this time of year presents a lovely paradox: My desire to create ambitious dishes with all of the beautiful produce I impulse-bought at the farmers market, conflicting with my desire to stay late at the beach, eating ice cream for dinner. 

My approach to summer cooking hews to an 80/20 rule. Most of the time, I keep it way simple—like, avoiding the kitchen simple. And some of the time, I’m barbecuing ribs, steaming corn, baking blueberry pie, and making basil pesto, all in one day (the cook in me can’t let the season go by without a few big kitchen days to capture the goodness).

Throughout summer and all the way into back-to-school time, my rule of thumb is simplicity – in our family, the fastest path to dinner is usually the best. To eat well in the warmer months without spending too much time at the stove or making too much of a fuss, I just follow a few basic rules.


  • Lean into no-cook or low-cook meals. This time of year, snack dinner is a thing. I keep olives, cheese, pickles, slice-and-eat veggies, fruit, cured meats, crackers, and condiments on hand to throw quick snack platters together for dinner. It works, as do sandwiches (BLT’s for the win), pizza made with store-bought dough, and big salads with bits of protein thrown in. 
  • Create efficiencies whenever possible: Can you batch-cook some hard-boiled eggs? Clean and store all of your farmers market goodies in one fell swoop? Skip cooking dried beans for canned or boxed? Snag some interesting condiments to jazz up simple grilled meats? Pick up a rotisserie chicken now and then? What I’m getting at: Take a minute when you have it to save a minute for when you’d rather be lying in a hammock.  
  • Become BFFs with your grill: There are few methods more fun and ripe for experimentation than playing around on the grill (especially a charcoal or wood-burning one). Once I got comfortable with the basics of grilling (burgers, sausages, steak, veggies)—I started experimenting with bigger hunks of meat (very fun), and from there, everything from pizza to sautéed vegetables to desserts. The point is, when you make the grill the focal point of warm-weather cooking, you not only discover new ways to cook ingredients, you learn more about what the grill can do. Next thing you know, it’ll be January and you’ll be out there with a parka and a headlamp. 😉

For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing our menu plans for family dinners. We’ll keep things simple and delicious so we can savor these last bits of summer and roll into back-to-school time with ease. Check back later in the week for ideas, tips, and a recipe for ranch steaks. 

You can read each week’s post by clicking on these links: Intro / Fall Home Cooking #2 / Fall Home Cooking #3 / Fall Home Cooking #4

Leigh Belanger

Leigh Belanger is a writer, editor, and co-host of the Made Fresh podcast. Her 2018 cookbook, My Kitchen Chalkboard, features a year of seasonal family dinners with menu ideas and meal planning tips to help make home cooking easier.