Hot Weather Meal Planning: How to Keep Your Cool

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Hot weather meal planning looks different than when cooler temps prevail. Use these strategies to make your meal prep easy.

meal prep boxes of lunch

The forecast is in. Hot weather is approaching.

Oh, sure, we might be having a colder spring this year, but that won’t prevent the temps from climbing. Soon enough, you’ll be looking for ways to chill out, especially where meal planning and prep are concerned.

In past seasons and different houses, I’ve experienced unique circumstances. 110+ temps all summer long and no money to run the AC. Even the toilet seat was hot. West-facing windows that didn’t open and a lackadaisical HVAC system. A heavy week of wildfires that brought so much smoke we couldn’t open the windows and no AC.

Yes, siree, bob, I’ve won my spurs where hot weather is concerned.

And also where meal planning and prep are concerned. Sweat dripping down my face as I stand over the stove cooking dinner for perpetually hungry children? Not my favorite pastime. How ’bout you?

Finally, I came to my senses.

One night I didn’t even make dinner.

Shocker, I know. But, I just couldn’t take it any more. Doesn’t mean we didn’t eat. We just had an assortment of salami, cheese, pickles, and veggies, what we call a Snacky Dinner.

Another night I ran out for cold sushi, cold cuts, and cold drinks.

And another, with my appetite gone, I handed the kids cereal and milk and called it good.

As the aha moments continued to unroll, I realized that meal planning for hot weather took a slightly different tact that the cooler months. I needed to get ahead of the hot, muggy days and have a plan that helped me keep my cool — and my family well fed.

I don’t want to resort to cereal for dinner — unless I want to.

Bonus: When you subscribe to our community, you’ll receive a free printable meal plan idea generator perfect for hot weather. 

baked potato with toppings on plate with salad

Pictured: Crockpot Baked Potatoes

Summertime and warmer temps approach; now’s the time to refine your hot weather meal plan and meal prep strategies. 

Not sure where to start? Consider these tips for easier and cooler meals this summer:

How to Chill Out with Hot Weather Meal Planning

Make it in advance.

Cooking in the cool of the night or morning allows you to avoid the heat of the day. Think about make-ahead meals that can be served cold, like hearty pasta salads, sandwiches, and entree-style salads.

There are lots of freezer meals that you can make in advance so that you’re not cooking at all. You may need to dump something in the slow cooker or slide a tray into the toaster oven, but the basic meal prep is taken care of.

Check out these Freezer Meals Kids Love for a good match for your people.

Crockpot Chili Mac Recipe | Good Cheap Eats

Pictured: Crockpot Chili Mac

Use the slow cooker.

The slow cooker is your ticket to ride into the evening with supper already cooked. Stews, chilis, and sloppy joes are no-brainers. But, did you know you can do hot dogs, baked potatoes, and even dessert in the slow cooker.

You can easily prep several cookers to go at one time so that the full dinner is taken care of for you. I have slow cookers in three different sizes to accommodate my different recipes: large, medium, small.

These recipes are always winners and guaranteed to help you keep your cool:

snacks dinner plate

Don’t cook!

There are lots of ways to serve supper without cooking. In fact, no cook suppers are some of my favorites! Serve on paper plates and you can avoid the hot dishwashing experience, too.

The Snacky Lunch fall in this category as do a sandwich bar, DIY smoothie bar, and salad bar.

Plan for a hearty protein — could even be a rotisserie chicken — as well as ample veggies. Some good bread, crackers, nuts, pickles, and olives can round out the selection.

Grocery store shortcuts can really come to your rescue here. In the produce department you’ll find all kinds of salad kits and veggie trays. In the freezer section there are cooked proteins and grains just begging for be tossed together. The deli has snack packs, sushi, salads, and more.

It’s really okay to take a night of cooking when it’s just too hot to cook!

platter of hot dogs and brats next to open grill

Cook out.

Cooking out of doors instead of heating up the kitchen is awesome. Not only does the kitchen stay clean and cool with the heat and mess outside, but the flavor a grill imparts to food just can’t be beat. I threw a bunch of vegetables on the grill for supper one night, and FishPapa even thought he could go vegan after that meal! May wonders never cease.

If you’ve got a few BBQ tools, an instant read meat thermometer and a grill pan, you are good to go. Take advantage of your backyard barbecue and enjoy all kinds of grilled meals.

Make things really quick by stirring up a few spice mixes for quick flavor.

That all sounds nice, you say. But when I sit down to plan I’m stuck for ideas.

pitcher of cherry limeade with glass and limes

How to Meal Plan for Hot Weather when You’re a Hot Mess

It never fails that ya sit down to do the thing you’ve already thought was solved, you get stuck for ideas. Frozen, despite the high temps, and stuck for what to make that won’t work you into a lather.

No problem, sister. I gotcha covered. I created a little cheat sheet, a printable idea generator, to come to your rescue when it’s hot outside as well as inside.

  1. Download the free cheat sheet. When you join my mailing list, I’ll send you the printable. Just enter your email address below too subscribe.
  2. Print. Any paper will work, but the thicker the better.
  3. Post your cheat sheet near where you do your meal planning. On the fridge or in the pantry cupboard are good places since that’s where we gravitate when we don’t know what to make.
    • For fun, you can even cut apart the squares and place them in a jar to play Meal Planning Bingo, just to keep things fresh. 😉

Here’s a peek at the printable cheat sheet:

hot weather meal planning printable

But what if summer has you too busy to meal plan?

I understand how it can be to be so busy, you just cry at the idea of making a to-do list. I’ve been there. And even though I’m a food writer and develop recipes for a living, my kids have been subjected to cereal, fast food burgers, and frozen entrees more often than I’d care to admit.

One of the things that I’ve discovered is this: you don’t have to do it all.

You don’t. No one can do and be all the things. Sometimes you need to delegate. And if delegating your meal plan will buy you some breathing room, then by all means, go for it.

I developed my month of meals series with busy moms in mind. A Month of Sizzling Summer Meal Plans is just perfect for this season — and for you, if you’re ready to let someone else do the meal planning so you can tackle the more important things.

Click here to get your copy and start enjoying dinnertimes a little more, no matter the weather.

Because the truth is, you don’t need to plan the meals. Enjoying the meals with your family is what matters most. 

What’s YOUR favorite strategy for meal planning for hot weather?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Janet says

    I can rarely convince my husband to eat either a cold lunch or dinner, so I have had to come up with other strategies for hot weather cooking. I try to cook ahead in the evening when it is cooler; I am at the office in the mornings. I have my husband grill a couple of times a week. I often have a hot entrée, but all side dishes are cold (my husband is okay with that arrangement). I use my crock pot more in the summer than winner. Lastly, I try to find make a head meals or meal components that can be reheated in the microwave without affecting taste and texture.

    • I love how you problem solve, Janet. You seem to really excel at finding solutions that fit your family best. Yay!

  2. Brighid says

    You’ve pretty much covered all of my standbys. One note about really hot days: if you have an outlet on a deck or porch, you can exile your slow cooker or roaster to outside! Every little bit helps on those really amazingly hot days.

    Also, if you have a lake or pool nearby, it can be a great idea to bring a picnic dinner to the lake. Little kids can get so hot they’re not hungry and once they’ve cooled down in the water, they realize they’re starving!

    • I thought about mentioning that, but with wildfires raging in my county, it made me nervous. But, yes, I have lots of friends who put both the bread machine and the crockpot out on the deck or in the garage so that the kitchen stays cooler.

      Great idea about taking dinner with you to swim. No one wants to cook after a day at the beach.

      • christy says

        I love the garage idea. They can really warm up the kitchen. Great ideas ladies!!!!

  3. liz says

    What is that sandwich in the first picture? It looks so good!

  4. Lakey says

    I love to use the crock pot in the summer, but to avoid the heat dump into the house I put the crock pot in the garage to cook. We do the same with the rice cooker and on really hot days I will use a portable induction cooktop out there. It’s a little warmer for the cook (alway me) but I don’t mind because it means I can enjoy a nice cool home when we sit down to eat.

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