get organized for summer

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Today’s Get Organized for Summer question is from Jessica, who asked: “With summer, comes cooking 3 meals at home. What are some meal prep / fast snacks and meals for summer on the go that we could have on hand?”

I think this is such a fun question. I love cooking, especially during the summer. Time spent in my kitchen is time when I can start—and finish—a project in one span of time. So many of my other projects take weeks and even months and even years to complete, so cooking gives me a nearly immediate sense of gratification. Plus, it can also be family time if one of my kids wants to help me cook or just sit at the counter stools to have a chat while I cook. Either way, it’s a nice relaxing time. Below are some of our favorite summer dinners. But before we get to that, here are a few quick thoughts on breakfast and lunch.

Breakfast + Lunch

We keep breakfast quite simple year round but especially during the summer with cereal, yogurt + granola + berries, oatmeal, or toast with peanut butter being our go-to breakfast items. Some mornings Jay will make us pancakes, waffles or eggs, but for the most part our summer routine has been to keep it much simpler, with things the kids can make on their own. We keep lunch super simple, too, mostly calling on the ideas below plus PBJs, mac n’ cheese, or frozen pizzas (cooked on the grill when it gets too hot to turn on the oven.)

Pasta Salad

One of my favorite summer dishes is pasta salad. It’s quick to make, just boil some noodles and while they cook chop your veggies, cheese and / or meat. I like to make a big batch of pasta salad and have it for dinner one night, and then eat the leftovers for lunch throughout the rest of the week. Pasta salad is also a great make-ahead food that’s easy to take on picnics or other summer outings.

pasta salad

Panini + Other Sandwiches

I was recently given a Panini maker by a client. What a wonderful gift this has been! Make your own Panini night is a new favorite meal at the Garvey house this summer. It’s quick and simple, and since everyone gets to choose what is going on their personal sandwich, no one complains about dinner. Plus, dinner prep takes virtually no time—slice a few fresh veggies like tomatoes, onion, cucumbers, or whatever you have on hand; wash up some basil or other fresh herbs; and pull out cheeses, lunch meats, bread, and condiments, and you’re done. It’s fun to see how everyone starts with the same basic ingredients, but puts together their own unique creation. This week I made a great one with sauteed spinach, havarti cheese, tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Yum!

We serve our paninis with simple sides like coleslaw, chips, and fresh fruit. And when we’re feeling really fancy, we serve them on paper towels. ;)

diy paninis

Cold sandwiches are a terrific option for nights when you have summer outings. Use the same basic idea as above—simply pull things out of the fridge and let your family create their own sandwiches to go.

Make Your Own Grilled Pita Pizzas

For the last few summers, one of my favorite dinners is pita pizzas. Again, we turn this into a do-it-yourself night, which means, a bit more family fun time in the kitchen, less work for mom, and happy kids who get to top their pizza with whatever sounds good to them. Some of our favorite toppings include olives, artichoke hearts, fresh parmesan cheese, fresh mozzarella, basil, oregano, onion, green peppers, mushrooms or pesto.

pita pizzas

Salads / DIY Salad Bar

Salad for dinner is another summertime favorite around here. Consider making your own salad bar by storing toppings like grape tomatoes (easy to wash, no cutting needed), walnuts, sunflower seeds, onions, cucumbers, artichoke hearts, olives, radishes, feta, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, canned beans, canned corn, frozen peas, and pepperoni in plastic containers on a tray in your refrigerator. Wash up some lettuce and pull out the tray for a simple, do-it-yourself dinner. For sides on salad night, we like French bread or pitas with hummus.


At least once a weekend we have smoothies for lunch. Our favorite is made with vanilla yogurt, strawberries, blueberries and bananas, with whipped cream on top. Cheese and crackers add just enough extra calories to hold us over until dinner.

Grill Night

Before we stopped eating red meat, pork and chicken, our summer dinners revolved around the grill—burgers, hot dogs, chicken, and pork tenderloin with simple sides like salad, coleslaw, chips, or grilled veggies (onions, zucchini and oregano is a great combination, by the way.) Now, we’re always looking for new things to grill. Some of our new favorites include Boca burgers, salmon, shrimp kabobs, and of course veggies. I’m still looking for a good grilled portabella mushroom recipe, so if you know of any good ones, please feel free to share. :)

Overall, our theme for summer eating is to keep it fresh, simple and light, with a focus on being together as a family. Many of these dishes can be pulled together in a snap—like the paninis, pizza, and salads—by cutting up fresh veggies and storing them in sealed containers in the fridge. We also always have on hand fruit, crackers, cheese, granola bars and nuts for quick and healthy snacks, at home or on the go. And, though this isn’t particularly quick, it really wouldn’t be summer without homemade ice cream.

What are your favorite summer time dishes and meals? Do you have any recipes to share? We’d love to hear from you! (By the way, here’s a link to my pinterest recipe collection if you’d like even more ideas for new stuff to eat this summer. Enjoy!)

Happy eating!


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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and organizing eBooks.

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