Aug. 5, 2013 at 4:15 PM ET
When it’s too muggy and sticky to cook, you may feel like heading for the nearest fast food or takeout joint. Not so fast. “It’s natural to default to what seems easy and convenient when it’s hot and you’re hungry,” says Libby Mills, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But if you think creatively and plan ahead, you can still eat well without heating up the kitchen.” Here’s how:
Dust off the slow cooker
Best reasons to pull it out of storage: A slow cooker uses very little energy and doesn’t heat up the kitchen. Plus, dinner will be waiting for you when you come in the door so you won’t be tempted to eat junk.
Slow cook a whole chicken, ribs, or a pork shoulder for pulled pork sandwiches or carnitas tacos. “Use it to make batches of whole grains such as barley, quinoa and brown rice to use as sides or to freeze in individual portions for later use,” says Mills. Or try a farmer’s market minestrone with squash, eggplant, onions, white beans, corn, and fresh herbs such as basil, oregano and thyme.
Rely on your microwave
It’s good for more than heating up leftovers. Instead of boiling water for steaming veggies, you can use the microwave. For example, steam sliced zucchini and onions in plastic wrap or in a bowl covered with plastic wrap with herbs such as basil, parsley and thyme for about three minutes until-tender, but not mushy. Or wrap corn on the cob in a damp paper towel and microwave for about a minute. Make 'baked' potatoes in the microwave, too, then top with veggies.
Bring out the blender
Whip up smoothies for breakfast. Use any kind of berry and Greek yogurt for smoothies. For extra nutrition sneak in ½ cup of veggies such as spinach, carrots or cabbage—you won’t even know they’re in there, promises Mills. Blend the night before, freeze in individual plastic cups, then let them thaw while you’re getting ready for work.
For dinner, make a refreshing cold soup by combining melon such as cantaloupe, a squeeze of lime and a drizzle of honey along with a sprinkle of herbs such as lavender or thyme. Other tasty combinations: Watermelon, jalapeno, and red onion (don’t blend too much; leave the melon slightly chunky); or gazpacho using fresh tomatoes, peppers, onion, celery and cucumbers.
Make a meal out of a salad
“Salads are the ultimate no-cook meal,” says Angela Lemond, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “And they’ve gone far beyond iceberg lettuce.” Add fruit such as, strawberries and blueberries to spinach or arugula salads, and sprinkle with pumpkin or sunflower seeds or top a lean protein such as diced chicken breast or shrimp. Shortcut: Use precooked shrimp or a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket (ditch the skin).
Experiment with no-lettuce salads, too. Try one of these: Quinoa, spinach, feta cheese and pine nuts with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, or a Mexican-inspired salad with black beans, diced tomatoes, jalapenos, corn and avocado.
Make sandwiches less boring
“Sandwiches are super-easy and can be very satisfying if you think beyond meat and cheese combinations,” says Lemond. For starters, use different kinds of whole grain breads or wraps. Experiment with different cheeses -- instead of cheddar or Swiss, try goat cheese or pecorino. And substitute plain lettuce with more nutritious leafy greens such as spinach or kale. Go meatless by spreading on hummus or your own puree white beans, garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and rosemary. Other interesting sandwich add-ons: artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, avocado or thinly-sliced cucumber. Top with a smear of pesto, tapenade or chutney.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.