Quick Summer Meals on the Go

'Gourmet picnic lunch, Fresco Tours style. 3 pixs #may17cds' photo (c) 2011, Fresco Tours - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

My 22-year-old niece is visiting us for three weeks. We plan to take a lot of trips, but we don’t want to spend a lot on food, nor do we want to buy expensive and unhealthy snacks. So I asked readers how they cope with busy summer plans. I need meals and snacks that are healthy, easy to prepare, pack well, and don’t require reheating.

Before I get to the menu ideas, I’ll give a few reminders about food safety. Food should be already cold when you pack it. I like to use an insulated bag along with a bottle of ice.  If you are only going out for a few hours, freeze the bottle half full and add water to drink along with you meal. Try to keep the bag closed and out of the sun until you are ready to eat. Pack snacks, more drinks, and non-perishables separately from the main meal.

People tend to be concerned about mayonnaise spoiling, but prepared mayo has preservatives. It keeps for a long time (think how long you keep an open jar in your fridge), although it might start to look gross. Animal protein, like hard-boiled eggs, chicken, meat and tuna, are much more of a concern.

Repack edible leftovers and replace in the refrigerator as soon as you get home. Unless they were stored separately in a cold container, perishables may not survive the home trip. If they do, be sure to use them up quickly. Here is my handy chart to help you determine if food is safe to eat.

Ideas for quick and easy summer cooking:

  • Kate: Cold pasta salads with veggies and oil/vinegar dressings. Easy to make a lot of, eat with no notice, and to tote with you.
  • Along the same lines, Isabelle suggested “a big salad (rice, tabbouleh …) that you can eat one evening and take with you the next day. The same can apply to some pies. Hard-boiled eggs can be a great addition to a light outdoor meal.”
  • Robin Davis Epstein: Lots of sandwich fixings and a TON of fruit! Also, meat-based summer salads (i.e. curried chicken salad with cashews and grapes) can be a light but filling meal too.
  • Ilyse: Cook ‘n’ freeze for meals at home. Dairy lasagnas, baked casseroles, individual pizzas and schnitzel are great possibilities. LOTS of veggies and dip – less time consuming than chopping up salads. For takeout meals, get some nice rolls, whole wheat tortilla wraps, and make lots of tuna salads with chopped veggies inside, egg salad is also good!
  • Amanda: Popcorn! make a batch in your biggest pot and bag it up. easy filling snack and cheap too!
  • Julie: For quick to cook meals when you’re at home, make sure you have veggies around – stir frying doesn’t take long.
  • Kathy: Pound some boneless chicken breasts, marinate then grill. When cool, slice thin and freeze in individual portions. When needed, warm up and serve on top of big veggie salads for main dish meals or put in wraps to go.

Thanks to readers of the Cooking Manager Facebook page for your ideas. Robin, how about the recipe for the curried chicken salad?

More ideas:

Healthy and Tasty Summer Salads

Lentils with Onions and Garlic (wonderful cold)

No-Cook Salad: Tabbouleh

How to Make Patties From Anything and Everything




  1. What about meatballs?
    I love meatballs and you can grate some potatoes and onions and mix that with the mince and they really taste just as good when cold. and you can even add lentils my neighbor love to do that
    enjoy the visit

  2. You’re right, meatballs are good cold and easy to prepare in advance. Thanks!

  3. Hannah, is it really OK to refrigerate food that has been stored in an insulated totebag for hours? I struggle with this regarding the leftovers from my children’s school lunches. I pack them in an insulated container, always with an ice equivalent that keeps the food nice and cold. But, I always throw out any remains, other than whole fruit or a packaged granola bar, etc. I always worry that the temperature hasn’t been consistently cold enough over those hours to be able to refrigerate again.

  4. Kathy, it’s true that most foods are pretty wilted by the end of the day, unless you can keep them pretty cold–for example, in a separate pack.