During the summer we spend a lot of time at our cottage up north. I love to cook for our little crowd. Today I’d like to share our 5 favorite cheap summer meals, that are quick and delicious to make.
Cheap Summer Meal Ideas
When it comes to cheap summer meal ideas, there are plenty of delicious and budget-friendly options to keep you satisfied during the warm summer months of play. Whether it is just my hubby and I, or we have all the kids and grandkids up north, I enjoy the challenge of quickly prepared meals that are still healthy and delicious. We really embrace the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables that we have picked from the local farmer’s market. Luckily, we have a local Costco and are able to get larger quantities of meats and fruits when needed for our crowd.
This year, I decided to plant fresh herbs in the garden to make it easy to add flavor to basic ingredients. We grill everyday and make fresh produce the star of the show as much as possible. When we are playing on the lake all day, the last thing I want to do is prepare anything fussy. I can always tell when it’s time to get in the kitchen and start a meal, as everyone begins wandering in with that look on their face.
We definitely have a handful of super yummy meals we call our ‘cottage favorites’. Even the kids love them, which is saying a lot with our group of picky eaters. It’s funny how their tastes change from month to month, year to year. But sticking within our faves, I am able to prepare some items to be ready and waiting when everyone wants to eat.
Summer Dinner Recipes
We love to make refreshing salads and fire up the grill, cooking affordable cuts of meat like chicken thighs or sausages. Grilled vegetables such as zucchini, corn on the cob, or bell peppers add flavorful options for sides. On a hot night, I really try to make that satisfying meal, but keep it light as the heat sometimes feels overwhelming. Of course, the kids would be happy to drink cold drinks and eat ice cream all day, but you gotta eat good food to keep your energy up for all the lake fun!
These are our some of our favorite summer recipes and how we tweak them to our taste.
Top Fave: Burgers Made Special
Of course, everyone makes summer burgers! And I’m sure that everyone has their favorite way to, not only grill, but to season and top them as well. For me, I like to handle the meat as little as possible. I always buy the organic ground beef from Costco, and quickly flatten them between wax paper sheets. Ya know, the deli meat kind? I buy those at GFS.
The House Way
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt is my go to to season burgers on the grill. The real magic starts with the cheese and the sauces. My favorite cottage ‘house special’ is a perfectly cooked burger topped with blue cheese crumbles and then a slice of Havarti cheese. I love Havarti so much, and call it ‘the cheese of the Gods’ because it is so smooth and delicious. A pimento cheese spread is another favorite!
Although we try to cook economically with simple, fresh ingredients, I am willing to spend more on cheese as it makes all the difference on a burger. The kids love American Cheese, sliced from the deli. Although Kraft singles would be a cheaper option, even the littles enjoy a good cheese on their burgers. Finished off with favorite toppings that range from the classic lettuce, tomato, onion to sautéed mushrooms and beyond.
I once had a gourmet burger at a restaurant topped with fresh basil, thick mozzarella, and a thick garden tomato with a balsamic drizzle. Yum! If you aren’t looking for cheap options, note interesting combinations found at your favorite gastro pub and come up with your own copycat recipe. Sun dried tomatoes, pesto, exotic cheeses, avocado, and other fresh vegetables make a burger into a filling meal all on one plate. Apples, brie cheese, and carmelized onions was a yummy gourmet burger we made once, it was soooooo delicious!
My go to sauce is a quick burger/fry sauce made from Hellman’s mayonnaise, ketchup, and a good dollop of relish. It’s easy to mix up and way cheaper than buying a pre-made bottled sauce. It has that classic Thousand Island Dressing taste, so I also make this as a quick salad dressing on those nights it’s just the two of us. We will have a ‘deconstructed burger’ and use the classic toppings as a salad with the dressing, and burger patties (without buns) if we’re following a protein style diet.
Two Ways: Quesadillas for Meals or Dessert
Have you ever had quesadillas on the grill? They turn out so crunchy and delicious, charred golden brown, and different from making them on the stove. Our BBQ Chicken Quesadillas are the cottage favorite, but are an easy weeknight meal you can make at home with leftover cooked chicken breasts. You can even use rotisserie chicken from the store.
I love to slather on that bbq sauce, Sweet Baby Ray’s is my fave brand to use, and it tastes so good with the melty cheese. Read this post for the full recipe. I serve with lots of sour cream for dipping, and they are a quick meal coming off the lake.
Quesadillas are always a kid favorite, because if we are making our fancy ones, it is still easy to make a basic one for picky eaters. I often make them for the kids, even when we are grilling up chicken thighs to make chicken fajitas. Chicken thighs stay moist on the grill and are an economical choice. And I always warm tortillas on the grill too, just keep a close watch on them!
A yummy dessert option is to brush a tortilla on one side with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Toast on the grill outside until golden brown, then remove from grill and smear with Nutella and your favorite toppings. We use strawberries, bananas, nuts, and/or mini marshmallows. You can put them back on the grill for a hot minute to melt the marshmallows a bit, but watch out for the chocolate, you don’t want to burn it!
Three Way Fab: Clear the Fridge Salads
Salads are a staple of many easy summer dinner recipes, and for us at the cottage, it’s no different. We have many that we have created over the years simply by getting to the end of the week and needing to clear out the fridge of all the little vegetable extras we have ended up with.
Our classic is making our Cottage Cobb Salad. It is such a refreshing salad, yet really hearty. When we grill a dinner with chicken breasts or chicken thighs, we will always have extra that ends up as a perfect topping in the salad. We add boiled eggs (made extra when making a potato salad), grilled corn on the cob (never canned corn), bacon, tomatoes, cheese, cucumbers, and avocado. We serve it with a fresh made ranch dressing, easily made from a packet mix and milk and mayonnaise.
Every time we make this, it turns out a bit different. But it is a great salad to make for a crowd and pleases everyone when they are able to choose what toppings they love or want to leave off.
Everyone loves the taco salad, which is a great way to satisfy that taco craving on warm summer days. The base of it is easy enough with chopped lettuce, mixed with cilantro from my fresh herbs garden. We add diced red onion (or green onions if many don’t want that strong onion flavor), grated Colby jack cheese, diced cherry tomatoes, and Fritos for crunch. But the dressing is what makes it special.
I mix up a regular recipe of Hidden Valley Ranch mix as directed with the milk and mayonnaise. I then blend in an avocado, lime juice, and a touch of cilantro to make the best Avocado Ranch. It’s super quick and easy, and makes that basic salad super yummy! We began making this and gave up the side of sour cream and salsa that seems standard for a taco salad. It is definitely one of our cheap summer favorites.
Colorful Vegetables and Fruit Salad
This is the one with no recipe. It’s a clear the fridge kind of thing. If you like pasta salads, you can start with your fave cooked pasta and then throw in whatever vegetables you have left over after a week of grilling and light summer eating. We usually have grilled zucchini, bell pepper, cucumber and onion. I always add a cheese, feta cheese works best with pasta, and then toss lightly with some olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar and salt and pepper. Of course, toss in some fresh herbs from the garden. Parsley, Rosemary or Basil are all good choices.
We also do this with a fruit salad. We simply keep leftovers in the same bowl and add a new fruit at each meal, rotating and clearing the fridge as we go.
Four the Crowd: Special Treats Around the Campfire
From classic s’mores to tin foil dinners, cooking around the campfire is what summer favorites are all about! Cheap summer meals are usually easy due to simple ingredients, and can be made more fun by turning them into an experience. Break out the cast iron and get cooking.
Hot dogs, or smoked sausage on a stick are fun to roast yourself near the fire. We use ground beef and French onion seasoning for foil dinners. Anything cooked on the campfire is an easy meal that has about zero prep time. You can cut vegetables in chunks earlier in the day, and simply pull them out for everyone to create their own.
Recipe Calls For Five or Less: Sides Can be the Star
Summer meals made be made better when grilled, but many times, I’m all about the sides. If I’m planning ahead in the day, while everyone is busy swimming, I peel sweet potatoes and toss them in a baking pan with olive oil and coarse kosher salt, just 3 ingredients. That is all you need to roast them into the most delicious side, they sweeten up so much and taste like candy! I can start the oven, put them in and forget about them for the next hour. They are perfect every time!
Baby potatoes are another great side to simply boil until tender, then drain and return to a pan to cover with butter, salt and fresh herbs. Just 4 simple ingredients make it yummy. I love to add Rosemary if we are pairing with chicken. The key is to keep it simple and amp up the flavor with herbs or an easy sauce.
Summer Meals Made Simple
Wherever you are, or whatever you are doing, a little planning ahead can make a summer meal effortless. Stop at that farm stand, buy what is in season and in abundance, and enjoy a delicious and cheap summer of yummy eating. Eating out is fun but can be a strain on the budget. I definitely prefer to grill and cook easy items for summer meals.
I know many like to use their instant pot or slow cooker, but I save those for the fall and winter. Fire up the grill and eat lighter this summer. Make simple food boards displaying deli meats and fruits, cheeses and nuts. This is a great thing to put out for a crowd and keeps you out of the kitchen. That’s my favorite thing on a hot day!
Lastly, a Cheap Summer Treat That is Irresistible
Bust out the cast iron and make some brownies! I use two packages of Ghirardelli Brownie Mix from Costco. Butter a pan, and bake as directed, about an hour. Brownies can be topped with a variety of toppings (we always have marshmallows for s’mores) and the cast iron cooks the brownies evenly, crisps up the sides and keeps the middle moist and chewy. We serve with ice cream and whip cream.
Sounds like summer to me! I could eat these all summer long. Happy eating!