A Million Meals

Caring for children in today's confusing food environment

Summer's Bounty: Healthy Family Meals

Letting summer produce lead you to happy, healthy family meals.

After a long hiatus away from my own kitchen, in a place that has, sadly, forgotten the virtues of local ingredients (Greek supermarket grapes are now imported from Chile--need I say more?), I'm ecstatic to be back in the thick of the local produce bonanza that's one of midsummer's main consolations. It may be 104ºF outside, but that won't stop me from sweating the Q to Union Square and loading myself and my children down with all the corn, tomatoes, blueberries, stone fruit, and tender greens our poor, straining arms can bear. Yes, I've dragooned them into being my greenmarket sherpas: an eight-year-old can carry a three-pound cantaloupe and five ears of corn quite nicely, it turns out. And I've been cooking up a storm with these gorgeous ingredients, grateful for my own space and kitchen tools as well as the time to indulge myself. The limitations imposed by crushing heat and seasonal produce are actually inspiring: anything that cooks too long, requires a hot oven, or doesn't take full advantage summer's bounty is automatically DQ'd (with the exception of the blueberry pudding cake, below, which is worth every extra bit of cool your overburdened AC will have to crank out to compete with the oven).

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And summer is an amazing time to encourage your children to eat good food, as well: I'm shocked how quickly a pint of sugary sungolds is gobbled up at our house, and my hot-weather dinners of corn-on-the-cob alongside a plate of prosciutto and fresh mozzarella seem to suit my children to a T. Whether it's the natural appeal of summer's sweeter offerings, or that they lugged this stuff home themselves, meals have been an easier sell lately, which is a relief and a nice break for all of us. I suspect their healthy appetites also stem from spending several weeks on an island that offers the same (limited) set of dishes at every single restaurant, and not much inspiration in its shops for home cooking, either. After a solid month of plated ham, fried calamari and spaghetti carbonara, they're as happy as I am to venture into other cuisines and flavors. Absence made the stomach grow fonder, in their case.

I know it won't last: the season's bounty will start to ebb, leaving us with winter squashes and apples for months to come; my children will become jaded and picky all over again and prefer hotdogs and buttered noodles over anything else I cook for them; my enthusiasm for eating out will return as all the shopping, cooking and cleaning up become less novel and more routine. But in the meantime, while the days are long and the produce flows freely, I'm enjoying the hell of out of it--and loving seeing my children do it too. 

What I've cooked since I've been home:

  • Warm Eggplant Salad with Sesame and Shallots (The Essential New York Times Cookbook)
  • Coconut Barley Pilaf (The Essential New York Times Cookbook; I substituted farro for barley, so it cooked more quickly)
  • Tomato, Peach and Basil Salad with Cubed Ricotta Salata
  • Pamela Sherrid's Summer Pasta (The Essential New York Times Cookbook)
  • Pasta with Prosciutto and Basil
  • Zucchini with Crème Fraiche Pesto (The Essential New York Times Cookbook): my new favorite recipe, where some relatively simple parts come together into an amazing whole
  • Blueberry Pudding Cake: I've been waiting all summer to make this, as you have to turn the oven on, but it's so worth it
  • Polenta-Crusted Chicken with a Farmer's Market Corn, Tomato, Cucumber and Mozzarella Salad

Zanthe Taylor, M.F.A., is a former dramaturg and English teacher who is currently raising two daughters in Brooklyn, NY.

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