It’s finally summer, which means it’s finally warm enough to do all the outdoor activities you were dreaming about all winter (not me, because I prefer snow. But I’m weird). While you’re hanging out on the beach or at a 4th of July party, the last thing you probably want to do is go inside and turn on the oven to roast a chicken with vegetables (though that sounds delicious). Instead, you’re hoping to find a quick and light meal that will get you right back out to enjoy the sunshine- no cooking required! My go-to is a charcuterie platter, full of fancy cheese, thin-sliced meats, and special accompaniments.
I first experienced the wonders of charcuterie at a hipster restaurant in Boston’s Back Bay, but it was too expensive to keep going back. So I decided to tackle it myself! I found that I enjoyed the results most when I had three cheeses on the plate- one hard (like cheddar), one soft (like goat cheese), and one somewhere in between (like bleu or brie). Bouncing from cheese to cheese and pairing each with different accompaniments is a fun way to get to know your food better! I usually limit myself to one or two cured meats, leaning towards prosciutto because it is the lowest in fat and fairly easy to find.
While the individual items may seem too pricey, there areways to cut down on cost. You only need 2 to 3 slices of cured meat per person. If you’re only feeding two people, it may be cheaper (and more delicious) to buy the fancy stuff at the deli counter than the pre-packaged slices, if you only purchase what you need. As for the cheese, get to know a cheesemonger at a grocery store like Whole Foods or Wegmans or at a farmers’ market. These people truly know and love what they are doing, and they are usually happy to slice off just a small block of each cheese so you do not have to purchase a large, pricey chunk. Alternatively, you can rummage through the “scrap” cheese bin that many grocery stores have. There, you’ll find small pieces of high-priced cheese, usually for under $2 a piece!
Because cheese and prosciutto are high in saturated fat and sodium, the key here is moderation. Pair these savory treats with other snackable sides to balance the meal. For example:
- Whole wheat baguette slices or crackers (for fiber)
- Unsalted nuts (for extra protein and unsaturated fats)
- Olives (high in sodium, but also high in healthy fats)
- No-sugar-added preserves
- Dried fruits
Of course, don’t leave produce off the plate! Make sure there’s plenty of bite-sized fruits and veggies- half of every meal should consist of these foods. My favorites are:
- Strawberries (or any berries)
- Sliced starfruit (a favorite of mine as a child- my mom used to pack it in my lunch!)
- Citrus segments
- Sliced apples, pears, or peaches (even the canned varieties are fine, as long as they are canned without added sugars)
- Cherry tomatoes
- Chilled roasted veggies
- Canned, drained artichoke hearts
- Fresh herbs
It may seem fancy, but it’s completely adaptable- pick and choose to please your budget and the people eating, just make sure there is a balance of food groups, flavors, and textures. All you need to pack is a large cutting board, a knife or two, some toothpicks, and some napkins. Take everything out of its packages, lay it out on the cutting board, and dinner is ready. The best part is, everyone can eat as much or as little as they want, satisfying the hungry teens, the picky eaters, and the kids (and adults) who just want to jump back in the pool!