Many days, by the time I wrap up work and start cooking dinner, it’s already about the hour that we should be sitting down to eat. But, there I am in the kitchen with nothing yet started. There are days when I can push back our mealtime until the food is ready, but there are other evenings when family members need to hurry out the door for extracurricular activities. On those days, I need a quick meal, and I need it now. Here’s what rushed evenings have taught me about cooking meals in half an hour.
Shop from a List
Nothing slows down your quick meal prep like a missing ingredient. Your choices in that moment are to skip the ingredient, find a substitute or make a last-minute store run.
Before shopping, take note of what items you’ll need to stock up on in order to make your planned dishes. Use a pencil and paper to jot it down, or download a list-building app.
Preheat Right Away
Some of the biggest time-killers during meal prep are waiting for the oven to get hot and water to boil. The very first step in your cooking session should be to get the heat going so it will be ready when you need it.
Look for 15-minute Recipes
30-minute recipes sound ideal for cooking in half an hour, but let’s face it: Life happens. Instead, try recipes that say they take only 15 minutes, and you’ll be sure to have dinner on the table in 30.
Don’t Shy Away from Frozen Veggies
No worries: Frozen vegetables don’t make you any less of a cook. What they actually do is save you washing and chopping time. Even better, frozen vegetables are often cheaper than fresh ones. Of course, to save even more money, you can stock up on fresh produce when prices are rock-bottom and freeze them yourself.
Make One-pot Dishes
Save on both prep time and clean-up time when all of your cooking is done in one pot. Instead of splitting your focus between the main dish and the sides, all of your attention is directed to the one pan that holds your protein, grains, and vegetables. For inspiration, check out this list of quick one-dish meals.
Precook Your Meat
Who says that all of the cooking has to be done in that 30-minute period? Cheat the system by prepping your meat ahead of time and freezing it. Pulling pre-cooked ground beef or chopped chicken out of the freezer can shave priceless minutes off of your evening meal prep. Try The Creative Bite’s freezable recipes for shredded chicken.
Use Your Broiler
Most of us have a tendency to forget about the broiler feature on our ovens, but it can be handy for quickly cooking thin cuts of meat. For example, 1-inch pork chops require only nine to 12 minutes of broiler time. You can even broil vegetables like bell peppers for a nice roasting effect with a bit of char.
Try Quick-Cooking Grains
For those days when you’re not making a one-pot dinner, make sure that your side dishes aren’t costing you precious time. Although brown rice has the advantage of being a whole grain, white rice can be ready in just 15 minutes. Instant rice can be ready even sooner.
Zap Vegetables in the Microwave
While you focus on cooking a stove top main course, your microwave can be hard at work heating up a vegetable side dish. The microwave is particularly well-suited to cooking “baked” potatoes in a fraction of the time that the oven takes.
All sorts of veggies are microwave-friendly, though. To learn more, turn to the Betty Crocker website’s “Fresh Vegetable Cooking Chart,” which lists not only microwave cooking times but also handy tips.
Rely on Eggs
For those days when you’re really pressed for time, turn to eggs. They’re one of the fastest dishes you can make. Serve them with cheese or toasted bread. If you have a few extra minutes, first saute veggies to mix into your scrambled eggs. Try spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, or bell peppers.
Don’t you love that making 30-minute meals doesn’t require you to sacrifice good cooking? I find that quick dinners can be just as delicious as ones that took hours to prepare. Leave a comment below with your favorite fast meals, and share this article with all of your time-pressed friends.