Make Meals in 30 Minutes or Less
By Jill Cooper
Jill Cooper is co-author of Planning for Leftovers, Quick Dinners, and Pretty
for Pennies - Homemade Bath & Beauty
I was having dinner at my son's house the other night and my
daughter-in-law had fixed "old fashioned" baked potatoes.
You know, the kind you make in the oven and not the microwave.
Boy, they were good. It seems that so many things taste better
slow cooked in the oven.
We started talking about how much longer it took to cook them
in the oven compared to the microwave. That started me thinking.
Yes, it does take longer in actual cooking time but in some ways
it is easier. When I bake potatoes in the oven, I get them ready
and in the oven an hour before dinner and then just forget about
them until dinner is ready. Then, all I have to do is set them
on the table and dinner is served.
When I microwave them, I tend to start cleaning them and preparing
them at the same time that I'm trying to make a salad and heat
up the veggies. While I'm doing all of that, I have to remember
to keep turning the potatoes and if I am cooking several, I have
to put a few in the microwave and when they are done, pull them
out and add more, all of this at the same time that I am trying
to prepare the rest of the meal.
Why is it that, even though we have faster methods of cooking
our meals, they seem to have become more frenzied and hurried
than years ago? Then it dawned on me -- With the introduction
of the microwave and the idea that meals can be prepares in 30
minutes, most people do nothing to prepare or plan their meals
until 30 minutes before they are going to eat. So 30 minutes before
dinner you find yourself trying to thaw something, cook it, and
slap it on the table and at the same time talk and deal with tired,
hungry, cranky kids. Let's not forget how exhausted you are at
this time of day, too.
We need to warm up our ovens and start using them again the
way our grandmothers use to do. Here are some tips and ideas that
prove that cooking meals in a conventional oven instead of a microwave
can be just as quick and easy, not to mention how much more delicious
they taste and smell.
I think we underestimate the power of coming home and smelling
something yummy cooking. We automatically seem to relax, feeling
that "all is well with the world". I really think it
can change the whole atmosphere of your home for the evening.
I am not living in a dream world. You can fix meals the way
our grandmothers did. I hear some readers saying, "Our grandmothers
weren't ever as busy as we are and so they had time to fix large
meals." I can hear our grandmothers chuckling at that statement.
My husband's grandmother had to help on the farm from early in
the morning until evening. She took care of a large home garden,
canned, cleaned house every day, did laundry without a washer
or dryer and still provided meals not only for her family, but
up to 20 farm hands as well. She had to do it all without a refrigerator,
microwave, or a grocery store and the nearest water was a mile
away from her house.
My mother-in-law would go to work as early as 7 am and work
until 9 pm 6 days a week, but she still managed to make three
large meals each day. If you're thinking, "That's great if
you want to spend all your spare time in the kitchen," consider
that they spent less time in the kitchen than we do with less
of the conveniences and still managed to have well balanced delicious
meals each day.
What was their secret? -- They had never heard of 30 minute
meals. Even if they had they would probably have laughed and wondered
who would spend so much time on a meal? They knew that the key
to a quick meal wasn't how fast you could cook, but how organized
you were. You can easily have a meal on the table in 15 minutes
if you are organized and plan ahead.
No, this doesn't mean you have to microwave or fry everything
to have a quick meal. Slow cooking something in the oven not only
makes things taste better but sometimes is quicker.
Our grandmothers' secret to quick meals
1. Keep your meals simple.
2. Be organized.
3. Decide what you are preparing the night or the morning
4. Thaw anything you need the night or the morning before.
5. Prepare as much of the meal as you can during the slow
time of your day and when you are most refreshed. (This is very
6. Slow cook meats in the oven or in a crock pot.
7. Keep your kitchen clean so you have an uncluttered work
Here are some ideas on what to prepare. These aren't elaborate
gourmet meals. If you are too busy to cook dinner, then you are
to busy to make gourmet dinners. Stick with the basics and keep
it simple like our grandmothers did.
Roast: Place a roast in a crock pot or pan. Peel five
potatoes and carrots and drop them in with it and turn on the
oven. This takes five minutes. Clean and cut broccoli, celery
and cucumbers for a salad -- five minutes. At dinner time, chop
lettuce and tomato for the salad, adding the already prepared
veggies. Then put the meat and the fixings on a platter -- five
more minutes. Voila! Dinner in 15 minutes.
Stew: It takes me seven minutes to cube meat*, peel
five potatoes, carrots and onions, toss it into a pot and to season
it. At dinner time, I put bread or dinner rolls on the table --
one to two minutes and I have dinner in nine minutes.
*Ask your butcher to cube or slice all your meat for you. They
usually charge nothing or just a few cents per pound. It saves
not only time in cutting but in clean up too.
Chicken: Toss a chicken in a pan or crock pot -- two
minutes. Clean potatoes to put in with chicken or to bake in the
oven -- three minutes. At dinner time, warm a veggie -- two minutes.
Slice some fruit -- three minutes. Dinner in 10 minutes.
Lasagna: Put noodles in a pot to boil -- one minute.
Fry hamburger, get out cheese, tomato sauce and the rest of the
fixings; mix sauce while noodles boil, 7-8 minutes. Layer everything
-- two minutes. Cover and put in the fridge for dinner the next
day or that evening. Put the lasagna in the oven to heat while
getting out of your work clothes, checking the mail, etc. Set
the table and cut a salad -- five minutes. Dinner is served; 15
Beef stroganoff: Make your beef stroganoff in your crock
pot. (If you don't want to use a crock pot, this recipe usually
takes very little time just stirring it up in a pan.) Dump everything
but sour cream and noodles, into the crock pot -- three minutes
and simmer all day on low. Clean carrots, celery sticks and broccoli
for a relish dish (five minutes) and put it in the fridge. At
dinner time, boil egg noodles (5-7 minutes). While they are boiling,
add sour cream to sauce and set the table. Total time: 15 minutes.
Chili: Mix everything in a pot the night before. Depending
what you put in, it should take 5-10 minutes. Simmer throughout
the next day.
Soup: Do the same as with the chili.
These are just a general example of ways to fix meals easily
and quickly. It isn't really a matter of time as much as it
is a matter of being organized and getting things done before
you are too exhausted to think.
If you have meats thawed and the ingredients on hand, most
things can be tossed together in about the same time as it takes
to order and wait to get your food at a fast food place.
Also, remember when you have your oven going to try to cook more
than one thing in it. For example, if you are going to be baking
a casserole, bake a pan of brownies, muffins or baked apples at
the same time.
Jill Cooper raised two teenagers alone on $500 a month income
after becoming disabled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Jill Cooper is co-author of Planning for Leftovers,
Quick Dinners, and Pretty for Pennies - Homemade Bath & Beauty
Planning Leftovers eBooklet
Save money - Don't wait until your refrigerator is full
of odds and ends to think about leftovers - Plan Ahead
Plan Ahead Leftovers is the second in the series of "Menus
On A Dime" booklets. It includes 15 pre-planned menus and
38 recipes to make your life easier! This ebook explains how you
can cook once and eat three to five different meals. Plan Ahead
Leftovers includes beef, chicken and ham recipes for the main
dishes and includes 10 dessert recipes. The Menus at a Glance
page lets you see all of the menu descriptions in one place to
make substituting elements for elements from different menus easier.
Plan Ahead Leftovers also includes tips to making your own menu
Quick Dinners eBook- is designed
to help you with meals you can prepare in 20 minutes or less.
Quick Dinners includes 24 recipes, 34 tips, 10 menu plans, dessert
ideas and a weekly menu worksheet. Using these easy dinner plans,
you can be in and out of the kitchen faster and at a much much
lower cost than eating out.
Pretty for Pennies - Homemade Bath and Beauty, Great
Pretty for Pennies is included as a chapter in Dining On A
Dime but not in Not Just Beans.
What do foot massage oil, chocolate lip balm and almond lotion
have in common? You can find these and other frugal recipes in
Tawra's new Frugal Bath and Beauty Guide, Pretty for Pennies.
This 32 page booklet contains 33 recipes and 69 frugal tips.
Another article by Jill is Acres
of Apples, Frugal to the Core