Make Meals in 30 Minutes or Less

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’ secrets to quick meals

  1. Keep your meals simple.
  2. Be organized.
  3. Decide what you are preparing the night or the morning before.
  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 important.)
  6. Slow cook meats in the oven or in a crock pot.
  7. Keep your kitchen clean so you have an uncluttered work area.
Easy Crockpot Recipes and Menus

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 minutes.

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 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. She is the co-author of Dining On A Dime Cookbook. To read more of Jill’s articles and for free tips and recipes visit http://www.LivingOnADime.com/ .
Jill is the author of several frugal living ebooks,including Dining On A Dime, Groceries On A Dime, and Penny Pinching Mama.

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