Feeling frustrated about how long it takes to get dinner on the table every night?
I hear you! With recipes labelled “30 minute meals” often taking 45 minutes or more, it gets exhausting to even try to get dinner on the table sometimes. But resorting to takeout or instant noodles often doesn’t help us in the long run.
I think you can definitely get dinner on the table in half the time with some of my tips.
As with anything though, you have to prioritize what’s most important to you.
If it’s getting dinner ready in 15 minutes instead of 30, you might (but not necessarily) be sacrificing taste and nutrition to achieve this. That’s ok. Not every meal has to be totally delicious and optimally nutritious.
You might also create more packaging waste and spend a bit more money than if you cooked everything from scratch. But cooking everything from scratch often (but not always) comes at the sacrifice of time.
There are very few options that are truly fast, easy, healthy, affordable, AND environmentally friendly!
Don’t stress out about this. If every meal feels like a rush, perhaps you need to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. Can you drop a weeknight activity so you have time to cook and eat without feeling rushed?
With my tips, you can save some time and still get a decent meal on the table.
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Here are some strategies you can use to get dinner on the table in half the time:
Choose a quick cooking strategy:
- Choose a simple recipe: choose a recipe with few ingredients and few steps
- Know how to find a quick recipe: one of my biggest pet peeves about recipes that claim to be quick is that they often list pre prepped ingredients. Ex: 2 cups cooked rice, 1 onion, chopped. Of course they can say it only takes 15 minutes to cook if all the prep is done! If you don’t have all those pre prepped ingredients on hand, expect the recipe to take longer
- Use recipes you’re familiar with: this may go without saying, but if you’ve made a recipe multiple times before, it’s much easier than a brand new recipe. Plus you know how long it actually takes YOU to make it. Save new recipes for when you have time to spend a bit longer on it.
- Try an Instant Pot: I’ve heard AMAZING things about these! The pressure cooker function allows you to cook in WAY less time than other cooking methods. Like a roast chicken in 30 minutes instead of 1.5 hours or more in an oven! Full disclosure, I don’t have one (hence, frugal minimalist kitchen), but I know I’d definitely use it if I did!
- Plan for leftovers: if you know you have a busy night tomorrow, cook extra today so tomorrow you can have leftovers. Cooking once, eating twice (or more) is the epitome of spending less time cooking!
- Loosen your idea of “meal”: every meal doesn’t need to be a gourmet event. A meal could be a sandwich, cereal, toast and eggs, a nibbles plate with crackers, cheese, veggies, dip, or even random leftovers that don’t necessarily go together. Sometimes the focus needs to be on simply getting some nourishment, not on perfectly balanced meals or
- Learn recipe substitution: missing an ingredient for your recipe? do without, or substitute something else you have instead of going to the store to pick it up.
Choose faster cooking methods:
- Boil method for rice: usually you cook rice in a rice cooker or a pot on low. If you want it done faster, you can add rice to a full pot of boiling water and cook it like pasta. Instead of slowly absorbing all the liquid, you drain it off when the rice is cooked. You’ll notice the biggest reduction in time when cooking rice that takes a long time, like brown or wild rice.
- Microwave baked potato: Have you ever cooked a whole potato in the microwave? Scrub a medium potato and poke holes in it with a fork. Put it on a plate in the microwave and cook for 5 minutes (I’ve done it with 4 potatoes for 10-15 minutes). You’ll have a perfectly cooked “baked” potato in a few minutes instead of the usual 40 minutes it takes in the oven.
- Stir fry: stir frying is a naturally fast cooking method as you use high heat for a short time to get delicious food.
- Boil water in kettle: This is a trick I learned from an old roommate. When you need to boil a pot of water quickly, boil water in the electric kettle and in the pot. The kettle boils more quickly than the pot so it can save several minutes off the time it takes for the pot to boil!
Choose foods that cook faster or are ready to eat:
- Choose quick cooking pasta: some pastas take only about 5 minutes to cook, while others take 12 minutes or more! There’s also options like rice noodles that only need to be in boiling water for a minute.
- Chop smaller: if the foods are chopped smaller, they will cook faster.
- Choose canned beans or lentils: they’re already cooked and just need to be heated, compared to dried versions which take time to cook.
- Choose pre chopped veggies: fresh or frozen pre chopped vegetables can save A LOT of time for meal prep. This is especially true if you’re cooking for a lot of people or aren’t the fastest chopper.
- Use pre made sauces & seasonings: it may not always be the best for health or budget, but there’s no denying that pre made sauces & seasonings save time in the kitchen.
- Bagged salad mixes: Along the same lines as pre chopped veggies, bagged salad mixes can be a lifesaver on a busy night, without sacrificing flavor.
If you’re not a fan of ready made foods or some of the other methods I listed, your best chance of getting dinner on the table in less time is to plan ahead.
Yes, it takes some time up front, but if you average that time out over the day, week, or month, you will save time. It’s just like time blocking.
- Plan your meals: I’ll be the first to admit I hate planning meals (Why? I don’t know). BUT I do see a lot of merit in it, especially if your weeknights are busy. You don’t have to waste time thinking what to make each day, looking for a recipe, last minute trips to the grocery store, etc.
- Shop once for the week: now that you know what you’ll be making, you have a good idea of what ingredients you need. Make a list and get what you need to avoid last minute trips to the store throughout the week.
- Prep your meals: after you’ve planned what you’re going to make and gotten the ingredients, prep some of it now. This could include chopping fruit & veg, marinating meat/tofu, or cooking a batch of rice for the next few days. I don’t recommend prepping TOO far in advance, as you don’t want food to go bad before you eat it.
- Plan ahead to thaw meat/soak beans: thawing meat right before cooking the meal definitely takes time you’d rather spend on something else. With a little advanced planning, you take the meat out to thaw in the fridge the night before you plan to use it. The same goes for soaking dried beans vs. boiling them. With a little planning ahead, you’ll save time.
- Start with a clean kitchen: have you ever tried to cook in a messy kitchen? Either you have to clean up before you start cooking, or you try to work around the mess. Both end up taking time you don’t have.
- Batch cook & freeze: you can do this as part of your regular meal routine by simply doubling a recipe and freezing what you won’t use in the next day or two. OR you could purposely set aside a few hours to cook some meals specifically to freeze. Then you’ll have ready made meals that only take a few minutes to thaw on a busy night.
- Keep your pantry stocked: Stock your pantry with the basics, plus some time saving foods like bouillon mix or jarred pasta sauce. This way you’ll always have SOMETHING to make into a quick meal.
Out of all these tips, I think you can definitely get dinner on the table in half the time. As with anything though, you have to prioritize what’s most important to you.
Let me know your solutions to busy weeknights in the comments below!