Meals in 30 Minutes or Less



Print Friendly
Meals in 30 Minutes or Less

Meals in 30 Minutes or Less

I was having dinner at my son’s house the other night and my daughter-in-law had made “old fashioned” baked potatoes. You know– in the oven and not the microwave. Boy, they were good. It seems so many things taste better slow cooked in the oven. The funny thing is that it is still possible to prepare these meals in 30 minutes.

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 and it is possible to prepare meals in 30 minutes or less. 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 you can prepare meals 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 used 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. You might be surprised to find out how easy it is to make meals in 30 minutes or less.

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.

Old Kitchen Pantry

I am not living in a dream world. You can prepare meals in 30 minutes the way our grandmothers did. I hear some readers saying, “Our grandmothers weren’t ever as busy as we are so they had time to cook 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 preparing a meal in 30 minutes or less 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.

That doesn’t mean microwaving and frying everything to have a quick meal either. Slow cooking something in the oven not only makes things taste better but sometimes is quicker.

Our grandmothers’ secret to meals in 30 minutes:

  • Keep your meals simple.
  • Be organized.
  • Decide what you are preparing the night or the morning before.
  • Thaw anything you need the night or the morning before.
  • 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.)
  • Slow cook meats in the oven or in a crock pot.
  • Keep your kitchen clean so you have an uncluttered work area.

Here are some ideas about 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 and you will be able to make meals in 30 minutes.

Slow cooked roast: Place a roast in a crockpot 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 crockpot. (If you don’t want to use a crockpot, this recipe usually takes very little time, even when you’re just stirring it up in a pan.) Dump everything but sour cream and noodles into the crockpot. This takes three minutes’ work  and then you can 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 examples of ways to prepare quick and easy meals in 30 minutes or less. 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 amount of time 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

For lots of quick and easy meals that you can make ahead of time, check out Quick and Easy Menus On A Dime, which is full of pre-made menus and recipes for meals in 30 minutes or less. Make it easier to put dinner on the table and get out of the kitchen faster!

 

photo by: ella_marie

Comments

  1. Joanne says

    I think people don’t really realize how much time it really takes to eat out. By the time you get ready to go, drive there, are seated, get waited on, after you decide what you want, then wait for you dinner, wait to be cleared,wait for your check, wait to pay, drive home, My gosh, you could be better fed, relaxing, watching your favorite show, or reading your book, ready for bed, kids ready for bed, in half the time.
    It is a lot of work to eat out. Not so much to eat at home.It truly shocks me how much people actually eat out or order in. That is sssoo much money. Imagine what a Grocery shopping trip you could have with just one dinner out, and what a great meal, and then some, you could have.

  2. says

    here is a nice comfort food ready in minutes.

    Share This Recipe
    20-Minute Chicken Goulash

    Tested Till Perfect

    Inspired by the long-simmering Hungarian stew, this creamy goulash (which is at its finest with real Hungarian paprika) is quick, easy and full of robust flavour. Serve it over egg noodles or spaetzle.

    This recipe makes 4 servings

    Nutritional Info
    Per serving: about -
    cal 293
    pro 32 g
    total fat 11 g
    sat. fat 2 g
    carb 18 g
    fibre 3 g
    chol 68 mg
    sodium 637 mg
    % RDI: -
    calcium 7%
    iron 22%
    vit A 19%
    vit C 60%
    folate 15%
    Suggested Recipes

    Ingredients

    1/2tsp tsp(2 mL) (2 mL) caraway seeds
    1 1lb lb(454 g) (454 g) boneless skinless chicken breast
    2 2tbsp tbsp(25 mL) (25 mL) vegetable oil
    3cups cups(750 mL) (750 mL) sliced mushrooms, (8 oz/250 g)
    1 1oniononions, chopped
    1sweet green peppersweet green peppers, chopped
    4cloves garlic, minced
    1tbsp tbsp(15 mL) (15 mL) paprika
    1/2tsp tsp(2 mL) (2 mL) salt
    1/2tsp tsp(2 mL) (2 mL) pepper
    1/2tsp tsp(2 mL) (2 mL) dried thyme
    3tbsp tbsp(45 mL) (45 mL) all-purpose flour
    1-1/3cups cups(325 mL) (325 mL) chicken stock
    1/4cup cup(50 mL) (50 mL) tomato paste
    1/4cup cup(50 mL) (50 mL) chopped fresh parsley
    1/4cup cup(50 mL) (50 mL) light sour cream

    Preparation:

    Using mortar and pestle or side of chef’s knife, crush caraway seeds; set aside.

    Cut chicken into 3/4-inch (2 cm) chunks. In Dutch oven, heat half of the oil over medium-high heat; fry chicken, in batches, until browned outside and no longer pink inside, about 4 minutes. Remove to bowl.

    Add remaining oil to pan. Add mushrooms, onion, green pepper, garlic, paprika, salt, pepper, thyme and caraway seeds; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add flour; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in stock and tomato paste; cook, stirring often, until thickened enough to coat back of spoon, about 5 minutes.

    Return chicken and any accumulated juices to pan. Add parsley and sour cream; stir until heated through.

  3. says

    Here is a ham dinner that you are in the kitchen for 20 min. and have a complete dinner.
    Large ham that takes about 4 hours in the oven. Open a can of pineapple tidbits pour over the ham. Turn oven to 350 cover ham with tin foil and bake. Set timer for 3 hours. When it goes off add baked potatoes to the oven.
    Open a can or two of pork and beans add some chopped onions a tbsp of prepared mustard and some pineapple tid bits if desired. Put in the oven the same time as the potatoes make sure to seal the pot well.
    Set the timer for 1 hour more. Toss a salad, open a jar of apple sauce, put buns in a basket and call everyone for dinner when the timer goes.
    You not only have dinner but fried ham for breakfast, sandwich meat and the bits you can use for scrambled eggs or adding to mac and cheese.
    The next day put the ham bone into water and make pea soup or beans.

    another time saving tip is when you are boiling water for pasta use your steamer basket and steam potatoes the tiny new potatoes are best for this trick. Take them out when cooked and put them in the fridge. Next night take each one and flatten it a bit put it on a cookie sheet put a bit of butter some parmesean cheese or cheddar put them in the oven at 400 for about 5 min until the cheese is bubbly and a bit brown. They look great and taste even better with salt and pepper to taste.

  4. Jen M. says

    Love these ideas. As a woman who is recently married, attending graduate school, and hopefully working outside the home soon (I am looking for a job now), these ideas will REALLY come in handy. In fact, I am using the chicken idea tonight :)

  5. Ronda Martin says

    I found this to be a great article. I have never thought about the amount of time that can be saved by working in your slow-time and using the conventional oven. I do alot of doubling up on cooking and putting it into the freezer for the nights that we are so rushed that there is no time to ‘cook’. Thanks for all of the time & money saving tips.

  6. Maggie says

    Oh, my goodness, you are so right! I do that 30 minute rush almost every evening and did not realize that the reason I was so harried was because I waited until the last minute to do everything. Thanks for the “wake-up” call. I did not realize I was doing this until I read your newsletter. Sometimes, I am very organized and get something in crockpot in the morning but most days I am scurrying around trying to put something on to feed us by 7:30 pm. I’m really going to use my brain & oven more and stop this endless rushing around. Love your newsletter and your commonsense thoughts. My mom used to remind me of things like this but she has been gone so long that I don’t have anyone to “mom” me anymore. While I am probably older than you , Jill, I still miss my mom’s advice.
    -Maggie-

  7. Linda :o) says

    I so agree with you! I shudder when I read some of the stuff in the cooking groups! Women have really lost their touch when it comes to cooking. The ‘Cooking with Love’ feature just isn’t there any more. They just want to get it over with. Another thing that really bugs me is the new trend to cook meat from the ‘frozen’ state. Yikes! I would never think of cooking a piece of frozen meat! Give me a break! The least you can do is take it out of the freezer the night before to thaw. I mean, how lazy can you be?

  8. says

    First let me say I totally agree with you, in the amount of time it takes to get take out/pizza delivered/or drive to a place & order food I can cook dinner….as long as I have a plan. However, let me ask something, if your mother-in-law was at work from 7am to 9pm how in the world did she cook 3 meals a day? Did she cook everything the night before and let her family heat it up? did she come home at lunch and cook? I have problems cooking because I am not always home at meal times, I use the crock pot but that can only go so far. The best thing I have found is to cook a weeks worth of meals on Sunday (some day of rest!)and let my husband re-heat at will. I guess I am looking for other sugestions on how to cook when I am not at home??? Thanks

    • says

      My mother in law would put a roast or chicken in to slow cook then she had an hour lunch usually, came home, added a veggie or salad, bread and dinner was served. She would then put something in before she headed to work, would have leftovers or sometimes would get home from work that late and fix a full meal eating as late as 9 o’clock. When her kids were older she did have them to help start things too.

      Her lunches often were sandwiches, fruit, salad and chips which she would serve on a fully set table. Once you get it down it really doesn’t take that long to do these things if you know the secret.

      We tend to forget decades ago women worked just as long hours away from home at times or in the fields and they didn’t have near the conveniences which we have for quick and easy foods. Often having to really work to prepare those foods. I’m sorry but people even holler about pre-packaged foods there is an up side to not having to go out, kill, pluck and clean my own chicken.

  9. Dreama says

    I’ve been preachin’ this for years! It’s not just meals, and the kitchen, it’s laundry and LOTS of other things, too. Our G’mas (and for some of us, our Mothers) did many things ONCE a WEEK. Period. No half loads of laundry, no laundry every day, either. Laundry Mondays, ironing Tuesdays, etc, etc. Let’s get back to simple…it takes less time than you think!!

  10. Janet says

    I enjoyed your article but I think your times are very under estimated. For example-boil noodles 5-7 minutes. You have to get your pan, fill it with water, wait for the water to boil and then cook 5-7 minutes or more. I have about 30 years of cooking every day experince and it takes me more than 7 minutes to peel and chop veggies and meat for a stew or soup plus clean up. Sometimes it’s just not that simple, but I do agree it’s much better than eating out all the time.

      • linda says

        I live in the deep hot south..this is a no brainer that my mom told me once. when it is too hot to turn the oven on…dont…. she set a toaster oven outside on a table by the door and baked in it! i still do this…it is amazing to get the smell of a hot cooking meal and a cool house all at once!

    • says

      This is the actual cooking of the noodles and I don’t just stand and watch and wait for the water to boil but am working on other things. These are approximate times. Of course some people will take longer then others for example if you have a family of ten it will take longer for you to peel veggies for a meal then a family of 4. The age of your children will make a difference if you are peeling enough veggies for a 2 year old or a teenage age boy. Some people just move slower then others because it is just their personality and on and on.

      I can get in and out of the kitchen in a very short time but my daughter in law is even faster at it then me. In the same way I can get dressed in only a few minutes but it can take her an hour to get ready. We are just different and neither is wrong.

      Sometimes we get so caught up in sticking to the letter of the principle we miss the spirit or general idea of the principle or article. I usually try to get my numbers as close as I can to the general public. For some it is higher for some it is lower.

  11. Kathleen says

    I’m very interested in WWII and the homemakers’ involvement/hardships. In my stilllimited research, I’ve found that many women worked OUTSIDE the home for 12-15 hours a day, yet still were required to cook (and I do mean cook, no microwaves back then!), do laundry (frequently with a tub and wash board), iron, etc., in their “free time”, plus of course clean the home, see that the children were clothed and cared for, etc. My gosh, I was exhausted! BUT I also remember from my own personal experience that I did have a hot dinner every night despite my then-husband working road construction and going from can’t see to can’t see, plus fixing a breakfast and packing his lunch. Was I a stay at home? Nope, I went to college full time and worked 3 part time jobs, AND had a very limited food budget! So yes, it can be done. It takes planning ahead and wise use of resources, but yes it can be done. OH, it didn’t matter if there was a heat wave or not, my hubbie wanted a HOT DINNER…lol…and no, I had no microwave then either. Just an oven…. It’s time I got back to those ways…Thank you so much for your article!!

    • says

      Kathleen I too can remember the days before microwaves. I laugh because the first year I had one I maybe used it 4 times and thought what a waste. I used it a little more the next year but mostly for heating water for my instant coffee. We didn’t even have instant hot chocolate that you could buy at the grocery stores either to heat water for. I always thought I had this huge monster taking up half my counter space because microwaves were good size back then and just to heat a cup of water in. I finally did become one with my microwave and use it but still laugh at my grandkids who can’t even imagine life without one.

  12. says

    This newsletter is so good it is hard for me to find the right words – awesome is about the closest I can come!! The tips on preparing a meal in nothing flat really touched me as I have practically preached this to my daughters and poor little daughters in law, beside my grand daughters who actually think cooking is a frozen entree, au gratin potatoes from a box and a deli container of cole slaw!! I have got to forward the newsletter to them and say “told ya’ so!”.
    My grandmas and mom could whip mouth watering food in no time, with their wood stoves and, later, kerosene. We were right up town with our first kerosene cook stove! I have spent many an hour with my sweet little grandma in her kitchen, hoping someday I could do just half what she did, even home bread every single day, lugging buckets of water in from an outside hand pump. Oh, I could go on for days about it.
    You have brought a flood of lovely memories rushing in and for that, I thank you!! Absolutely great newsletter!!! I hope it is taken to heart by those who read it.

  13. Mary Scott says

    Regarding the lasagna, doesn’t it take at least an hour to cook in the oven? It says you can sit down to dinner in 15 minutes.?

    • says

      I am sure there are different recipes out there but no mine only needs to be in the oven long enough to basically melt the cheese. Everything is cooked; noodles, hamburger etc. I let the hamburger sauce just simmer in the pan waiting for the noodles to cook, layer everything and put in the oven just long enough for it to heat through and the cheese to melt.

      I’m not sure but I think sometimes uncooked noodles are used and then that calls for a longer baking time which would work for some people too because you could put it together and start it baking. While it is baking you could change your clothes, help the kids with homework or something like that.

      I also at times will make not only lasagna up the day before I use it but things like chili or spaghetti sauce and let it set a day because that gives the spices time to blend.

      Often when people talk about a meal taking only 20 or 30 mins. to prepare they are usually meaning the prep time. For example my roast takes 15 – 16 hours to cook but only about 5 mins to put in the pan and into the oven.

  14. says

    I cook most roasts and chickens from the frozen stage. It saves me time.
    I bring it home from the butcher and season it well. Then pop it in a freezer bag and the day I want to cook it I take it out and put it in the roaster or slow cooker. I add about 1/2 an hour cooking time and walk away.
    I don’t have blood pooled in the fridge which is usually too full to thaw meat in anyway.
    Nobody has ever commented on something tasting like it was cooked from frozen. It is also a lot less expensive than buying those roasts that are already for the oven from frozen.

    • Claire says

      Thanks for this article! I am a younger (mid-30′s) cook, and I have been pulled into the cooking frenzy as well. Honestly, I blame it on the Food Network and all of these chefs putting out these insanely complicated recipes. I’m a pretty good cook, but even their “easier” recipes have way too much prep and cooking involved! I have recently been trying making my own recipes up “on the fly” and meal cooking/prep time has been so much more fun! I recently started using long-grain brown rice instead of the instant kind; I was amazed – yes, it has to be cooked for almost an hour, but if you just put that on the stove to get going, you CAN just ignore it until ready to eat! I’m going to have to experiment with my slow cooker more as well….

      Another note: putting frozen meat into a slow cooker is not recommended; it takes too long for the frozen meat to reach safe cooking temperatures. This can lead to bacteria in your food…not good!

  15. Marilyn says

    Great article…great tips. My FAVORITE thing about this web site and newsletter is I can immediately start putting to use the tips and information I learn! THANK YOU!!!

  16. Ceirios says

    I am in my mid 30s, my mother in her late 60s. Neither of us have every owned a microwave!
    I enjoyed your article immensly. This is the kind of cooking I try to do most of the time, and which my mother is a master at. I try to think ahead, take whatever meat or fish I need out of the freezer the night before; just use saucepans for boiling and an oven to roast or re-heat. No need for a microwave I’d say.
    My mother in law has more than once offered to buy us one for Christmas, or even pass on an old one of hers. I’ve always declined – gracefully. My husband, although raised in a house with a microwave, agrees with me. (Thankfully – otherwise marital harmony would be difficult!).
    And if one day I do forget to take something out of the freezer then I have to think of something else to eat instead. And if I haven’t put water on to boil vegetables early enough (where a microwave might save some time), then we just wait a few minutes more to eat. No hardship really.

  17. Sue says

    When I do lasagna, I do not cook the noodles ahead of time, and you are right, it does take about an hour to cook.

    You have to add about 3/4 of a cup of water for each quart of sauce if you don’t cook the noodles. It is SO much easier to work with uncooked noodles (at least in IMHO). When I make lasagna I make 3 or 4 pans of it at the same time. It’s the same mess (browning the meat, heating the sauce), and really just a few more minutes total. I buy the big bag of already shredded mozzarella at Costco (price per pound is reasonable, when I don’t have to shred or slice the cheese – my time is worth the few cents difference). I buy ricotta when it’s on sale and freeze it until I’m ready to make the lasagna (you can also ‘stretch’ the ricotta by using part cottage cheese). I set up an assembly line and ‘build’ the pans of lasagna. I put one in the oven to cook. I cover the rest with plastic wrap and then foil (the sauce will eat through the foil otherwise), make sure to write myself a note on the foil to remove the plastic wrap before cooking, and freeze. You can even cook a frozen lasagna, just need to allow more time (an hour and a half to two hours – that’s how long it takes to cook a frozen lasagna from the store). Just plan ahead to allow enough time. You can do other things (make salad, set table, maybe just relax . . . ) while it cooks. It’s great on potluck Sunday and all I have to do is grab a lasagna from the freezer, or some night when I don’t have a clue what’s for dinner and all the work is already done.

  18. Sue says

    I forgot to mention that I also often add frozen, chopped spinach (thawed and squeezed fairly dry) to the ricotta for a little extra zip. I haven’t met anybody yet who didn’t LOVE their spinach this way!

  19. says

    We live in Texas and as everybody knows … it’s hot. So turning on the oven makes it even hotter. When I bake potatoes, I cook them on the grill outside. I also cook my fresh corn on the cob on the grill. It takes the same amount of time and doens’t make the house hot.

  20. elizabeth says

    Sue,
    I also add spinach to my lasagna and baked ziti. When I make up one for dinner, I always make up at least one more pan for the freezer. So easy for another night and takes very little time to make 2 instead of one. My timesaver is to make up a HUGE pot of chili(ours is beans only so it is very cheap) in the crockpot and then we use it for tacos, chili-rice casserole, chili macaroni, plus regular chili – you get the point. Really all I have to do is make a very small portion of the meal once the chili is made up. We do this about one week each month, and no-one even seems to realize it is the same chili over and over, because it’s in different meals.

    Also sometimes I will do a “ratatouille” type veggies in the crockpot and we have it one night on rice, another on pasta, and another as toppings for a veggie pizza.

    • says

      Speaking of lasagna and tossing things in. I haven’t made if for awhile but one of the best ways I ever tasted it was the woman used Swiss cheese, American cheese and cottage cheese in place of mozzarella cheese. You wouldn’t think it but it totally changed the flavor but it was good.

  21. Sheri says

    One of my family’s favorite and super simple meals includes a crock pot main dish. I put 3 pounds of meat (chicken, beef or pork) in the crock pot with 1 cup of salsa or barbeque sauce. If I use frozen meat, I can start it late at night on low, or start it in the morning on high. If my meat is not frozen, I can start it in the morning on low or 4 hours before dinner on high. It will fall apart on its own.

    The meat cooked with salsa goes with refried beans, tortillas, shredded cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and more salsa. We sometimes add black olives and sour cream or plain yogurt. You can add Mexican rice to that if you like. My Mexican rice is 3 cups rice (we use long grain brown), 1 cup salsa and 7 cups water. That should take about 40 minutes to cook on the stove.

    The meat cooked with barbeque sauce can be put on rolls or baked potato. If I am in a hurry to cook my “baked” potato, I use my pressure cooker and they come out very moist. I use the steam rack in the pressure cooker. The potatoes only take 15 minutes of cooking once the pot comes up to pressure. Use that 15 minutes to make a salad and if you like, get a pot on the stove cooking corn on the cob too!

    I also love my roasting pan. For my family, I can put 2-3 pounds of meat in the roasting pan, with 10 potatoes, 10 carrots and 2 thick sliced onions. I cook my meatloaf this way sometimes too.

    Maybe the difference in the time it takes to prepare potatoes is whether they are cleaned or peeled? Same for carrots.

  22. Rachell says

    I really enjoyed this article! The saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail” really comes to mind.

    I do not work currently, but when I did I had 5 kids + hubby at home and my crockpot was my best fried in the kitchen and still is.

    Another great help was a Fry Daddy- except I didn’t fry in it. A fry daddy is a wonderful one pot, stew pot. Since we never really fried much I sat & read the instructions to figure out how I could use this wonderful present that I had received. For example: to make veg soup, beef stew or chili… brown/cook meat on high,add veggies/beans,seasonings and liquid bring to a boil. Once to a boil turn heat down to the point that indicator light just goes off and simmer there for a couple hrs- if soup has noodles return to boil and add noodles and cook them before serving. This was always handy on Sat when we were working around the house & kids were in and out doing more grazing than eating.

    Love your blog!

  23. Sandi P. says

    My best friend in the kitchen (next to the crock pot, that is) is the rice cooker. I keep the brown rice in a container nearby with a half cup measure in it, and when I get home from work I measure water and rice into it, add frozen or fresh veggies into the steamer rack on top, put the meat or main dish on (or check on the crockpot), and kick my shoes off for about 20 or 30 minutes. (I cook all poultry and fish from frozen after a few times getting sick from “fresh”, which really isn’t. It doesn’t take much longer, either). If I’m grilling or broiling steaks, I wait until the rice is done before starting them. The rice and veggies do just fine on keep warm, but steak doesn’t. This fits the preferences of my husband and kids most days, and is healthy enough I can fit it into my needs with diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

  24. Kay says

    Potatoes can also be baked in a slow cooker or Nesco-type roaster, which is quick prep time with oven-baked flavor without heating the kitchen.

  25. says

    I’ve changed the way I cook over the years, trying to use more from-scratch ingredients rather than using convenience foods, but no matter how you prepare your food, the more you do it, the faster you get at it. Pretty soon, you are so good at some of your recipes, you don’t have to think about what you are doing or what the next step is, it just comes naturally. So, one piece of advice that I have is to learn really well a few of your favorite recipes until you can do them quickly. That will get dinner on the table that much faster.

  26. says

    I love your ideas. I heard running the oven was very costly compared to using the microwave(electric wise). So I always try and use the microwave if possiable but if I do use my oven I try to put as much in as I can.

  27. Sharon says

    Very good ideas! I am NOT one for eating out unless it is a PLANNED occasion, meaning it is something special. I save time when I cook meats such as roasts, chickens, etc. by placing them in the crock pot before we head to bed and turn it on low. They are usually cooked by morning and we can carry on with life without wondering what too cook. I will need to try some of these listed ideas. I wish I knew about 15 yrs ago what I know now…we could be rather wealthy lol

  28. rose says

    dawn .. my brother (b4 he passed away) .. he had 2 grills going all the time .. one was for meat and the other was for a pot of vegi’s (corn on cob, broccoli, if there were potatoes/white or sweet, he put foil on them and they also cooked on this grill) ..

    • Grandma says

      I have one bbq but my husband thinks big. When I had 2 sons and 2 adults to cook for we started with a hibatchi bbq. then he stepped up to a round propane one for the balcony. It seems everytime we get a new one it is bigger. Now there are only 2 of us or 3 when a friend comes over.
      On mine now I can have the rotisserie going on one side and grill stuff on the other.
      but I am like your brother if I have it going it is full. stir fryes, or roasted vegetables in tin foil. french bread wrapped in tinfoil on the warming rack and one extra whatever meat for next day lunch when I am alone.
      It doesn’t take anymore fuel to heat so why not use it.
      Now if I can keep Don from getting a new one next year I may not have to get a bigger patio for it.

  29. Allison says

    Im a young mother of a 1 1/2 year old. Hes a good eater but im running out of ideas for him. I just recently moved to a place with NO oven and need simple meals that i can put in the crock pot before i leave for work or make in the microwave. Please HELP!! Need ideas. Im new to this lol.
    Thank you

    • says

      Allison check out the web site. We have many different crock pot recipes all over plus keep your eyes peeled I just finished polishing up an article on “cool cooking” in which I talk some more about crock pot cooking and how to adapt your regular recipes to use in a crock pot.

    • Grandma says

      An electric griddle and a rotisserie are actually my appliances of choice.
      Add an electric frying pan to the mix.
      I have baked a cake in the frying pan on occassion.
      in the frying pan you can do chicken, hamburger, pork chops and beef in gravy. fish is so simple and can be served with so many different sauces and spices never the same meal twice.
      With the rotisserie you can cook chicken either whole or parts bake potatoes roasts of all types. turn it on and walk away it automatically shuts off when the timer is done.
      put a shallow pan to get the drippings and make a gravy out of that to go with the roast.
      You can do wedgy fries in it all you have to do is cut them big enough to not fall out of the holes in the basket. did it once with fries too small and ended up with 3 fries for each person and a mess of them in the bottom.
      I was at the grocery store the other day bored with my usual choices and I saw a shelf with about 6 different sauces to put the cooked chicken into. I picked 2 and when I read them after I got home they were curries. Disaster I thought since neither Don or I like curries. Well I had a huge ham in the oven for cold meat sandwiches that week so I tried the one. It was wonderful. Just enough spice to make it intersting. best of all Don says make it again.
      Totally different meal with less time to prepare from my usual.
      As soon as I find the chicken thighs in my freezer the next one will be taste tested. the recipes call for chicken breast but the thighs are juicier and did very well.
      I am trying to use up the stuff in my freezer so I can defrost it and the go to the city to restock it for winter when the roads are too hazardous for a fun trip away.
      try changing the spices in what you already cook add a different vegetable and you will have a totally different meal.
      I rarely use my oven except for the slow cooked meat and potatoes and if I had an electric frying pan I could do without it at all.

      • says

        Yes I do love an electric frying pan too. It is good for frying things like donuts because you can do several at a time instead of just a few like a regular pan.

        I can testify to that if you have nothing but an electric fry pan you can survive very well. When I moved to Idaho I had planned on moving into a house but that fell through so I had to put everything in a storage building for 6 months. Because of different things I couldn’t get to my stuff very well for that 6 months so I had to use just what I had brought in the car with me and what I had stuffed in my fridge (plastic ware).

        My frying pan was one thing I had and I cooked everything in that including boiling water in and it is what I used to heat water to wash my face and dishes each day.

        Every time I talk about what are the most important things in my kitchen I think of a missionary’s wife who told how she had to do some serious thinking when they said she could only take 1 trunk with everything she needed for her kitchen – including dishes for eating. She wasn’t going to be close to any place either to pick up more things.It is amazing what you can get by with if you have too.

        • Mary says

          Jill, been there, done that!!!! When we moved back home to Oklahoma from Washington State, there was a mixup and our house wasn’t ready for three more months. We found a little house in the country to rent but it didn’t have a stove nor any heat and it was the coldest fall on record. We survived with a microwave, Mr. Coffee and my favorite electric frypan. I never did (or still don’t for that matter) like the microwave, but it worked well to warm up things but my trusty frypan kept us fed.

  30. Doug Mc Cormick says

    Swedish Meatballs Made Easy –
    Crock pot — turn on in early morning
    Dump in 5 pound bag of frozen meatballs from market
    Add a pint container of CHIP DIP Sour Cream & Onion is good
    Cut up an ONION if you wish
    Canadian Steak Seasoning OPTIONAL
    Put lid on crock pot, and depart for work
    When you get home from work, dinner is ready and the house smells wonderful. Your prep time was less than 5 minutes.

  31. says

    Was watching a cooking show “what’s for dinner” and her idea for meatball making really made a lot of sense.
    She made the basic recipe then put the entire amount on a cookie sheet. She sliced them into small squares and baked them. When done she cooled them and put the squares into containers.
    No mess of rolling balls trying to get them a uniform size and they were in the oven in about 10 min from the first step of putting them to be mixed.
    Who says meatballs have to be round?

      • Grandma says

        Amy with my organizational skills by the time I found the pizza cutter it would be the next day we had meatballs.
        hardly ever use it. when we have pizza my husbands cuts it with the meat cleaver he finds that easier.
        If he is willing to do something in the kitchen for the most part I let him.

  32. vanessa says

    I like all these ideas. Leftovers are the best. If you have too much of anything you can easily use it in another dish during the week. i believe that is why grandma could feed us all in no time at all.

  33. Linda says

    To rush up a baked potato i first cook it about 1/2 done in the microwave. Then i pierce it and wrap it in foil and finnish it up in the reular oven. taste the same as an oven baked potato in less time.

    I also make muy banana pudding in the microwave. I mix all the ingredients and put in a microwave bowl. Cook it until thick. Then i put in my vanilla wafers and bananas. ( drag them into filling with a spoon) Take far less time and only one bowl to wash. Of course you have to brown the meringue in the regular oven.

  34. says

    My brother in law sent me a link to this site, said it sounded like me, and things I like to do. You mention doing something earlier in the day when things are less harried. That’s my number one trick. I cook from scratch dinners everyday with 3 kids and the youngest is 2. When I have a toddler, that is especially a good time to not leave things for last minute. After feeding a little one lunch, they happily busy themselves and I can brown meat for example, start a spaghetti sauce, and then put it in a crockpot on low so it simmers until we’re ready to eat. Then, when I reach the cranky hour before dinner, I only need to boil water for noodles, and cook a veggie. I loved you additional suggestions. Another thing I’ll do is put rice in the rice cooker on delay in the morning before I leave, but time it to start an hour before dinner, then I put out meat to thaw. When I come home in the afternoon, I just need to cook up meat and veggies. The crockpot is great in the heat! Energy efficient and doesn’t heat up house!

  35. Grandma says

    lasagna you say boil them well here is what I learned on a cooking show.
    put some warm water into a cookie sheet with a lip. lay the noodles in the water and let them sit while you get all the other stuff ready.
    no hot noodles to handle and they do not rip as you try to get them out of the strainer because you don’t need a strainer.
    She did this even with those ready for oven ones as she said they sometimes cook differently even when in the same pot.

  36. says

    I have a microwave and almost never use it. I love cooking in the oven. Even warming things up like tortillas or sandwiches (I like my sandwiches toasty). I think the microwave makes everything soggy or rubbery. I use it for popcorn, and sometimes to reheat my soup. I have tried to get rid of it and my husband won’t he heats up anything in there and doesn’t mind a bit. So it stays!
    I’m like Sara too, I do what I can when I can so I’m not freaking out trying to do EVERYTHING while my husband is on his way home.

  37. says

    Don’t count out a solar oven. Rather like a crock pot but no energy required. I am trying to avoid the regular oven between noon and 6PM May through October because I have solar panels to generate electricity and make more money by using power on off hours. I will use the oven in the winter because there is no time-of-day cost difference in the winter for power.

  38. jeanne T. says

    30-minute meals — it really is a matter of perspective, isn’t it? Many good thoughts in this piece. So many kids today don’t come home smelling a roast or chicken in the oven. Consequently, they don’t learn how to help in meal preparation, either. There are also many women (and men) who don’t even know how to cook and sadly, don’t want to learn, either (I know some). Fast food or frozen, store-bought microwave entrees have replaced Mom’s home cooking. These people will be caught like deer in the headlights if there is a national catastrophe and they haven’t prepared and don’t have any contingency plans at all.

  39. Doris Hofmann says

    I have found that one of the best ways to save time when cooking things like chili, spaghetti sauce and other meals that use ground beef is to buy several pounds of ground beef and fry it up with diced onions and your favorite seasonings, such as Greek seasoning, Old Bay seafood seasoning, or salt and pepper, or whatever you like. I also put some dried garlic in the mix. Then I freeze the cooked ground beef in cupfuls in freezer bags, mark them and freeze them. When I am in the mood to make chili or spaghetti, I then have some already cooked ground beef to add to the pot. While the tomatoes and beans for chili are heating up, the ground beef is thawing out right in the pot with them and in no time, my chili is ready. No having to cut up onions and brown the ground beef before starting the chili or whatever you are making. I also cook rice in large quantities, put cupfuls in freezer bags and freeze. All you need to do is put the rice in a pan (or in a microwave-safe dish if you choose) with a couple of teaspoons of water, heat the rice to desired temperature and there is your rice. You can also dice or slice onions and freeZe them. I chop them up or slice them, lay them out on a cookie sheet in the freezer until frozen, then put them in individual bags and keep in the freezer. That way, they don’t stick together when removing them from the bag. What a timesaver.

    • Amy says

      Green peppers (or colored ones) freeze well too. Especially when you have a summertime bounty to do something with. Just chop and put in freezer bags. Grab only what you need for a meal.

  40. says

    When you get your roast, potatoes and carots in crock pot, spinkle an envelope of onion soup over all and pour on a can of cream of mushroom over all, do not stir I cook until roast falls apart when fork inserted. You have the most wonderful gravy to serve over hot baked biscuits.

  41. says

    So many young adults and kids who are growing up now simply never learned how to cook. Their moms may not even know how to cook, beyond sandwiches and cereal. These “old” skills need to be revisited because they are useful, and valuable. I like your point that coming home to a hot meal and a house that smells good can set the atmosphere for the evening.

  42. says

    This is so true. I have now started planning my meals for the week. This has made me so organized and I really do not spend much time on dinner.

    I make 3 meals every day during the week. On the weekends I tend to fly by the seat of my pants for meals. I usually can cook longer meals (chicken, roasts, etc) and the leftovers get repurposed during the week or for lunches.

    It does not take me long to cook (or pack) any of my meals. By comparison, going out to eat takes us about 2-3 hours and can cost my entire food budget for the week. We are not talking about a fancy restaurant.

  43. Grandma says

    About the only times I use my slow cookers is during rhubarb and apple season.
    We do not really care for the texture of the meat when it is done. Just preference or how you were eating when you were a kid I guess.
    In the fall and winter I use my oven almost every day.
    I am told this is wasteful for electricity but if I am tossing half of what is in the slow cooker 2 days late I think that is a bigger waste.
    Now during hunting season if we get a goose I have to cook it really slow or I end up serving india rubber balls instead of nice goose so when we are out hunting again I cut it down so it fits add water and spices and 8 hours later we come back to a goose dinner.
    I have 2 slow cookers and they sit under my microwave which also only gets used to heat up frozen veg. for supper or to reheat my coffee if it gets cold.
    I really could give them away and never miss them.

  44. Carol says

    I tend to use the microwave for heating up my tea when it gets cold. I love using the oven and slow cooker for meals-the apartment smells so good as the food cooks. I keep telling the kids that cooking really is a survival skill that they *need* to learn, along with how to sew on buttons and darn socks. They look at me like I’ve got two heads, but happily gobble up what I cook, and who do they come to when a button falls off? I remember often, when we were leaving for school in the morning, Mum would be browning meat for a stew or pot roast, or scalding milk for bread. Then, when we got home, the house would be full of good smells – love made tangible. The house would be clean, and there would be time for homework before we set the table. Mum didn’t have to do cleanup – we did that, including sweeping the floor. Too many young people now don’t know which end of the broom to use – the vacuum is much simpler to use. Likewise, they don’t know how to cook a simple, wholesome meal. My high school age nephew is learning to bake cookies in school, but not how to make himself a decent meal – and as good as cookies or brownies are, you can’t live on them.

  45. Anne Haddad says

    Thank you so much for explaining the advantages of cooking in the oven. You’re so right! Food tastes better prepared the old-fashioned way. I bought a copy of Dining on a Dime and love it. In addition, I have and love my older cookbooks which I bought when we did our cooking in the oven. We didn’t have crock pots, microwaves, or some of the other “must haves” by so many today. I still cook the old-fashioned way. And older cookbooks can help you lose weight as the recommended servings were smaller then. I’m still a proponent of the old=fashioned way of doing things. I say, “Bake those potatoes in the oven and see for yourself how much better they taste!” It’s a holiday for your taste buds! Keep up the good work! Anne

  46. says

    Help! Please explain how to cook a chicken. Also when making dishes ahead can they be frozen if some of the ingredients have already been frozen?

    • says

      Donna it is pretty easy and if you can do a roast you can do a chicken.

      Thaw it.

      Spray a roasting pan (I just us a 9×13 pan or the crock pot) with non stick spray.

      Pull out the neck and giblets(guts) which are usually in a bag in the cavity (some may not have any guts just check)

      Quickly rinse it under the water (some do this some don’t)

      You can season it with something as simple as salt and pepper (although some like to salt after it is cooked, your choice) or you can add many more seasonings like thyme, rosemary, place an onion or garlic in the cavity etc. I personally like just a plain old chicken.

      Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes per pound plus about 15-20 minutes extra. If you use a meat thermometer then the temp should be 180 degrees about. I don’t use one and just know it is done when the drumstick pulls loose from the body of the chicken. An average size chicken takes about 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

      Extras: I sometimes turn mine upside down like I do my turkeys and place a little butter in the cavity and bake like that. If you don’t turn it upside down then you need to baste it once in awhile and cover it with foil if is starts browning to much.

      The easiest way of all is to slap it in the pan, cover with foil and forget about it till it’s done.

      For those of you who have it check out your copy of Dining on a Dime. We have how to roast a chicken in it. That is one thing we tried to do with Dining is we have all kinds of recipes for just your basic foods and how to cook them.

    • says

      It depends on what you are talking about on the freezing part Donna. For example if you use frozen veggies or meat in a casserole and then re freeze it that isn’t a problem. Somethings get mushy when thawed but if they are then cooked and refrozen they can be ok. Didn’t know if this is what you were meaning.

  47. Jessica says

    I love this post and all of the comments. I have been using my crockpot more lately but still enjoy meals from the oven more. I use my microwave for cooking frozen veggies and after school snacks. My mother in law and I have a good laugh everytime I’m there and I catch her cooking Spaghettios on the stovetop. She says it doesnt’t even cross her mind to use the microwave… the only thing she really uses it for is to defrost bread quickly (which tastes horrible!) I have learned a lot about simple cooking from her. She’s also a big fan of the pressure cooker – I haven’t gotten the guts to try one yet (afraid I’ll blow something up!) but she swears by it, I guess they use to be quite popular when women started working but were still expected to put a meat and potatoes meal on the table at 5:30 everyday!

    • says

      Yes pressure cookers use to be kind of the microwaves of that day and they did often blow up. I too am still afraid of them but now a day they have made them so they are very save and all in case anyone wants to try them.

  48. says

    I have enjoyed your blog more than you will ever know and I even recommended it on my blog! I love this “Dinner in 15 minutes topic.” Although I never timed it, I’m sure that cooking dinner for my family of 8 took more than 15 minutes but….. I learned how to save time. At one point I had a 1 year old and two teenaged boys, so food was important.
    I learned to save time by , as you say, look for the lulls in the day, and then I would brown quite a few pounds of hamburger with seasonings. When I was done, I’d put two cups of hamburger into storage containers and freeze them. Then I was ready for many meals like tacos, chili, spaghetti, sloppy joes etc. All I’d have to do is warm up the meat, usually in the sauce, and there was no frying pan to clean up.
    And when I made something like lasagne, which at that time was always in a huge pan, I think I made about 5 pounds of it at a time, I would also make a baked ziti for the freezer.
    I did all kinds of time savers like that. Boiling a dozen eggs on Sunday night while we all watched tv, then I’d have them for putting in salads, making egg salad or just to add to lunches. They were all ready.
    It’s doing little things ahead, and when half the population inour house was five and under, you know time was precious! I miss those days!

  49. says

    I hate my microwave, and if it wasn’t for my darling husband, wouldn’t have one. Has anyone else noticed, that after using a glass pan in a microwave, after a period of time, the pan gets very brittle and breaks into shards? I mean thin, sharp shards, not like usual breaking.

    I hate that thing!!

  50. kristi says

    This is SO true! I get home from work at 6/6:15, after picking up my three kids from day care. Let me rephrase that: my three 4 yrs old and under, tired, hungry, I-haven’t-seen-mommy-all-day, kids! If I can get them fed in 30 minutes or less ANYONE can! I am tired when I get home; I have worked all day, nursing at least twice at night (of course by the time were’re done with the second nursing, it’s time for me to get up) and somehow things seem to explode from their resting place the minute we walk through the door. But seriously, if I can get out of my nuggets and veggies from the microwave for dinner every night rut and start cooking actual meals again anyone can.

  51. says

    I like to prepare things ahead of time. Over the weekend, I’ll cook up a huge pot of rice, and another of beans or lentils. I will also go out to the garden and harvest a lot of whatever vegetables are ready, wash, trim and have them ready and in the fridge for cooking. When I bake, I bake double what I think we’ll want. The extra item is wrapped and frozen. I make things like cobbler and crisp/crumble topping mixes in bulk, so I can quickly throw together a homemade dessert.

    But the effort that makes dinners seem easy for me, is getting a start in the morning. I will usually prepare at least part of dinner right after cleaning up the kitchen from breakfast. By late afternoon, my cooking effort is minimal most days. Those are the hours I’m most fatigued from the day, and my kids and husband are most needing my attention.

    What I wish were possible (that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had), is to return to having the large meal mid day, then just a simple bowl of soup or a sandwich at supper time. Now that would make my cooking day feel easier.

    • says

      I know what you mean on both accounts. I wrote an article about doing as much for your evening meal as you can in the morning when you aren’t tired but also when you have the meal halfway done you aren’t tempted to go out to eat or get fast foods because you don’t want to waste what you have already started. I probably should write about that again.

      I’m with you too on having the big meal at noon. I was so lucky for many years because my husband worked at home and I could make the main meal at noon. It was so wonderful especially in the summer when I would be so hot and I could have a simple cool meal at dinner during the hottest part of the day.

  52. Angie says

    In my family, we eat a lot of chicken. We like chicken in a variety of casseroles and skillet meals.

    I have heard that in some areas, chicken breast is expensive. I am lucky to live in an area where I can buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale at Kroger for $1.99 a pound. I can’t even buy hamburger that cheap where I live!

    The best meal time saver I have found is this. When the boneless, skinless chicken breasts go on sale at Kroger for $1.99/pound, I buy 2 3 pound packages. As soon as I get home and put my groceries away, I get out a large stock pot and throw the six pounds of chicken breasts in, fill it with water and put the pot on to boil. I let it boil for 20 – 30 minutes until it tests done with the meat thermometer. I allow the chicken breasts to cool and then I shred the chicken and put it into a large bowl. I then measure out 2 and 3 cup portions of the shredded chicken and put it in freezer bags. I squeeze out all of the air and make the bags as flat as possible and stack them in my deep freeze. Oh, and I save the broth for future use too. This entire process doesn’t take too long and I do other things around the house while the chicken is boiling.

    The meal possibilities are endless!

    One of my biggest discoveries is that any recipe I find that starts with cooking raw chicken in a skillet or pot can be made quicker by starting with my pre-cooked chicken. I take a 2 or 3 cup package of frozen, pre-cooked shredded chicken out of the freezer the night before and put it in my fridge. Then when I start with a skillet meal recipe, I heat a little olive oil in a skillet, add the thawed, pre-cooked chicken and just heat until it’s warm. Then I follow the rest of the recipe.

    Here is one recipe that is super quick and delicious! My family loves it!

    Southwest Chicken

    2 Cups Cooked, Shredded Chicken
    2 Cups Uncooked Instant Rice
    1 Package Taco Seasoning (May substitute equivalent amount of homemade taco seasoning)
    1 Can Rotel Diced Tomatoes and Chiles (Mild or Regular)
    1 1/2 Cups Water

    Heat a little olive oil in skillet. Add chicken and stir until heated. Add Rotel (do not drain), taco seasoning and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring mixture to a boil. Add 2 cups uncooked instant rice. Stir, remove from heat and cover. Let stand for 5 minutes until water is absorbed. Stir. Serve in flour tortillas with shredded cheese and sour cream.

    I usually serve this with Mexican corn.

    If you like spicy food, I would use the regular Rotel. If you don’t like spicy food, I would use the mild. My family likes it spicy and the regular is perfect. This is great for leftovers the next day too.

  53. says

    Jill, I have a great time-saving suggesting about making lasagna. First let me say that both my parents were born in Italy. Years ago, my Italian mom started making lasagna without first boiling the noodles. That’s right — she didn’t cook the pasta ahead of time. What a shock to me but after a while I started doing the same thing.

    I’ve used this method for traditional lasagna baked in the oven and for a crock pot version too. Besides not cooking the noodles, just make sure your sauce is a bit “wetter” — less thick than usual. Or (and I’ve done this too), after you have everything in the lasagna pan or crock pot, pour a little bit of water around the edges. Doing this or having a less-thick sauce just helps the uncooked noodles soak up more liquid.

  54. Paula says

    My mother did all this when I was growing up so it was easy to do it myself. She also went grocery shopping just once a week after she made a week’s menu list. That saves both time and money. I love doing it this way also. I feel like the tasty and healthy meals I make are a daily gift to my family and instead of the job being a chore, it is creative and fun.

  55. says

    This post really made me think. We live in an apartment that is all electric. Why not use the oven while it is hot? It takes more to heat it up than to use it while it is hot. I am also trying to make more than one meal at a time. I am not doing all my meals in a week on one day, but I am making things ahead because I have to get my hubby from work and it speeds things up to have stuff cooked, then just toss in to warm up after we get home. As always, thanks for the wonderful ideas.

  56. Jamie Molina says

    I usually put a frozen roast, chops, chicken in the crockpot with the fixings and by dinner, it is thawed and ready to eat. Saves time. I also microwave the potatoes until almost done, then finish up in the oven. Good taste and half the time in the oven. Anything to save time, but eat well.

  57. Debbie Walton says

    I totally agree with using the oven over the microwave. Our grandmothers and our moms(depending on how old you are) did not have microwaves and our food was so much better then too. Why, because they did not use processed foods and kids back then were not over weight. I have thrown out all my processed foods and have went back to eating like my mom and grandmother did. It really doesn’t take anymore time than using a microwave and I love the smell of food cooking. Not only that, but we are eating better food because of it.

    • says

      I do agree with you on using the oven although I’m afraid the part about our grandmothers and moms (I’m 61) using no processed foods isn’t completely true. In the 30′s and 40′s when processed foods came into being my grandmother, mom and most others were all over them and embraced them because it made their lives easier. I remember my mom (who is 85) saying she would walk home from school every day (1930′s) and would have a box of Kraft mac and cheese for lunch. My husband’s grandmother who was 70 at the time and that was 40 years ago laughed at me when I asked for her recipe for homemade noodles. She said no one else in the family knew but that she bought them frozen and already made. One of her dishes they loved the most was Jello banana pudding with vanilla wafers and dream whip (package whipped topping). Nothing homemade about that and all from packages.

      Strangely enough sometimes what I see in my own life doesn’t play out with what “they” often say about things. For example like I said the generation from the 1920′s and 30′s unless you lived on a farm ate process foods and 75% of the people I know from that generation lived to be in their 90′s and almost to 100 and they all ate processed foods. Compare that to the past 15-20 years when everyone has been on this huge health kick and trying to eat better and yet heart disease, diabetes and being over weight is on the rise. I personally think we have got things out of balance and just need to just try and eat well balanced meals.

    • Deb says

      Hey, Debbie! That was my maiden name. I’ve gone back to cooking the way my mom, aunt and grandmothers did, too. One thing I do to help myself is to cook extra starches. Whenever I cook potatoes, rice, or noodles, I always cook enough for several meals and store them in the refrigerator. That way I can just cook meat and vegetables and have a varied menu. Of course, you can do that with the meat and vegetables, too!
      My mother shopped every day, so she didn’t cook ahead like I do, but everything was as fresh as she could make it. The freezer was not much bigger than a couple of TV dinners, so she couldn’t freeze things for later.
      I hope lots more people take up real cooking and eat less processed foods – if they don’t, they don’t know what they’re missing.

  58. Kris says

    Nice post! I, too, have discovered that oven meals (roast chicken, meatloaf) can actually be a lot faster to throw together. And they lend themselves well to baked potatoes–all I need to do is to heat a veggie in the microwave 5 minutes before dinner and I’m done!

    Strategizing is very helpful for me. I keep on hand pantry staples that help me throw together a quick meal–pasta, spaghetti sauce, taco shells, hamburger buns, cream of mushroom soup–and save the meals which involve more chopping or standing-over-the-stove cooking time for less busy days. I have a quick go-to recipe for bar cookies which uses a yellow cake mix–by the time the oven has pre-heated, I’m ready to go, and I get credit for “homemade”. :)

    My goal for my children is that they can cook basic, healthy meals by the time they graduate from high school. My theory is, if you can bake chicken and fry up a pound of ground meat, you can make a wide variety of meals.

  59. Shelly says

    I’m not a “fast” person, literally. (My mom would be the first to say I’m as slow as molasses running up-hill in January. Maybe that’s so I don’t scare the critters?) But even at that I amaze myself some days at how quick I can get a meal on the table with a little planning. I use every inch of space in my oven most times I turn it on and always cook extra as well as keep my meals simple. Potatoes will “can” themselves if put in a jar and covered with a hot lid. Kept in the fridge (just in case they don’t seal although most do) they are a quick add to soup or into a fry pan. Roasts may cost more for some people (we raise our own beef and just pay for cut and wrap), but they can be used in a variety of ways. The broth left in the pan after cooking(if you add a little water)makes great gravy or soup base. After you can’t slice any more off it or are tired of it, it can be made into chipped beef in the sauce of your choice or into soup. I can’t make a meal as fast as Jill, judging by her timelines, but I’m a lot faster than I use to be. It just takes a little thought. Great newsletter, I have passed it on to several people.

  60. Marge says

    Bacon can also be fried ahead of time. Drain well, freeze and microwave as needed. Learned this from a friend who works in a restaurant and it works great.

  61. shelley says

    Thank you for your old-fashioned advice. We really need to hear it-you take all our excuses away. I appreciate that

  62. Margaret says

    This not 30 minutes or less but an easy and different oven mea to put together in a hurry. You can go about other things while waiting on it.

    Put four chicken thighs in a casserole dish, (we skin ours) with two cans green beans, drained (or one pack of frozen), one medium onion halved and sliced into thin rings, and 1 can diced tomatoes, undrained, mixed with one teaspoonful of garlic powder. Cook in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for at least an hour. This gives you a good mixture of protein and veggies and you can serve with rolls or mashed potatoes to have a simple complete meal.

    I have also browned the chicken and onion separately and added fresh mushrooms when I have had the time. Either way delish.

    • says

      Yummm. This does sound good Margaret. A person could do this so many ways by changing out the veggies and using what you have on hand.

  63. Margaret says

    Another oven recipe my daughter loves with chicken thighs.

    chicken thighs covered with creamy salad dressing and onion rings. Pretty easy,

  64. Maggie says

    I am working from home this week since I am recovering from a hospital stay. I took a roast out of the freezer on Thursday afternoon and put it on a pot on the stove yesterday about 2 pm. With a few spices and a lid on the pot, I did not have to do anything but check on it for liquid a couple times when I went into the kitchen. About 5:30 pm, cut up a large potato and put that in the pot. Again, checked the water, lid back on and nothing else to do. When it was time to eat, opened a can of veggies, put those on to warm while I set the table. Took out the roast to rest and made a quick gravy. If you don’t want to stir in the flour yourself, just open a jar of store-bought gravy and dump it in the meat juices. By the time the table is set and milk/water poured, everything else is ready. All told, this dinner probably took me less than 30 minutes and we had a very good dinner. Ice cream sandwiches for dessert finished off a good meal and leftovers for the next day. Now, I know lots of people work outside and I was lucky to be at home this week, but usually, I would have put the roast in my crockpot and had the same meal almost entirely ready when I got home. It just takes a little planning but so worth it. My roast was on sale for about $4.00 and will be enough for another roast beef meal and then bar-b-que sandwiches next week. So, three meals for a few minutes of work. Worth it, I’d say.

  65. Angie M. says

    Does anyone have any short cuts for making mashed potatoes?

    We recently moved. I used to drive 5 minutes to work and now I drive 35. My husband works nights and I don’t have very long to get supper on the table so we can eat and he can leave for work.

    I’m slow cooking a lot of roasts, hams, etc. at low temperatures in my oven. This helps because the meat is mostly ready when I get home.

    My husband and sons like to have mashed potatoes and we like real ones instead of instant. Right now, that’s what is taking the most time in the evenings. We like to have the mashed potatoes cooked fresh and not reheated. I peel, cut, cook and mash as quickly as possible but it still seems to take too long with the limited amount of time we have.

    Any short cuts I’m just not thinking of? I don’t think I can peel and cut the potatoes in the morning and put in the fridge until I get home…wouldn’t this make the potatoes too brown?

    I saw on Pinterest that you can make mashed potatoes in the crockpot but it said to cook on low for 4 hours. I’m gone for 9 hours a day…and my husband is in bed sleeping so this would not work for us.

    I just know someone out there has a solution…I get my best ideas here! :)

    • says

      I’m sure someone else may have a better idea but here are a couple of things which might help. First I have peeled, cut and put them in a pan of water in the fridge all day before. Now I think certain potatoes do better then others for that but you could cut one up and try it and see what happens.

      The other thing that I do is I put the pan of water on the stove to start heating it up, then I peel the potatoes and put them in instead of peeling the potatoes putting them in the pan and start it heating. Usually by the time I get my clothes changed, the table set, salad made and other things put on the table my potatoes are about done. It only takes about 15 mins. to cook them so if you start them off right away and like I said start the water heating up while peeling it shouldn’t take to long.

      One other thing I only slice my potatoes in quarters length wise. Some people cube them up in little pieces thinking they will cook faster and this takes quite a bit more time in cutting but you don’t need to cut them in a bunch of small pieces if you just slice them length wise in quarters. If you look at them you will see by doing it this way the cooking surface or thickness is the same amount as if you cubed them. I can have 4-5 potatoes peeled and sliced and in the pan before it even starts boiling doing it this way.(about 3-4 mins.)

      I will have my hand mixer (which I use to mash them with) plugged in and set up, milk, salt and butter sat near by and all ready for me to whip them up. I do this while they are cooking or in the morning before going to work.

      • Angie M. says

        Thanks Jill!

        I will try cutting up a potato and putting in water in the refrigerator and see what happens. I had heard before about just quartering the potatoes instead of dicing but had forgotten. I will start doing that to save some time.

        I’m slowly learning to do all of the prep I can in the mornings. My 16 year old son was laughing at me the other morning. I was ready for work and while I was waiting on my 10 year old son to finish getting ready I put a clean pot and pan on the stove, set out a can of green beans and the can opener, laid a Walmart bag (I peel potatoes directly on the Walmart bag and then just toss in the trash…no mess!) on the counter and put 5 potatoes on top of the bag with the peeler and knife. For some reason, my teenager thought this was hilarious! :)

        • says

          You got it down Angie. I know what you mean about your kids laughing at you. Mine are grown and married but they still laugh at me about getting organized ahead of time. :)

  66. Maggie says

    Also, use a lid on the pot and tilt is just a little so it won’t boil over. Potatoes cook in about 15 min that way. I agree with Jill. While the potatoes are cooking, get out the mixer, blades, milk and butter and salt and pepper and have them right on the counter, ready to go. You can get all these together when you are setting the table and getting everything ready. You might have one of the kids be responsible for getting all the ingredients together. One less thing you have to think about. I also use a colander to drain the potatoes and have that in the sink. My husband loves mashed potatoes and I don’t make them often. It always seemed like such a chore but now that I have this process down pat, it really takes very little time.

  67. Mary says

    Are any of your sons old enough to peel the potatoes and put them on to cook 15-20 minutes before you get home?

    From the time I was about 11 years old, that was my job every night. They were ready when my Mom walked in the door, and within five minutes or so, we sat down to supper.

    • Angie M. says

      Hi Mary.

      I have a 16 year old son that is a huge help with things like peeling potatoes. When we lived in town, my kids walked home from the school and were home before me. My son would peel and cut potatoes, start casseroles in the oven for me, etc. If we had a really hectic evening, he would cook for me (fully cooked, breaded chicken strips baked in the oven with macaroni and cheese and a green vegetable).

      Since we moved to our house in the country, the kids wanted to stay in the same school district they had attended since kindergarten…which happens to be a couple of blocks away from where I work. So, they stayed in the same school system and now they just ride with me when I go to work in the mornings. In the evenings, they wait at my office and then ride home with me. So, no more having a helper at home to start early dinner prep. I miss those days. :)

  68. says

    easy way to cook potatoes and carrots.
    put potatoes cut up into a pot of cold water. Place on high heat with a lid. When the water boils turn off the pan and let it sit on the burner for another 10-15 min. They will be cooked and ready to serve or mashed.
    If you make mashed potatoes make extra and keep in the fridge or freezer. Take them out and you can reheat them in the micro-wave or stove top and nobody will know the difference. Or use them as the topping for casseroles, add a bit of cheddar cheese to make the casserole look nice.
    I have been cooking full meals with a bit of help at the beginning since I was about 9 years old and I started teaching the boys kitchen skills when they were 6. They are both now the main cooks in their own families. Their wives never learned how so the boys just automatically started cooking meals that they liked and kept at it. They teach me some new flavours and techniques and it is a lot of fun to have them in the kitchen when they visit.

    • Angie M. says

      Thanks Grandma!

      When you re-heat the mashed potatoes do you add more butter? I may try cooking the mashed potatoes the night before and re-heating right before supper. My husband told me he doesn’t like mashed potatoes re-heated but maybe he wouldn’t notice. LOL! :)

      You started cooking really early. My 16 year old son can heat easy meals (fully cooked breaded chicken strips and macaroni and cheese). He will help with any of the prep work I ask him too such as peeling, cutting, slicing, dicing, etc. He just doesn’t get home early enough any more to have things started before I get home.

      It’s awesome that your sons are such good cooks!

      • says

        Angie I’m like your husband and don’t like re heated potatoes either but I have found if I reheat most things in the microwave I do like them better so that may help some.

      • says

        Angie my parents owned and operated the taxi business in town so mom would start something and get called away so since I like to be helpful, I would just take over and do the things I could. Over time the things I could began to grow. Started stirring things on the stove to putting casseroles mom had ready into the oven.
        Found out I loved to cook so would lock people out of the kitchen on a Sat and spend the day concocting things.
        It was fun for me but my two sisters hated cooking. One cleaned house really well and the other loved to organize things so we worked well together.
        give children a challenge and they will do their darndest to to meet it and then give them another just to keep them interested. That is how I taught my sons to cook.

  69. Deb says

    Rather than reheat the mashed potatoes to serve the same way, our family makes them into easy potato pancakes. They should be good and cold when you form them into patties (while the pan is heating with some of your favorite fat – butter, margarine, oil, or whatever). Then fry them gently until they are golden brown, flip and finish cooking. They are really good with applesauce or catsup, and go with just about any dinner meat. Or you can have them for breakfast.
    Some people mix in an egg and/or flour as a binder, but I like them made plain.

  70. says

    I really agree with the planning ahead. That is why I like to do a meal plan for a couple of weeks in advance using items that I have picked up on sale with price matching at Walmart. I have also learned to substitute items in a recipe for something that I have on hand to cut down on the cost of a meal.

  71. Fay says

    Great article. I think it is all a matter of priorities and of course a learning curve. When first married I planned every meal and every shopping trip. It took so much time I said forget it. I would go food shopping and buy whatever we ate. If it was on sale we ate it & I bought extra. Never had a microwave and feel like everything in a slow cooker turns to mush and has no flavor of its own(except chili & meatballs). I worked 3 jobs and was a full time student, constantly at Dr offices due to head trauma suffered by my husband. I also attended every school activity my children were involved in. My big strategy was to make extra of at least part of the meal for another night. This was hard because for my husband, leftovers were considered a scandal/outrage–so I had to get creative. People asked how I “did it all”. I figured I had no choice, it had to be done. The income was not there for us to eat out & even frozen foods were too expensive. Once you turn that learning curve, the habits become second nature.
    Here is an example from cooking last Saturday. I roasted a chicken, made mashed potatoes (cooked extra potatoes, did not mash and put in the fridge), I saved my potato water, picked broccoli & lettuce (lettuce used 2 days later- picked to avoid the frost), from our tiny garden, made stuffing & opened a jar of cranberry sauce(made a ton 3 days before thanksgiving and canned it), and of course gravy. Sunday we had leftovers. Monday I made chicken fajitas with the leftover breast meat & used the lettuce; made 2x the rice (for tomorrow), homemade tortillas (with extra for a breakfast egg burrito) & what a meal. While cooking dinner I took the rest of the meat from the chicken a divided between 2 casserole pans, divided the cooked potatoes (from the fridge)on top, had stuffing left for one casserole, and sprinkled both with frozen mixed vegetables. I heated up the potato water, leftover gravy & DIY mix for gravy. Poured it over top, placed lids & into the freezer they went. When ready for them I’ll defrost them overnight & add homemade buttermilk drop biscuits (making extra of course) and that is 2 more dinners & 2 lunches for us. One chicken 7 meals (for 2 of us). When there were 4 of us I would roast 2 chicken at once & do the same thing. I won’t go into details, but I also cooked the carcass down to add to the dog food.
    Again great article-thank you. For those starting out, the learning curve isn’t bad-you’ll get it.

  72. Donna B. says

    different tip — I learned a new tip from my daughter at Christmas time. We freeze our turkey leftovers right at thanksgiving so we don’t get sick of it.

    She was making turkey clubs for supper, and she simmered the turkey slices for a few minutes in hot water and then drained them on paper towels. she said the turkey didn’t dry out on the sandwich that way, and I was so surprised, I hadn’t thought of it, but the sandwiches were delicious and so much less expensive than ordering one in a restaurant.– I imagine it would work with chicken, too.

  73. Birdie says

    Good to hear that you received much needed snow. We’re covered in snow and it will not melt. I’m looking forward to garden, so it’s hard waiting for the land to green up 8-) Thanks for your great tips Tawra. Your posts are so helpful.

  74. says

    I like the crock pot roast,potatoes & carrots. to make it even better, once the ingredients are in, pour contents of 1 envelope of onion soup and one can of cream of mushroom over top,don’t add water. Do not stir, as ingredients cook, the onion & mushroom soups go down through the potatoes, carrots and roast to make a wondereful gravy.

  75. maria says

    Hi,
    An easy fish recipient from sweden.
    Turn your oven on.
    Get rice started.
    .
    Get a pan. Slice some different coloured bell peppers and a red pinion and place in pan. Brush some oil over, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
    Put in oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Set the table meanwhile.
    Take pan out, add fish fillets, squeeze lemon and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
    Place in oven for another 10 minutes or so. Check the centre of filets, should not be clear.

    Serve with rice and perhaps lemonwedges to squeeze on top of your meal.

    This is so good. The peppers will be so soft so in your mouth they will be the sauce to your meal. The meal is delicious and you can prep ahead up until the part where the fish goes into the oven.

    I often find fish to be the really quick dinner fixers.

  76. Chris says

    I can so identify with something you said in your newsletter that I got this afternoon – “So 30 minutes before dinner you find yourself trying to thaw something, cook it, and slap it on the table”

    A little bit of planning the night before can avoid the mad rush, or the pressure you put on yourself when you go into the kitchen for meal prep without a plan!

  77. Mary Jane says

    I cook much like the method described in your newsletter. The trick is to present good quality food, simply and in a balanced way. A protein, a veggie and a starch are the basics to be found in a meal. In the summer, when it is too hot to consider using the oven in the day, put it on overnight if it is possible. Also don’t rule out a cold buffet type meal of simple foods…fresh veggies from the store or your garden, uncooked, a plate full of crackers, a try of cheese, maybe some pickles, some deli meats or cold sliced meats from another meal, a bit of fresh fruit. Any combination is good. I believe that a lot of magazine articles and t.v. shows have us convinced that unless a meal is complicated with several ingredients, it is not satisfying. Save those complicated meals for special occasions. One of our all time favourite meals around here, is a chicken or pot roast, slow cooked in the oven with potatoes or turnips, onions, and a bit of garlic and celery, or celery seed This is especially good in the early Autumn, with garden fresh potatoes and carrots. My foster mom raised her family during the Depression and for a simple light meal, like a winter lunch or summer evening meal (during very hot weather), she would serve homemade bread with butter, an icy cold jar of home canned fruit and a pot of tea. No one ever complained or went away hungry.

    • says

      This is true Mary Jane as a matter of fact we talk about this same thing in several posts. For those of you who don’t know where to begin you might check out the posts at the end of this one for more help or try this Meal Planning one to get you started too.

  78. Mary Jane says

    Also don’t rule out having traditional breakfast type foods for supper, especially on weekends. I have started with doing this (waffles, French toast, bacon and eggs, etc.) now that we are empty nesters. It is fast, and satisfying, and I feel like I get some time off from cooking on the weekends, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


+ one = 9

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>