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6 Tricks to get dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes

Jenny is a wife and mother juggling career and blissful domesticity. She is passionate about taking care of her family, finding balance, and supporting mothers everywhere.

As a busy, working mom, I learned a long time ago that dinner needs to be on the table within 15 minutes of walking in the door, no excuses.

If your house is anything like mine, your evenings are busy with sports, homework, shopping, work and life. There's just no way I could even think about whipping up a gourmet meal from scratch. There are even some nights, like those in my calendar above, when finding 15 minutes seems impossible. Like many busy families, we are often so overwhelmed that eating feels like an inconvenience. I'll admit it, recently I was tempted to serve my family cereal for dinner.

After a long day it's such a relief to come home and know that dinner can be on the table quickly. Here are some of my simple shortcuts for a quick family dinner that everyone will enjoy.

1. Plan ahead

Before you leave for work in the morning, make sure to place frozen foods in the fridge to defrost so that they will be ready to cook by the time you get home. If you don't have time (or you forgot) to thaw in the refrigerator, you can use the microwave or a cold water bath. I found a great resource for the dos and don’ts of thawing here.

2. Add quick and easy greens

While you are waiting for your food to cook, add some easy greens to your meal by preparing a quick side salad. Look for pre-packaged foods like pre-washed salad greens, pre-sliced carrots and other pre-chopped vegetables. These are major time savers that will complete your meal and add some color to your dinner table.

3. Let the kids help

Designating tasks for your kids can be a great way to get everyone in the kitchen together for time to catch up and at the same time take some of the work off your shoulders. Assign kids easy tasks such as setting the table, pouring drinks and washing up. If you can focus on the food and let them handle the set-up, dinner will be that much quicker to the table.

4. When in doubt, opt for frozen

Some days it's just not possible to cook a full meal. Don't feel bad about reaching for a frozen dinner. They go over really well in my house. Some of our recent favorites have been Jimmy Dean's Beyond Breakfast entrees for tasty, wholesome meals ready in no more than four minutes. My son loves the Smoked Bacon Mac and Cheese Bowl. These meals are great for crazed, overworked, over-scheduled families looking for a weeknight escape plan.

5. Use the right equipment

A little investment in the right kitchen tools can go a long way to make dinner prep easier. I use a food processor to slice and dice my veggies and herbs. It's just a few seconds until my ingredients are recipe ready. My rice cooker takes care of getting a family favorite side dish ready while I give my attention to the rest of dinner. Lastly, every busy family needs a slow cooker. Even though the meals take hours to cook, they are hot and ready when I get home and dinner is on the table in no time.

6. Cook what you know

I love to vary our meals a little each week but it also helps to have a few staples that I can pull together without much effort. For us its simple dishes like tacos and tuna salad sandwiches that get us through the week. These meals aren't glamorous but they're simple enough that we can throw them together even if our schedules are turning our lives upside down.

Disclosure: This post is part of a collaboration with Jimmy Dean and SheKnows.

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