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30-Minute meal options

As owner of Sands Communications, Vanessa Sands provides writing, editing, copyediting, proofreading and web design services for a wide variety of businesses in the U.S. and abroad. She has a bachelor of arts degree in English/communicat...

Dinner on the fly

We've all been there: It's nearing 5 pm, somebody has a game at 7, somebody else has a school concert at 6:30, and you've all just arrived home to find that (gasp) you don't know what to make for dinner. But don't touch that (phone) dial for takeout just yet: Try these tasty last-minute meal ideas. If you have leftover meat from last night, you're home free.

Chicken salad

Put the chicken in a food processor to chop finely; add chopped apples and celery. Add mayonnaise until it’s of spreadable consistency. Make a sandwich on bread, toast, English muffins, flatbread or wraps with lettuce – or skip the bread altogether and make lettuce wraps. If you’re lucky, you might have a bit leftover for tomorrow’s lunch! Not likely, though: This stuff is good.

Pasta with pizzazz

Cut leftover meat into small chunks and set aside. Heat a teaspoon or two of olive oil to a large sauté pan. Place whatever vegetables you have on hand into the pan, along with salt, pepper, garlic and parsley. (Try for a mix of colors and textures: broccoli, zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, onions, peas, etc. Remember to allow more cooking time for frozen or denser vegetables before you add softer types like tomatoes.) Sauté just until crispy-tender. Add in the meat to heat through and absorb flavors. Serve over your favorite pasta (whole wheat varieties stand up particularly well to the other ingredients). Top with a generous sprinkle of parmesan or romano. No meat? No problem – this is just as good without it. Leftover rice is great in a pinch, too:

Lentils and rice

Saute chopped onion in olive oil; set aside. Pour a bag of lentils (small, flat, brown beans similar to peas) into a colander and rinse. Bring a pot of salted water to boil, add lentils and cook for about 20 minutes or until they’re tender. Add onions and rice, along with salt and pepper to taste, and serve. Great accompanied with a salad.

Fried rice

It’s no ancient Chinese secret… this family favorite is actually pretty easy to make. Just brown leftover meat (if you have it) in hot oil. Add four cups chilled rice, one chopped green onion and two tablespoons soy sauce; stir and cook for about 10 minutes. Move it all off to the side of the pan; add a beaten egg to the empty side and cook about five minutes, then mix into everything else. Delicious…and fast! No leftovers? Here’s a list of tried-and-true fast family faves:

  • Grilled cheese
  • Tuna over caesar salad
  • Pasta and vegetables tossed with olive oil (broccoli’s especially good with lots of garlic!)
  • Raw veggie, fruit and cheese plate

With a little imagination, you can eat even faster than ordering out!

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