How To... Make Homemade Food, Fast
When you're in a hurry for dinner, don't hit the drive-thru. Create a delicious, nutritious meal at home in a half hour or less.
Step 1: Keep a well-stocked pantry
Create a master grocery list of staples and keep a running inventory, says Kate Johnston of The Pampered Chef. Examples include rice and pasta, canned tomatoes, chicken broth, condiments, spices and long-storing produce such as onions and garlic.
Step 2: Prepare ahead and Freeze
Pre-dice veggies (carrots, celery, onions, peppers), mince garlic, pre-cook rice and refrigerate or freeze in individual zip-top bags for a quick add to dinner, says nutritionist and chef Diane Henderiks, R.D.
Keep some meal starters on hand in your freezer, such as cooked ground beef, diced chicken and cooked rice, adds Johnston. They thaw easily and are ready to go in minutes.
Step 3: Combine fresh food with packaged food
There's a level of satisfaction and pride that comes from preparing a meal for yourself and your family, even if it is helped along by premade ingredients, says Chef Nancy Silverton, founder of La Brea Bakery.
Create something that's tailored to your family's particular likes, yet made with minimal preparation, fuss and mess, says Chef Mark Alan. Instead of buying entire prepackaged dinners, add fresher foods to packaged for a nutritious, customized dinner.
Rob Barrett, Jr, host of the popular online show Cooking for Dads, likes to prepare the main dish and use prepackaged foods for the sides. "I like to make my coconut shrimp from scratch but use couscous from the box and salad from a bag," says Barrett.
Step 4: Use your crock pot
Load your food into the slow cooker or crock pot in the morning before work, and dinner is ready when you get home from work, says Henderiks. Not only is this quick and tasty, it also means you return to a house that smells positively delicious!
Step 5: Save leftovers
Lifestyle expert Pattie Davis saves all veggie and meat leftovers during the week for savory end-of-the-week recipes that "go together in no time!" Add chicken stock to the leftovers for a filling soup. Or mix leftovers with cooked rice for an easy fried rice dish. "And any vegetable or meat goes great over couscous, which takes only five minutes to prepare," says Davis.
Step 6: Redefine "dinner"
When you sit down at the table as a family, you don't have to eat a three-course meal. "It doesn't always have to be what we typically perceive as 'dinner,'" says holistic health expert Bernadette Armiento. Dinner can be an omelet or other quick egg dish, pancakes, or soup and a salad." In fact, eating a bit lighter in the evening is actually better for most people, Armiento adds, so there's enough time to digest before bed.
Step 7: Keep the table clutter-free
Make your kitchen table a no-clutter zone, says Dawn Billesbach, creator of MenuForTheWeek.com. This is just one less thing to worry about when getting dinner to the table. It's a small idea, but a big timesaver!
And let the kids help by taking turns setting the table and getting the drinks ready while you prepare the food.
More quick dinner recipes
For more family dinner ideas, check this out: