Writing full time has been eating away (pun intended) at my second love of cooking. There just isnâ€™t time to prepare the menus and meals that I have done in the past. Instead of giving up on the cooking altogether, Iâ€™m learning how to make some of those thirty minute meals (and I mean prep and clean time as well) that the whole family will love.
1. You have to prep ahead of time. Take an afternoon (preferably after shopping) the chop, brown, and freeze most of your vegetables and meats.
a. After chopping vegetables, freeze them in single layers on a cookie sheet. Then store them in freezer bags or freezer containers. Having veggies pre-chopped will save you a load of time. Good candidates for freezing â€“ carrots, celery, onions, bell peppers, potatoes, okra, squash. Basically anything that you are going to use for COOKING.
b. Brown ground beef, sausage, and stew meats before cooling and freezing into one pound servings. Separate individual chicken breasts or tenders (be sure to cut away any unappetizing pieces of gristle or fat), pork chops, meat patties into the press and seal freezer containers. Then you can take out what you need when you need it.
2. Use your crock pot any chance you get. You can cook lasagna, sides, or even desserts in the crock pot by just adjusting your cooking time from the existing recipe. You can put the food in, turn on the crock pot and walk away until its time to eat. Clean up is made easy with the new crock pot liners that are available in most stores.
3. Use the boxes, but give them a twist. Instead of just serving according to direction, add cheese, vegetables, or seasonings according to your liking. I took a regular â€˜Hamburger Helper,â€™ added some cream to create a sauce, some seasoning, and a package of green beans (along with the ingredients called for on the box). I had a full casserole meal, in one dish, in less than thirty minutes. (Ramen noodles are another fun staple that you can give a quick twist. Add a few pieces of Velveeta cheese after the liquid has cooked out and you have an interesting version of mac-n-cheese).
4. Keep pasta in the pantry. If all else fails, have a quick pasta meal for dinner. Add some garlic toast (use hamburger or hotdog buns, spread on some softened butter, sprinkle with garlic salt and cheese and then toast until brown) and a little salad and you have a well rounded meal.
The keys to quick and easy meals are preparations and flexibility. Be daring when you try new ways to cook old favorites. Set aside one day a month to get things chopped and ready to go and you will find that feeding your family good meals really is possible in just thirty minutes or less.