Contents of this blog post are based on my own opinion and expertise. I have not been paid or provided any compensation to promote the websites and chefs mentioned here today.
How many times have you picked up a new recipe or an entire book of recipes promising you will get an entire meal happily on the table in 30 minutes or less?
I have fallen for that LIE a thousand times now!! Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system...
Why is it that so many authors make this promise to us? I am constantly late anyway, so I am always excited to see the words "quick", "easy" and "family friendly" on descriptions of recipes. I am fed this false hope of getting dinner on the table in time for any number of reasons from simply eating at a decent time to being able to watch the one TV show I allow myself to follow per season.
“Behind every success is a succession of failures.” -Rick Beneteau
Isn’t that the truth! This quote summarizes the circumstance that led up to today’s blog post. But alas, I have begun with the end of my story in mind. I need to start from the beginning.
We are all very busy people. The “American-way” has dictated that we continuously have something to do at all times. I can recall as a child constantly announcing to my parents, “I’m bored”. They would lecture me until I had a thorough list of chores or ideas to keep me occupied for weeks, days or at least, minutes. Today as I play out these exact same scenarios with my own children, I find myself longing to experience the sense of boredom.
There is much to be done for my home, family, career and eventually, even for myself. Oh yes, I relish in the occasional few extra moments to properly apply makeup or even take a bubble bath. Needless to say, we seek the fastest and most efficient way possible to complete every chore and task we hope to get done.
Today’s topic is quick family dinners. Below there are some example websites with ideas.
Most everyone wants to feed their family and themselves wholesome, from scratch meals made with love. For at least three solid generations now, my own family has chipped away at the time spent on preparing meals. We have fallen victim to the fast-food phenomenon. The perception of a complete, balanced meal could be available at our car window, delivered to our door or at the grocery store in the form of a shelf-stable food-like products from a box has managed to wiggle into our regular eating patterns. Instead, these choices have left prominent scars on our cardiovascular system, immune system, brain health and recently discovered, our very genes. We know we must feed our bodies (and those we are responsible for) better.
Unfortunately, our life-style has already stolen the time we once spent in the kitchen, garden and grocery and allocated it elsewhere. Americans have become too accustom to spending limited time in the kitchen or dealing with meal prep and food growing. Our lives are far too busy with work, friends, extended family gatherings, social engagements and now overwhelmed by social media. We cannot imagine allocating 1.5 hours each morning cooking breakfast and packing lunches and then another 2 hours in the late afternoon cooking dinner. I didn’t even consider clean up time!
We have also reduced our annual budget spent on homemade meals. In 2014, for the first time, Americans spent more $ money $ on foods away from home than they spent on food to be cooked in their home. In case you are wondering, pizza delivery is considered “away from home” even if it’s delivered to your door.
Finally, the more $ money $ you make, the lower the percentage of income you spend on food in general. The highest income earners spend the least of all on in-home foods not just compared to other Americans but, compared to over 90 other countries around the world. Americans might be big spenders but, not on food.
We want it all!! We are spoiled (guilty as charged). Our brains subconsciously say something along the lines of, “I want super healthy, fresh food that tastes delicious and costs very little but, I am not willing to give up anything for it.”
That’s right, admit it. Very few people are willing, able or trained enough to put time and money into a garden, food preparation, plan and shop for 21 meals per week, pick up fresh ingredients each day from shops or gardens, and then spend about 3-4 hours cooking each day. Reflecting on my own daily schedule, I chuckle at the idea of being able to pull this off each day. I can’t. I won’t. I don’t want to either.
Thus, enters the 30-Minute Meal
Recipes promising complete, easy and delicious meals within 30 minutes (or less) are found in every magazine, cookbook and online collection. There are hundreds of ideas, entire network time-blocks dedicated to quick meals and most recently, home delivery franchises built on making the process of cooking a meal “from scratch” in a fraction of the time.
It is the answer to prayer!
I have numerous recipes torn from magazines, entire meal plans touting words like easy and quick, several recipe books including the inspiring Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals. I will be honest, I have only dabbled with the idea of home delivery from companies such as Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. I have created some of my own frozen meals and meal prepped on weekends at times.
YES! Anyone is willing to take 30 minutes in the kitchen to make real food.
It’s just the right amount of time because my day goes something like this:
I get home from work around 4pm. I have a full 10 minutes to check in with older kids, give directions for the evening plans and maybe change my clothes. Then the youngest is off the school bus and requiring various amounts of attention depending on the day (her day and sometimes mine). Hubby is just getting home and we attempt to say "hello" to one another. We draw straws to determine who gets to make dinner and who gets to parent or work on other various tasks. Right then is the 30 minutes – do you see it? It happens for us most weekday evenings between 4:45pm-5:15pm. Problem is, if we miss it dinner isn’t ready until 8pm (super sad face).
Ideally, the week’s menu has been made, groceries purchased and not prematurely consumed by other recipes nor insatiable growing children (ours and neighborhood children), meat has been prepped (thawed from frozen and/or marinated), kids are in separate corners and content (key!) – THEN dinner will be whipped up and ready in perfect time before the first wave of, “what’s for dinner?” Or “I’m hungry” spills from the little people we share our house with.
In other words, the stars must align in perfect harmony.
There is just the occasional problem of…
The Failures (I hope you read the previous with plenty of sarcasm)
Have you ever actually timed yourself during the first attempt at a new “quick” recipe? I did. I have often.
They ALL LIE!!! It’s a ploy to reel you into a fantasy world and imagine the happy smiles on your family’s faces. After all, the recipe seems like something everyone will like, the steps are easy and the picture looks mouth-watering. You gleefully buy the ingredients and the 30-minutes arrive when you pull out the recipe and begin to read closely.
And all hell breaks loose…
What? The meat was supposed to marinate? I forgot to thaw the chicken?! Who drank up the milk and left a spittle amount in the gallon?! I was supposed to buy the carrots already julienned? The pan you need is still dirty in the dishwasher! How did I miss this (fill in the blank) ingredient!? For real?! Right now?! Augh!!
…2 trips to the grocery store, 2 extra hours later, kids and you are starved and they have either have already eaten a bowl of cereal or ate at the neighbors (whom always seem to eat perfectly on time each evening – growl, hiss).
If someone actually ate the meal that evening and it was enjoyed, you might consider making it again sometime when you have 2 hours in the kitchen. You spend the clean-up time cursing the author of the “so-called 30-minute meal” and beating yourself up for not reading the directions closer.
I am not a Chef.
I am a Nutritionist.
I am a Mom.
I am a Wife.
I am usually a busy Mess.
....each in no particular order.
There are ways to make quick meals successfully. I have accomplished this…sometimes.
Many quick recipes involve using no-cook recipes or crock pots, quick cookers, steam-able bags, microwaves, immersion blenders and various time-saving tools. Therefore, there might be some investment in gadgets.
Unless you are a wiz with knives, occasionally using pre-prepped fresh foods can give you an edge as well. Grocery stores are on board with many pre-chopped fresh products. These can be a huge help in the kitchen. Grabbing chopped onions and peppers save you some tears and time. Washed and bagged lettuce are popular and some are packaged with a few toppings included. Look for bags that are not so puffy. Less air in the bag means fresher produce inside.
Looking to make potato soup or hash browns, grab some shredded potatoes. Making a quiche, pick up a carton of homogenized eggs to spare cracking your own. Be sure to check labels for limited or zero added ingredients in prepped fresh foods.
There are plenty of options in the meat department too with choices from marinated loins, pre-stuffed chicken cordon bleu to ready-to-grill kabobs. Just be aware many of these will have significantly more sodium than what you might use on your own.
Another down side (there always is at least one). The added cost. Fresh carrots are in the ballpark of $0.99 a pound while 8oz (½ pound) of bagged, shredded carrots are closer to $2.99. So, some of these conveniences might not keep food budget happy but, are likely cheaper than eating away from home. Your time is worth the extra $2 more often than not. If your budget will allow, go for it.
The other option is spending time at some point on meal prep. For example:
Pre-mix ground meats for meatloaf or meatball recipes,
Mix up marinates in your own bottles to keep on hand in the refrigerator,
Prep carrots, celery, green pepper and onions or other hardy vegetables when you get home from the grocery store & simply keep them in mason jars in the refrigerator for later use just like the store.
The BIG Lesson(s)
Here is my epiphany. You have guessed by now - Each new recipe needs to be practiced a few times before you can truly consider it a 30-minute or “what-ever” minute meal. Then there are some other tips and tricks to keep you feeling in control of meal time-management:
Review recipe steps and ingredients at least the day before the first go-round
Get meats out of the freezer the night before to thaw in the refrigerator
Start with a clean kitchen (my pet peeve is having to clean the kitchen before I can cook)
Move needed spices and herbs to the front of the cabinet or place them together
Group refrigerated items together before-hand (doing these 2 steps really make you feel like a “TV Chef”)
PLAN, PLAN, PLAN – even just a little
“Practice makes perfect and perfectly I practice” – Heavy D
A few sample websites with quick meal ideas: Delish; Food Network; Eating Well
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Nutrition From Your RD,