Eat at Home Habit #4 – Learn to make dinner in 15 minutes

We are in the middle of a series of 7 Habits of Eating at Home.

If you missed the first three weeks then you’ll definitely want to check those out too. Week 1 was on meal planning around your calendar. Week 2 was focused on quick and simple grocery shopping tips. And last week we talked about stocking your freezer to bring less chaos and more enjoyment to dinner time.

This week our topic is all about how to make a healthy and tasty dinner in just 15 minutes. At my house, this qualifies the chef for Superhero status and all of us can use a day like that every once in awhile! I’ll be on Facebook Live talking more about strategies for quick food prep and cooking and I’ll be making a 15-minute meal live so you can see how easy this is!

Habit #4 – 15 Minute Meals

Keeping several good recipes in your repertoire that can be made in just 15 minutes is one of the smartest things you can do.  Find a couple that your family loves and keep those ingredients handy so that you have something to fall back on. Even on the busiest, craziest nights, we can carve out 15 minutes to pull dinner together if we have a standby recipe or two to turn to and a pantry with basic meal builders ready for us!

If you are already a member, you know that Eat at Home Meal Plan members get a 15-minute meal each week in both the Traditional and Whole Foods plans to give healthy, quick options for that one night you don’t have any time to prepare in advance. There are really so many delicious, quick and easy meals to choose from that only take 15 minutes and I love having that choice on the menu every week!

Tools for the quickest cooking

In addition to those delicious 15-minute recipes, it’s a good idea to keep some tools on hand to make your prep and cooking time as easy and fast as possible. Stock your kitchen with these hard working tools to make cooking fast.

  1. Sharp knife –This is essential. So many meals require some chopping or cutting. You do not want to be fighting the food while trying to chop with a dull knife. Invest in a good, sharp knife and a knife sharpener. You will not regret this purchase.
  2. Garlic press – Fresh garlic makes a dish taste wonderful. Invest in a quality garlic press to make this step fast. Look for one that doesn’t require the cloves to be peeled. You also want an easy way to clean out the little holes. Pampered Chef makes a nice press, but there are other good brands too.
  3. Electric griddle – The ability to make many pancakes, sandwiches, or quesadillas at once makes this worth the space to store it. Fixing these foods one at a time in a skillet voids the meal of its quick quality. Unless you are only cooking for two people, invest in a large griddle.
  4. Large baking stone or cookie sheet – Useful for nachos, French bread pizzas, broiling sandwiches etc. I prefer baking stones because clean up is a quick scrape under hot water.
  5. Gas grill – Grilling can be quick, depending on the food you’re fixing. It’s an easy way to cook up lots of chicken for the freezer. Grilling also cuts down on cleanup.
  6. Microwave – I use the microwave for quickly thawing cooked meats. One or two minutes is all it takes to have cooked chicken or ground beef ready to add to a recipe.

Naturally quick-cooking foods & Meal Builders for your Pantry

It’s a great idea to keep your pantry stocked with key ingredients so you never have to worry about not having anything to build a meal on. This post talks about classic meal builders I always keep on hand in my pantry and it really helps!

There are also a few foods that are fast by nature.

These are excellent building blocks for quick meals at home, so it’s a good idea to keep some in your pantry for those days when your plan has to change unexpectedly and you don’t have time to run out for ingredients. Combine any of them with vegetables and maybe some meat and you’ve got a speedy meal. Bonus – most of them are inexpensive too.

  • Beans – Canned beans are high in protein and quick to fix! Alternately, you can cook them in the slow cooker or instant pot in advance and freeze them for easy use later.
  • Pasta – Angel hair pasta is especially quick, cooking in just 3-4 minutes. Ravioli and tortellini are also speedy and are more filling than plain pasta.
  • Couscous – 5 minutes and done. Hard to beat that!
  • Rice – My favorite is Jasmine, which cooks in about 15 minutes. Brown rice is healthier but takes longer to cook. An alternative is instant brown rice.
  • Eggs – High protein, inexpensive, and versatile.
  • Tortillas – Nearly anything can be wrapped in a tortilla and made better for the wrapping.

Pre-cooked and frozen meats

So here’s my biggest time-saving tip. Are you ready? My biggest ally in quick cooking is to have a variety of pre-cooked meats and even beans ready to go and stashed in the freezer. Doing this opens the door for a huge variety of meals that can be made in minutes instead of hours because the hardest part–cooking the proteins– is already done in advance!

  

You can precook meat in the instant pot (See this post for more info on cooking several kinds of meat for the freezer in the instant pot) or in the crockpot. I like to portion mine out before freezing so that I can easily grab a bag and it’s about the right size for a recipe for my family size without trying to break it apart or thawing too much at once.

15 Minute recipes to try

Ready to get in the kitchen and make a few 15-minute meals? Here are just a few of some of my family’s go-to recipes for when we need dinner on the table FAST!

There are 14 easy meals in this post that my family loves. You can get more ideas by browsing the 15-minute meal section of the blog, too!

Try Eat At Home Tonight

Want a simple, printable recipe for a 15-minute meal delivered to your inbox every week? Check out Eat at Home Tonight! It’s FREE to sign up and is a great way to get inspiration for the dinner table. Here’s just one of the delicious recipes that you’ll get to try if you sign up.

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3 Things that Work in the Kitchen – new dishwasher coming!

1. We bought a dishwasher!

After almost 11 months of washing dishes by hand, we’re getting a new dishwasher.  Last summer we figured out that the slow leak we couldn’t seem to fix or solve had ruined the cabinet next to the dishwasher.  That happened right before Jim had a bad bike accident, the upstairs air conditioning unit went out and we traveled to Paris.

We decided spending money on the dishwasher could wait.

It hasn’t been bad washing by hand.

But I’m glad to get a new one!  It will be a week or so before it gets installed.  And fingers crossed that it doesn’t leak!

2. Figuring out where to put the things being stored in the dishwasher “hole”

The spot where the dishwasher goes made a perfect storage place for water jugs, the Instant Pot and the bread machine.  I’ve got some decluttering to do in the dining room cabinets to find places for these things!

3. Check the time before trying a new recipe

On Sunday I decided to make one of the freezer meals I’d made on Facebook live last Wednesday.  I chose Grandma’s Spaghetti Sauce.  I thawed it out and put it in the pressure cooker, along with some meatballs.

I also decided to set up the bread machine with a recipe from the booklet that came with the machine – Parmesan Peppercorn French Bread.  Unfortunately I didn’t check how long it would take, so it wasn’t done when we were ready to eat.

We tried it after lunch and really liked it, but next time I’ll check the bake time and hopefully be able to serve the bread with the meal.

What’s working in your kitchen this week?

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Over 30 Tasty Picnic Desserts

The past few weeks I’ve shared some great picnic ideas to keep your outside dining more interesting than the usual stand-by items. We’ve enjoyed Over 30 Delicious Recipes for Easy Picnic Food and 40 Perfect Side Dishes for Summer Picnics. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this collection could never be complete without a round-up of picnic dessert recipes! So today I’m sharing over 30 Tasty Picnic Desserts, from those that are lighter and almost snack-like to the more decadent treats.

Muffins – they aren’t just for breakfast!

Muffins aren’t just for breakfast anymore! They make a nice sweet treat after a meal without being too sweet and heavy to toss a frisbee or hike or enjoy whatever adventure you have planned as part of your picnic. Try some of these on your next picnic, and if somehow you have a few leftover, then you have breakfast started for the next day!

Snickerdoodle Muffins

 Bars and Brownies for quick treats that travel way

Bars and brownies are perfect picnic treat because they can be made fairly quickly, spread into a pan, baked and you’re ready for your adventure!

Cookies are always a hit – picnic or no picnic!

Personally, cookies are one of my favorite desserts to pack for a picnic, trip or even a lunch. Many cookies can even be baked ahead of time and frozen so you could grab a dozen of several different types and bring a nice variety on your picnic!

Snacks and Mixes to please every crowd

And a few other treats just because they’re that good!

And just because they’re always favorites, why not whip up some cupcakes? Or bring a small cooler with some fudge in it for a decadent finale to your picnic!

With almost 100 picnic recipes including a nice collection of main dishes, sides and desserts, you should be more than ready to head outdoors and enjoy some great food and time with your family and friends. Why not start a picnic tradition? It may be weekly or the first Friday of each month or the 2nd and 4th Tuesday. Which time or specific location isn’t as important as taking the time to gather with your people and enjoying dinner in a slightly new and different way. Somehow a change of venue and a new menu can create memories that last a lifetime.

And let us know what your favorite picnic dishes are in the comments below. Even with all the recipes included in this little series it never hurts to have a few more new ideas. Happy picnicking!

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Eat at Home Habit #3 – Stock Your Freezer

We’re in the midst of a series on 7 Habits of Eating at Home. The first week we talked about working your meal plan around your calendar instead of the other way around. And last week we shared some quick and simple grocery shopping tips.

Today is all about how to stock your freezer, with links to our recent series and all kinds of recipes and ideas to simplify life. And when the dinner hour is simplified so that there’s less stress involved in getting dinner ready, then family time can really be enjoyed around the table!

Habit #3 – Stock Your Freezer

We talk a lot about stocking the freezer here on the blog because it’s such a great way to ensure you’ve got dinner covered, even if your day doesn’t go as planned.  It really puts my mind at ease to know I have options, and I can’t tell you how many times having a freezer meal or protein I can grab and go.


If you are brand new to the idea of freezer cooking, don’t let that stop you! It’s a great way to maximize your time and effort and it is so rewarding–and simple, too! This post covers all the basics and will get you started on the right track.  Last month we talked about

Last month we talked about cooking meats for your freezer using the Instant Pot. If you have a pressure cooker, using it to cook up batches of meat to freeze is a GREAT way to get a head start on dinnertime.  You can also prep and bulk cook meats in your slow cooker!

Here’s one of my favorite things, though. Every month as part of the Slow Cooker plan, Eat at Home Meal Plan members get recipes for 6 meals that can be assembled in an hour, then frozen to use in the slow cooker later. I absolutely love having these recipes and a plan made out for me. My freezer is almost always stocked with something now, and I love having options! The freezer meals have saved dinner more times than I can count.

If you are curious about what the freezer plans are like, I cooked through the May Slow Cooker Freezer plan on Facebook Live.  You can watch the video here and see what I made and what a freezer cooking day looks like.

This post about making 7 Slow Cooker meals in 1 hour  and this older one of 6 slow cooker recipes in an hour are always favorite resource of mine and of many of you on the blog. These recipes are delicious, and some of our family favorites so it’s no wonder these posts are so popular!

Ready to get started on your own freezer cooking adventure? Enjoy it and the peace of mind it brings when it comes to making dinner time easy!

Here are some other posts on freezer cooking that you may find helpful.

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3 Things That Work in the Kitchen This Week – Unpacking, Cake and Cups that Run Over

1. The best cake ever!

My pictures don’t do this cake justice, but trust me – this carrot cake and the chocolate cake we had for graduation (which I didn’t take a single photo) are the best cakes I think I’ve ever eaten.  Especially the carrot, although my oldest daughter would argue that the chocolate was even better.

I met Lois Dailey of Dailey Delights at an event for Andy Andrews’ Unshakeable Entrepreneur program.  Since I decided not to cook anything for Isaac’s graduation lunch, I ordered a Chocolate Delight cake.  Then Lois found out that we were going to be celebrating Jim’s 20,000 days (like a birthday – he’s been alive for 20,000 days – see the book 20,000 Days and Counting by Robert D. Smith) and she sent one of her Carrot Cakes.

The cakes are shipped on dry ice and are frozen when they arrive.  I popped them into the freezer until the day before we were ready to serve them.  Easiest thing ever and oh my gosh! That carrot cake has lured me to the kitchen all week.  The cream cheese frosting is so smooth and creamy and perfect!

I wish I’d taken better photos, but I’m the worst food blogger lately! These were snapped with my phone and it was nearly dark.  I did shine a light on it, but the photo isn’t great. HOWEVER, the cake is amazing!  While I was grabbing the link to the Dailey Delight site just now I saw she has a Butter Pecan Cake and I’m wondering if I can justify ordering it and having it shipped to the beach during our vacation.  Maybe as an early Father’s Day gift?  That’s Dad’s favorite.

This isn’t sponsored in any way. I just loved these cakes and I think there’s one piece of carrot cake left. As soon as I finish writing this post I’m going to go eat it. In the middle of the day, by myself. Did I mention this is a GOOD cake?!

2.  Overflowing coffee

I think I’ve mentioned our Nespresso maker before.  I love this little thing! But it’s been acting crazy lately. Sometimes it makes very small cups of coffee with 1/3 less water than it should. And then the other day it really poured it on and overflowed the cup.

3. Helping to unpack a friend’s kitchen

One of my friends moved last weekend.  In fact, the moving day turned out to be the same day she had her third baby!  That little one has great timing 🙂  I offered to unpack and set up her kitchen for her, so on Sunday after church we drove to her place and joined with quite a few other people in setting up their new home.  It went really fast with so many people helping.  So much had already been done by the time we got there.

I know my friend will need to move some things around, but at least we made it so they could live in it when they got home from the hospital the next day.  We even stocked the fridge with a few essentials.

What’s working in your kitchen this week?

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Pesto Tomato Pizza and Simple Grocery Shopping

Continuing in our 7 Habits of Eating at Home series – Today we’re talking about making grocery shopping simple and quick.  In this video I shared several tips and tricks for moving through the store quickly, remembering what you need to buy and more.

I also share a 15 minute recipe for Pesto Tomato Pizza so you have an easy meal when you get home with all those groceries!

 

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40 Perfect Side Dishes for Summer Picnics

A few weeks ago I shared a collection of Over 30 Delicious Recipes for Easy Picnic Food with you, just in time for National Picnic Day.

With summer warming up, we’re already in summer picnic mode and couldn’t be happier about that! Not only are picnics a great way to enjoy the outdoors, they are a fun way to enjoy family time most months out of the year. Which means the more picnic food options we have, the better! So today I figured you could use 40 Perfect Picnic Sides to add to your picnic menu options. Enjoy!

 Quick Dips and Spreads for Crackers and Fruits and Veggies, Oh my!

  1. Pesto Bruschetta Spread
  2. Sun Dried Tomato Artichoke Hummus
  3. White Bean and Garlic Hummus
  4. Roasted Garlic Hummus
  5. 7 Layer Dip (In little jars)
  6. Guacamole for Chips
  7. Homemade Salsa
  8. Fusion Dip for Veggies
  9. Tomato Basil Dip for Crackers
  10. Honey Peanut Butter dip
  11. Cream Cheese Trio Appetizers for crackers

Appetizers & Snacks & Tasty Little Treats

  1. Hard Boiled Eggs
  2. Huli Huli Bacon Chicken Bites
  3. Almost Homemade Pickles
  4. Kale Chips
  5. Sweet Heat Slow Cooker Chex Mix
  6. Country Bob’s Tangy Chex Mix

A few More Traditional Picnic Favorites

  1. Chicken Salad
  2. Potato Salad
  3. Baked Beans

Pasta & Grain Salads for Light Summer Dining

  1. Perfect Pasta Salad + Tips and Tricks
  2. Another version of Pasta Salad
  3. Broccoli Tomato Tortellini Salad
  4. Bacon Tomato Ranch Pasta Salad
  5. Wild Rice Salad

Veggies Salads for those who prefer Healthy Picnicking

  1. Asian Broccoli Salad
  2. Ranch Veggie Salad
  3. Tomato Artichoke Heart Salad
  4. Summer Corn Salad
  5. Orange Red Onion Salad
  6. Cucumbers and Onions
  7. Cucumber Tomato Salad
  8. Green bean and Tomato Salad
  9. Creamy Italian Herb Cucumbers & Tomatoes

Slaws for Days

  1. Hawaiian Coleslaw
  2. Quick Coleslaw
  3. Tomato Jalapeno Slaw

Fruit Salads as sweet as dessert

  1. Easy Apple Salad
  2. Easy Fruit Salad
  3. Sliced Apples (with a no-browning trick!)
  4. Wild Watermelon

So how about you? Do you have a favorite side dish that you always have to make for picnics? I would love to hear what it is in the comments below. And in the meantime … Happy Picnicking!

More Picnicking Resources

 

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Eat at Home Habit #2 Quick and Simple Grocery Shopping Tips

We’ve been talking about 7 Habits of Eating at Home in  a brand new series for the last couple of weeks. Our goal is to make the habit of eating at home low stress and high success–without spending hours of time in the kitchen preparing or cooking food.  You can read the first habit about picking recipes that fit your schedule here. This week we’ll be focusing on some quick and simple grocery shopping tips.

I went on Facebook Live and talked about all of my favorite tips and tricks, and demoed one of our favorite 15-minute meals! If you didn’t catch that, you can view the replay here. 

Habit #2 – Keep grocery shopping quick and simple

Grocery shopping can be time-consuming and tedious sometimes. Without a plan, it’s easy to come home with much more than you intended (and go over budget) or forget essentials and hvae to make extra trips. Here are a few ideas to make grocery shopping faster:

1. Organize your list by aisle of the store

If you’re an Eat at Home Meal Plan member, this step is done for you and it’s color-coded too so you know which ingredients are for which recipe.  If you’re not a member, go through the recipes you’ve chosen to make during the week and add all the ingredients to the list in the categories you’d find them in the store.

My lists (and those we create for members) have these categories:

  • Produce
  • Canned/Dry
  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Bread
  • Other

2. Keep a running list of things you run out of during the week

I’ve learned that the best place for me to keep this list is in my planner, but you may like keeping a piece of paper on the fridge instead.  You might also have a chalkboard or dry-erase board in the kitchen you could use.  However, you keep the list, get in the habit of adding items to it as you run low on them.

3. Shop with purpose

Once you hit the store, shop with purpose.  This means have your list in your hand, grab your cart and go.  Focus on the list and don’t get sidetracked by other items and aisles.  Move quickly through the store and check those items off your list!

4. Work from the back of the store to the front

I like to start at the back of the grocery and work my way to the front.  That makes a quick trip to the cash register when I’m finished (and less temptation to pick up one more thing) and it keeps the produce from getting crushed since it’s the last thing I add to the cart.

5. Try online ordering with store pickup

Many grocery stores now offer this, including Walmart.  I can’t sing the praises of this service enough!  It’s such a time saver. I put my Eat at Home grocery list in one tab and have the Walmart site open in another tab. Moving between the two to add the items to my cart only takes a few minutes to complete the order.

Schedule a pickup for when you’re already out doing errands.  It’s so convenient and easy! If you haven’t tried it before, you can get $10 off by signing up here.

6. Check out Amazon Pantry

The prices aren’t always comparable to in-store prices in every area, but sometimes you can snag a great deal on pantry staples and have them shipped right to your door! I haven’t tried it myself, but I have a friend who uses it regularly and it saves her time and money! You can order other household staples and fit up to 45 lbs in a box. Each month, there are featured items and if you buy five of those, you get free shipping too. She uses this to stock up on toiletry items, band-aids, and cleaning supplies as well as pantry basics. They have a nice variety of organic and gluten-free options as well. Keeping an eye out and buying things you need anyway can make Prime Pantry a great time-saving choice!

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Let’s talk about meal planning and How to Recover When the Plan Changes PLUS – 3 Strategies for Dealing with Picky Eaters!

We’re starting the new series 7 Habits for Eating at Home.  This week we cover Your Calendar and Planning, along with my biggest tip for making sure your plan goes smoothly and how to recover when things change.

And as a bonus in this video, I talk about how to deal with the picky eaters in your life.

Be sure to like the Facebook page if you haven’t already!

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7 Habits of Eating at Home (without spending hours planning and cooking)

Today starts a new series on developing 7 habits of eating at home that make it both feasible and simple! Over the years I’ve learned a few things that really help when trying to build the habits of eating at home instead of grabbing takeout whenever I have a hectic day and I want to share those with you in this series.

So let’s start with the core basic–actually making a plan that works for you and not against you! We want to create habits that will benefit our family and budget with home cooked meals every night, but that take in account our busy schedules so we’re not spending hours of time planning out meals and then cooking them. We discussed this topic along with how to deal with picky eaters in your meal planning in this video along with lots of helpful tips and comments from viewers.

Your Calendar and Meal Planning

One of the things that often trips us up is the common advice to choose a day of the week for certain types of meals and then rotate recipes that fit each category.  Something like this:

  • M – Italian
  • T – Tacos
  • W – Sandwiches
  • Th -…

You get the idea.  This is okay advice if all of your days and evenings have the same routine that involves you being home in time to prep and cook dinner easily.  But my life doesn’t look like that and I bet yours doesn’t either!

We need a meal plan that takes into account our schedule so that we have time to make the meals we plan on. Instead of being frustrated because meal planning never works for us, if we learn to have a new perspective and create a plan that works with our schedule instead of against it, we are sure to feel great about our successes!

eating at home habits

Rethinking Eating at Home Habits

Instead of thinking about the type of foods when planning your menu, consider the cooking method and speed of the recipes you are looking at.  This will give you much a much better success rate because your plan will fit your day and create a lot less stress and work when it comes time to getting dinner on the table.

  • Slow cooker recipes are fantastic when you have a few minutes in the morning, but no time later in the day.
  • Instant Pot or pressure cooker recipes work great for hands-off cooking that can be started later in the day. I like loading my Instant Pot around 3 pm and letting it switch to “keep warm” after the cook time is up.  Dinner’s ready and waiting for us later.
  • 15 Minute meals are best on super busy days.  Having an arsenal of these types of recipes will save you from the drive-thru.

Habit #1 – Choose a recipe that fits your day and the time you have available to cook instead of making your day fit your recipe.

If you are just joining us and would like to catch up on the other topics we’ve covered including topics planning meals around your calendar, quick and simple grocery shopping tips, stocking your freezer and more will be added here as they are posted each week.

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