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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This meal has been my go-to quick recipe for over 10 years

mexican beans and rice done2

 

I make a lot of new recipes.  We rarely repeat meals, because I’m always trying to create new recipes to share with you.

That said, there are a few go-to meals that are so well liked and so easy that they get repeated with some frequency.

Mexican Beans and Rice is one of these.

A friend gave me this recipe over 10 years ago.  I have no idea how many times we’ve had it since then.  It takes common, pantry ingredients that I almost always have on hand.  It’s cheap, nutritious and can be made in just 15 minutes.

I wrote the post with the recipe about a month after starting this blog.  The photos were pretty bad, so I shot new ones a few years ago.

And there are near endless substitutions and additions you can make, depending on what you’ve got on hand:

  • Use black beans or pinto beans instead of kidney beans, or use a combination of beans.
  • Use brown rice or instant brown rice instead of white (I like the flavor of brown better, but I’m always in a huge hurry when I make this so I stick with Jasmine rice, which cooks quickly.)
  • Add cooked ground beef or cooked chicken for added protein.
  • Top with cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese.
  • Serve with guacamole or avocado slices.
  • Use a can of diced tomatoes with green chilies if you don’t have any salsa.
  • Serve in tortillas instead of over rice.
  • Cook the rice in chicken broth for extra flavor.

If you haven’t tried this one, I encourage you to make it soon.  It’s a great recipe to add to your arsenal of easy, weeknight meals.

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Skillet Chicken and Dressing Casserole – 15 minute meal series

15 Minute Skillet Chicken and Dressing Casserole

 

This is one of my favorite casseroles, but the traditional version takes about an hour to bake.

I speeded things up with this version by using a skillet that can take a quick trip under the broiler.

Pair this up with Skillet Apple Crisp, which only takes about 20 minutes.  Together, they make a great combo!

Find the recipe for Skillet Chicken and Dressing Casserole here.

15 Minute Meals for Back to School

This post is part of our new series on 15 Minute Meals.  You can find the other posts in the series linked here.

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Pre-Cook and Freeze Meats to Make Dinner Quick – 15 Minute Meal Series

Pre-cook and freeze meat

 

One of the things that can slow down dinner prep is dealing with the meat portion.

A beef roast or whole chicken that is frozen is going to take a long while and some hands on work to get it to the table.  Frozen pork chops, chicken breasts or beef steaks won’t take quite as long to thaw and cook, but they still aren’t quick.

My solution to this is to keep my freezer stocked with meats that are already cooked.

Here’s a list of what I like to keep on hand, along with a few links that explain the process of prepping them:

Cooked Chicken

whole chicken in the slow cooker

Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker

3 Costco Rotisserie Chickens yield 5-6 meals. 13 possible recipes

 

Using Rotisserie Chickens

bbq chicken for fajitas freezer1

 

Freezing grilled chicken

turkey breast in slow cooker

 

Turkey Breast in the Slow Cooker – it’s not chicken, but it works the same way for recipes and soup.

Ground Beef

I usually just brown ground beef and/or sausage on top of the stove.  Rinse it under hot water to remove extra grease and then freeze in a zip top bag.  A quick minute in the microwave is all it takes to thaw.

If you’d like to cook a lot of ground beef easily, try cooking it in the slow cooker.

hamburger in the crock pot

 

Meatballs

meatballs for freezer done

 

Having meatballs cooked and frozen can really speed up dinner.  They are so versatile and can be used for a lot more than rounding out a plate of spaghetti.

Ham and Smoked Sausage

smoked sausage

Both ham and smoked sausage are already cooked.  These meats are wonderful for quick dinners, because you basically just need to heat them.

I don’t do it as often, but cooked beef roast can also be shredded and frozen.  Use it in casseroles or Mexican dishes.

15 Minute Meal Series – Popcorn Chicken Parmesan

I’ve created a lot of recipes, but this one for Popcorn Chicken Parmesan is one of my favorites.

Popcorn Chicken Parmesan - 15 Minute Meal

 

A friend mentioned at church the other day that her family really likes this recipe too.  It’s not only quick and easy, it’s also full of flavor.

The frozen popcorn chicken is an excellent “cheat” for speeding things up.  It gets tossed with garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese then put in the oven to bake a few minutes.

Meanwhile, you’ll whip up a homemade sauce and boil the pasta.  So easy, but it tastes like you really spent a long time fixing dinner.

Find the recipe for Popcorn Chicken Parmesan here.

15 Minute Meals for Back to School

This post is part of our new series on 15 Minute Meals.  You can find the other posts in the series linked here.

Drive. Play. Feed. Sports Season Suppers – 15 Minute Meals

Judging from the comments, this is a series that hits close to home for many of you.  Juggling kids, activities and dinner can be difficult.  But it can also be done, with a bit of planning.

So far, we’ve covered packing meals, grocery store meals that can be put together in a quick buzz through the store, and rockin’ the slow cooker.

Today, we’re talking super-quick meals you can cook in just minutes.

Gather Your Go-To Meals

We all have meals we can make quickly.  You know the kind.  Your family likes it and you can make it with your eyes closed.

Make a list of those meals.  Post it in a visible place, like the inside of your pantry door.  That way, when you come in with hungry, frazzled kids you know exactly what you can fix.  Minimal thinking required.

Be sure to keep all the ingredients on hand for those meals.  If you know you’ve got the makings of a 15 minute meal at home, it will be much easier to drive right past the fast-food places.

Having a plan saves you money!

One spin through a fast-food restaurant sets my family back at least $20, often a bit more.  And that’s with sharing fries and only ordering water to drink.  I can make dinner at home for less than half of that and often have enough leftover for lunch the next day.

Once a week = $80 per month = $960 per year!

Twice a week = $160 per month = $1920 per year!

Have you been trying to save for a big ticket item?  Are you eating your vacation/new furniture/debt reduction little by little each month?

My fastest meals can be found in my ebook, Feast in 15.

Meals like Garlic Lime Shrimp and Italian Nachos are fast to fix, but taste like you spent lots of time cooking.

Much better and cheaper than drive-thru.

Want to save a little bit more?  Use the code DrivePlayFeed for a 20% off discount, bringing the price to just $3.99!