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Fast, Faster, Fastest Ideas for Busy Night Dinners

Dinner in 20 Minutes

Do you ever have the “Dinner time – uh oh” moment in your house? It happens to me more than I like to admit. Particularly on days when I have a lot going on. I love to cook, but I am not always so organized about the planning aspect. However, I’ve learned that even if you don’t have a plan you can get dinner on the table fast with the right tools — as in food and a cache of recipes.

That’s what this post is all about … getting dinner on the table quickly when you are out of time.

5 Tips for Cooking Dinner in 20 Minutes or Less

Practice ran late. Or maybe it was your meeting at work. Whatever the case, you just arrived home and you have no time — and no plan — to make dinner. Now what?

Fear not. You can do it. Here’s how to cook dinner in 20 minutes or less — and usually without a pan.

Stock that Pantry

This could be the most important tip for any home cook who finds themselves trying to whip up dinner at the last minute. A pantry that’s filled with good ingredients can make last minute cooking a total breeze.

“My number one secret to cutting down cooking time is keeping a well-stocked pantry. It’s like having a permanent shopping list – keeping all of your basics on your shelves, such as low-sodium broths, canned tomatoes, whole wheat pastas, frozen and canned veggies. This allows you to pull an ingredient out of the pantry and add fresh ingredients to whip up a go-to nutritious meal in minutes without having to stress about what is for dinner,” says Holly Clegg, author of the Trim & Terrific Healthy Cookbooks.

Look for Quick-Cook Items

So many starches take awhile to cook (except for pasta, of course). But these days there are really delicious alternatives that cook quickly. For instance, grains like barley and farro can be found parboiled and ready to cook in a mere 10 minutes (Check Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for these). Couscous and quinoa are also ready in about 20 minutes.

“Nowadays it is easy to find quick-cooking products at almost any grocer to help get dinner on the table in a snap. For example, brown rice typically takes 30-40 minutes to cook stovetop, but at Costco you can find 90 second microwaveable organic brown rice bowls, while Trader Joe’s has organic brown basmati rice that cooks in just ten minutes! If you’re the fix
it and forget it type, just throw it in a rice cooker and you are free to prepare the rest of your meal,” says Ayla Skye, author of The Eat From Home Diet How to Get a Slim Body and a Fat

Substitute If Necessary

When you are in a rush to get dinner on the table, it’s not the time to adhere to recipes to a T. Instead, be flexible and substitute with what you have on hand to ease the process.

“Being flexible and getting creative by using what you have (if your recipe calls for carrots but you only have red peppers then use them!),” says Kat Barry, co-author of The New Chicago Diner Cookbook, Meat Free Recipes from America’s Veggie Diner.

Use Fast Cooking Proteins

When chicken is thin-sliced, it’s ready in about 15 minutes. Stir-fry cuts of beef and pork can be ready fast too. But don’t forget fish and shellfish as an option too, as many are ready in no time.

“Frozen wild caught shrimp cooks in two minutes in the microwave and just three minutes on the stove top. Now, if you combine the brown rice, cook the frozen veggies and shrimp (it takes less than 5 minutes), and toss all of these together, you have a healthy stir-fry meal for the whole family! Top with your favorite Asian sauce or marinade and enjoy,” says Skye.

Plan Ahead (If You Can)

I know this was all about getting dinner on the table in 20 minutes or less without a plan, but if you prep ingredients on the weekend — like chopping vegetables — it can make last minute prep work even easier. “Do all of your chopping at once and store in containers. Buy your meat in bulk and leave in small packages in the freezer,” says Cindy Barbieri, author of Cindy’s Table.

16 Recipes for Dinner in 15 Minutes

Dinner in 15 Minutes

Have time to plan but no time to cook? Sure, you could resort to the basic pasta dinner that seems to pop up on tables everywhere as a toss together meal. But you could also whip up something really impressive super fast. These tasty recipes are ready in just 15 minutes — but no one needs to know that.

What are your secrets for getting dinner on the table quickly?

Lisa @ Wine & Glue

Tuesday 27th of August 2013

This is such a great post!! What great info and line up of meals to make life easier! Thanks for including my mini calzones!!

Sarah W. Caron

Tuesday 27th of August 2013

Thank you, Lisa!!


Tuesday 27th of August 2013

I wish I had the luxury of making dinner. We have to eat so quickly after we get home that I tend to make dinners the night before, after the little guy is asleep.

Sarah W. Caron

Tuesday 27th of August 2013

Bummer! But I bet you are still eating well with your make-ahead meals, right?