Getting a delicious, home cooked meal on the table in less time

Meals in 30 Minutes or Less

by Jill Cooper

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I was having dinner at my son's house the other night and my daughter-in-law had fixed some "old fashioned" baked potatoes. You know in the oven and not the microwave. Boy, they were good. It seems so many things taste better slow cooked in the oven.

We started talking about how much longer it took to cook them in the oven compared to the microwave, which made me think. Yes, it does take longer in actual cooking time, but in some ways, it is easier. When I bake potatoes in the oven, I get them ready and in the oven an hour before dinner and then just forget about them until dinner is ready. Then, all I have to do is set them on the table and dinner is served.

When I microwave them, I tend to start cleaning them and preparing them at the same time that I'm trying to make a salad and heat up the veggies. While I'm doing all of that, I have to remember to keep turning the potatoes. If I am cooking several, I have to put a few in the microwave, and when they are done, pull them out and add more, all of this at the same time that I am trying to prepare the rest of the meal.

Why is it that, even though we have faster methods of cooking our meals, they seem to have become more frenzied and hurried than years ago? Then it dawned on me. With the introduction of the microwave and the idea that meals can be prepared in 30 minutes, most people do nothing to prepare or plan their meals until 30 minutes before they are going to eat. So 30 minutes before dinner you find yourself trying to thaw something, cook it, and slap it on the table, and at the same time, talk and deal with tired, hungry, cranky kids. Let's not forget how exhausted you are at this time of day, too.

I think we underestimate the power of coming home and smelling something yummy cooking. We automatically seem to relax, feeling that "all is well with the world." I think it can really change the whole atmosphere of your home for the evening.

I am not living in a dream world. You can fix meals the way our grandmothers did. I hear some readers saying, "Our grandmothers weren't ever as busy as we are and so they had time to fix large meals." I can hear our grandmothers chuckling at that statement. My husband's grandmother had to help on the farm from early in the morning until evening. She took care of a large home garden, canned, cleaned house every day, did laundry without a washer or dryer and still provided meals not only for her family, but up to 20 farm hands as well. She had to do it all without a refrigerator, microwave, or a grocery store and the nearest water was a mile away from her house.

My mother-in-law would go to work as early as 7 a.m. and work until 9 p.m. 6 days a week, but she still managed to make three large meals each day. If you're thinking, "That's great if you want to spend all your spare time in the kitchen," consider that they spent less time in the kitchen than we do with less of the conveniences and still managed to have well-balanced, delicious meals each day.

Related: 8 to 12 Hour Slow Cooker Recipes

What was their secret to well planned and balanced meals? They had never heard of 30 minute meals. Even if they had, they would probably have laughed and wondered who would spend so much time on a meal? They knew that the key to a quick meal wasn't how fast you could cook, but how organized you were. You can easily have a meal on the table in 15 minutes if you are organized and plan ahead.

That doesn't mean microwave and frying everything to have a quick meal either. Slow cooking something in the oven not only makes things taste better but sometimes is quicker.

Related: Master Meal-Planning with These Tips

Our grandmothers' secret to quick meals:

  • Keep your meals simple.
  • Be organized.
  • Decide what you are preparing the night or the morning before.
  • Thaw anything you need the night or the morning before.
  • Prepare as much of the meal as you can during the slow time of your day and when you are most refreshed. (This is very important.)
  • Slow cook meats in the oven or in a crock pot.
  • Keep your kitchen clean so you have an uncluttered work area.

Related: 3 Simple Kitchen Clutter Rules

If you have meats thawed and the ingredients on hand, most things can be tossed together in about the same time as it takes to order and wait to get your food at a fast food place.

Also, remember when you have your oven going to try to cook more than one thing in it. For example, if you are going to be baking a casserole, bake a pan of brownies, muffins or baked apples at the same time.

Jill Cooper raised two teenagers alone on $500 a month income after becoming disabled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. To read more of Jill's articles and for free tips and recipes, visit

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