Monday, February 17, 2014

Five Tips to Get Dinner from Refrigerator to Table in Under 20 Minutes

There are days when I am wrapped up in an activity and before I know it, it's 6:40 and my family is hungry. I try to have dinner on the table by 7, when my husband gets home from work. Here are my 5 tips for getting dinner from the fridge to the table in less than twenty minutes.

1. Have a plan, and then have an alternate plan

I try to grocery shop twice a week, usually Tuesdays and Fridays. On Tuesday, I get to the farmers market in the morning, and then to the grocery store. On Fridays, I shop for the weekend meals. Since my husband and kids eat breakfast and lunch at work/school on the weekdays, I cook a few more meals on Saturday and Sunday. By looking at the weekly ads and through my store coupons, I figure out a meal plan for the periods between store visits. I always plan some meals that are quick to put together and maybe one or two that might take a bit longer. If need to, I can rearrange the days if my schedule gets impacted and need to have dinner on the table in 15 minutes.


2. Have a well-stocked refrigerator and pantry

Again, I accomplish this by shopping twice a week. We usually drink through two gallons of milk in about 4 days, so I use that as an indicator for how often I need to shop. I pick up a flat of eggs every other week at the farmer's market ($7 for 30 organic brown eggs). Keep your fridge organized, using first-in, first-out methods. Place older ingredients in front of new ingredients, and keep perishable foods in sight, so you remember to use them.
I keep fruit and salad ingredients in one produce bin and keep the longer keeping vegetables in the other, so that I can quickly assess what I have and what needs to be used first. I make sure to keep a few lemons or limes in my fruit bowl to add a citrus pop to dishes. I also stock my spice rack with the essentials plus I make some rubs and spice blends from scratch.


3. Know your knives

Start with quality: Quality knives are an worthwhile investment, especially if you plan to cook 6-7 times a week. Find knives that are comfortable in your hand, and you are comfortable using. They should be versatile enough so that you only need four, maybe five knives to do all your cutting tasks. I have a chef's knife, a paring knife, a carving knife and fork, a serrated bread knife, and pair of kitchen shears.
Keep your knives sharpened: Take care of your investment. I only cut on wood or poly boards. My knives never run through the dishwasher, I only hand wash them. I don't soak my knives in the sink (for safety reasons). I visit my local knife sharpener at my farmer's market at least once a season. Some specialty shops also offer knife-sharpening services.
Practice your cutting techniques. A sharp knife can be your best friend when cutting fast and accurately. You won't have to use as much pressure when cutting, reducing the risk of cutting yourself. Go at a pace comfortable to you, and try for even cuts when slicing and dicing. Practicing will allow you be able to cut quicker and with more confidence and your cuts will also be more uniform, leading to more even cooking times.


4. Don't be afraid to cook on a higher heat

Thin cuts of chicken or pork can benefit from higher cooking temperatures to brown both sides without overcooking. A high heat is also essential when searing off steaks or meat before roasting. Caramelization in vegetables lends great flavor, adding to the sweetness and nuttiness. Try roasting broccoli or carrots instead of steaming, they will have a totally different flavor profile.


5. Forgo the rice and potatoes.

So many people are trying to cut carbs out of their diet. I am not one of those people, and I do like to eat them. But these tend to take the longest to cook when you are trying to go from fridge to table in under 20 minutes. Rice takes at least 20 minutes on the stove, and potatoes need at least that much time if you are not using the microwave. If I'm in a hurry to get dinner on the table, I often look to salads and vegetables to round out the meal. If serve a green salad plus one or two more vegetable sides with a protein, I don't miss not having a starchy side. It's also a great way to get your family to get to their 5-7 serving of fruit and veggies daily.

What are your top tips for feeding your family quickly? I'd love to hear your comments!


  1. Great tips Renee - totally agree with you on rice & potatoes but have started freezing mash potato which tastes great and means you can get grilled meat or fish and potatoes done very quickly - Alice @ Mums Make Lists

    1. I never thought about freezing mashed potatoes. How do you thaw/reheat them?


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