30 minute meals plus this week’s content

School is out! Two kids finished on Tuesday and two kids finished on Wednesday (the little guy has been done for a week). My husband and I went to an 8th grade graduation on Tuesday morning and then I took my new graduate out for a celebratory lunch. On Wednesday I picked the 6th grader and three friends up at school at 11:55 a.m. (they had a half day for the last day) and we went out for a celebratory lunch. So, lots of celebrating this week.

Eating out is fun with older kids and in smaller groups. Eating out with all 7 of my family members, including a 4-year-old (and a highly selective 9-year-old) is a bit less relaxing and enjoyable. So we tend to eat dinner at home most days.

I got a note recently from someone who was reading I Know How She Does It and was looking at one of my time logs. She saw that I spent 30 minutes on meal prep on a day I was cooking and she wanted to know more about this as she felt meal prep was consuming a lot of her life.

I know from getting a lot of similar notes over the years that people’s ideas of what home cooking involves is highly variable. I’m not from a culture that particularly celebrates elaborate meals (we’re also fine with leftovers) and I know that is sometimes a factor in how much time gets devoted to these things. That said, I don’t think that has to be either/or. One can make elaborate meals on weekends and holidays and maybe be a bit more practical on Tuesdays. There’s also a big space between completely made from scratch and ordering pizza every night, so those things don’t need to be either/or as well.

My family’s weekday meals generally do take 30 minutes or less. On Monday this week I made pasta (as we almost always have). The driving schedule was such that I was cooking. I started the water to boil the pasta, browned some Italian sausage, and cooked some veggies too (peppers and onions — we actually already had a bunch cut up from a previous dinner prep so I was able to just throw those in). Then I added a jar of Rao’s marinara sauce to the sausage/veggie mixture, and heated up some plain sauce for the folks who prefer that. My 14-year-old made a tomato and burrata salad. I also cut up apples for everyone. Voila — dinner.

On Tuesday I made chicken with Rogan Josh sauce — this involved boiling water for rice (I generally use the boil in a bag Jasmine rice for this — our family uses about 3 bags…) I cut up several chicken breasts and browned the chicken. Then I added a jar of Rogan Josh sauce (Patak’s brand). I sauteed some more of those previously cut up veggies. We also had some dumplings and spring rolls that were part of a meal kit sent by a potential advertiser, so I heated those up (the spring rolls went in the oven with some chicken nuggets for people who weren’t going to eat the Rogan Josh sauce). I believe I cut up fruit. This was all less than 30 minutes too.

On Wednesday I outsourced cooking but it involved that potential advertiser’s meal kit so I’m pretty sure it took 30 minutes as well, since that’s kind of their major selling point. (It was a vegan Thai curry, by the way). Kids who were not eating that (I will admit, tofu was a hard sell) had a pizza.

As for clean up, kids are all required to put their dishes in the dishwasher. I’ve been hitting up various older kids to help with other bits of clean up, but the good news is that simple meals tend not to involve too many pots and pans. For pasta there was the pot with pasta (not that messy), a colander, the pan with the sauce (a bit messier) and a pot with the plain sauce, plus two cutting boards. For the chicken Rogan Josh there was the pot for rice, the colander again, the cutting board, the pan with the chicken, the pan with the veggies and dumplings, plus the cooking sheet for the nuggets and spring rolls. We use a spray detergent so individual items can get sprayed and scrubbed down (scrub brushes go in the dishwasher at the end of the day and the dishwasher gets run overnight).

In other news: I’ll go ahead and do my content round-up for the week since I’m probably not posting tomorrow.

If you enjoyed this week’s Best of Both Worlds episode with Anna Goldfarb (I enjoyed it!) please consider joining our Patreon community. Next week we’re having a meet-up via Zoom on Tuesday at noon, eastern, to discuss our current book club pick: Tara Mohr’s Playing Big. This promises to be a great discussion.

Over at the Before Breakfast podcast I suggested that you “See what’s nearby” every time you visit somewhere new or where you don’t go often. That’s how I got to run on the beach in the beginning of May! I suggested you “Plan your travel portfolio” and that when it comes to work, “Flexibility matters more than hours.”

At Vanderhacks (my every-weekday-morning Substack newsletter) I suggested people figure out “What makes it good?” For any broad experience, like going to an amusement park, different people are going to be looking forward to different thing. It might be wise to figure out what would make the experience “good” for different people so you can optimize overall happiness. The paywalled post was about “What I’m loving now” — a few of my favorite products/clothes/things for summer. Please consider either a free or paid subscription for more daily tips.

Photo: Not the current kitchen, but the one from a few years ago…

9 thoughts on “30 minute meals plus this week’s content

  1. I tend to listen to a news podcast while prepping dinner, which is about 20 minutes (at 1.5 speed), and often finish prep around the same time as it ends, or a bit after. I tend to do pick up on my bike, so my husband will often get started chopping when he finishes work.

    Last night, we had instant pot sweet potatoes (so much faster and more moist than baking them), fried eggs, and sauteed green beans. So a decent number of pans, but quick, easy, plenty of veggies. Tonight it’s tacos with some leftover rice, tin of beans, roast sweet potatoes and mushrooms, and chicken for T and me (husband is veggie). We tend to have homemade pizza on Fridays (or kid and husband do, I can’t eat tomatoes at night without really bad acid).

    1. @Coree- sounds like you all are eating well and fairly quickly too. I really do think it’s possible — and in many cases it’s not a huge trade-off. I think sometimes people make it sound like you’re eating terribly if you opt for quick meals but I really don’t think that’s true.

  2. I think I commented this before, but I have FINALLY been able to implement the thing I’ve been dreaming about since I first read 168 Hours. We have someone come to our house two mornings a week to do meal prep. It’s life-changing!

    My husband and I pick meals on Mondays and Thursdays – usually with the PlateJoy app but occasionally supplementing with long-time faves. This is quick because lunch is always a big salad and the app makes it so easy to have a healthy variety. Sometimes I shop, but if I don’t have time, K does the shopping before she preps on Tuesdays and Fridays. We’re to the point now (about 6 months in) that she also takes on some of the cognitive labor. Things like, “I’m going to cook and spice the half head of cauliflower that we didn’t use last week and you guys can add it to your tacos..”

    I know that you and SHU get some of this by virtue of nannies, but wanted to throw it out as an option for people like us who don’t have kids at home.

    I found K by using the “senior care” job search on Care dot com, but made it clear that we aren’t seniors yet. She’s been a stay at home mom for several years and is really turning this into a business now that her kids are in school It’s good for her (she enjoys the work, listens to audiobooks the whole time, and gets paid fairly) and it’s more affordable than any personal chef services I’ve found.

    I feel like I’ve found the holy grail of meal planning/prep and I have you to thank for the idea!

    1. This is incredibly cool. I wonder whether I could pay someone to cook a large batch of food one day of the week so that we can eat leftovers for a few days. Currently my husband makes a meal like this on Sundays but we literally fight about it every week because he “forgets” that this is his job and has to be reminded to think about it on Friday so he can plan to get the ingredients and to set aside some time for cooking. How much does something like this cost?

      1. Sorry, just now seeing your reply! I am almost certain you could find someone to do this once a week. I like twice a week because it minimizes boredom and food waste and things taste/seem more fresh (she is usually prepping salads for lunches, and a 6-day-old salad seems sad!) We started at $20/hour and now pay $28/hr + mileage if she grocery shops or runs other errands. We always prioritize meal prep, but she also does other household stuff depending on time/need. For example, last week we were out of town, but she still came to water plants, wash sheets, go to the bank and post office, put away laundry, run the robot vac, and generally just ensure that the house was nice to come home to. She doesn’t clean (except for dishes and counters) – we also have cleaners – but will do anything else related to running our household.

      2. Oh, and my husband was originally resistant – “Do we really need to pay someone? What if I just do it instead?” I had to really push. But now he loves it so much and says he can’t imagine not having her. We have been doing some belt-tightening lately, examining every expense. We cancelled Netflix but agreed that we will give up just about everything else before we even consider giving up her help!

    2. @Seppie – this is a great idea! Some of this help does come embedded in a nanny role but I know that a number of people have hired differently once their kids age out of needing a sitter. Or the person does some hours during the school day and then helps drive after (necessary for kids who are older sometimes).

  3. Yep! Many of our mid-week meals are like you described- partially from scratch but with a pre-made sauce, or pasta, or protein, so that the whole process takes less than 30-40 minutes. On our rotation is tray baked fish/fish fingers with vegies, baked chicken Kiev/nuggets with side salad, sausage pasta like you, Aldi spanakopita baked in oven (kids love this and it has spinach in it- win!), and tacos from a kit. Once or twice a week we’ll do something more elaborate (like a slow cooker meal or a roast), but otherwise food prep is pretty quick!

  4. I love home-made food. We don’t make everything from scratch (various sauces are usually store-bought), but we cook most of our meals.
    There’s a huge difference between cooking for 40 minutes – cutting, stirring, adding various ingredients at specific times….
    And cooking for 40 minutes where you put things into the oven and leave (the key here is to set a loud timer that you can hear from wherever you are working/reading/doing other things).

    For people who work from home, the second option is very doable. There are a lot of things one can cook that require minimal preparation and hands-on time.
    Another thing to keep in mind – the more you make something, the faster you get at it. I love fresh salads, and I make those multiple times a week – and I’ve gotten pretty fast and efficient… Also, using a big chef’s knife and vigorously cutting stuff is kind of therapeutic after a stressful day at work 🙂

    Also, I refuse to call food “left-overs’. Things like stews, soups, meatballs – I make enough to last 2-3 meals. That saves on time and mental energy.

    Clean up – I haven’t quite figured that out and it takes a significant chunk of time each evening… But that’s, in part, because my kids love snacking and love preparing fun snacks, which involves using a ton of dishes and utensils… I haven’t managed to get them to consistently clean things up…. work in progress!

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