In the introduction to your wonderful new cookbook “You Never Cook Alone” you talk about your family making meals eventful and spending time together in the kitchen and around the table. Unfortunately, many families seem to be busier and busier these days. Can you share some advice and tips on how families can make cooking and eating together more of a possibility and a priority?
Thank you for making this your mission and for sharing all your delicious recipes!!
Clayton, North Carolina
Thanks so much for your great question and I am so happy you love You Never Cook Alone. My family and I were thrilled to see it published last year.
Statistics tell us that 80% of people value family mealtime but only 1 in 3 is cooking 3 times a week. Unfortunately many families are going out to eat regularly and staying at home for special occasions only. The funny thing is that it can sometimes take longer to eat out at a restaurant than to make a 30, 20 or even 15 minute meal at home. It sure is more expensive as well! In The Family Table Equals SUCCESS, I share why cooking and eating is so important.
Here some helpful tips to make mealtime quick and easy every family:
- We’ve all heard the saying “time is money”, so take help where you can get it. Paying a little extra for things like raw deveined shrimp over shrimp you have to clean, or boneless skinless chicken breasts over the breasts you would have to trim and split is worth the extra cents. I also love using canned foods like beans, tomatoes and stocks, because of the time savings.
- A well organized stock pantry is the secret to fast meals: store up on basics like pastas, rice, broths, low-sodium organic stocks, canned tomatoes, various types of oils, and canned and dried beans. A full well organized pantry won’t leave you scratching your head wondering what is for dinner.
- Be prepared: The prepared home cook who makes a list of weekly meals to shop for, will never have to wonder “what can we or I make for dinner?”
- Having a well-stocked, organized freezer is just as important as a well-stocked, organized pantry. Keep boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pork chops, ground beef, turkey and chicken in the freezer. Defrost them in the morning before you leave for the day, and you’ll have the protein part of the meal ready to cook when you return home.
- My grandmother taught my mother and me some very helpful time-saving methods like peeling and cutting potatoes, placing them in a large pan, covering with water and setting aside on the stove the night before. When you return home you simply add a nice amount of kosher salt and boil away.
- Always prepare your menu items according to the time it takes to cook them. For example, start longer-cooking foods first. While they’re cooking, prepare the rest of the menu.
- Purchase and cook foods with other meals in mind. For example, chicken breast breasts can be Asian Chicken and Vegetable Skewers one night and chicken fried rice tomorrow next.
- Get the whole family involved in making dinner. Children benefit greatly from helping in the kitchen. They learn about how to be creative, have a better self esteem, they develop math skills and learning how to eat well. Also think about it: you are spending quality time with your children teaching valuable skills all while they are helping you cook, you’re not distracted or interrupted, so dinner can be done on time.
- Take help from your local grocery store. Here are more ideas:
- Supplement the main dish with prepared salads and/or side dishes from the supermarket or natural foods market deli. Packaged salad greens have just about eliminated the need to tear up fresh greens.
- Cook in large amounts and refrigerate or freeze the leftovers. Include ingredients such as beans, rice, ground meat, and vegetables. For example, steam enough fresh green beans for a side dish one night, and use the rest for a salad the next evening.
- Use convenience foods that cut down prep time like packaged fresh pasta.
- Skinless, boneless chicken breasts cook up in no time. Season or bread them for a quick sauté or stir-fry, or cook them whole in a sauce or marinade. I purchase my chicken breasts in bulk at BJ’s Wholesale Club. I make several marinades before I head to the store. When I return I simply divide the marinades in the bags that have been labeled and dated and place four to six chicken breasts in each. Freeze the bags and pull them out when you are ready to use them. The same can be applied to beef and pork.
- Slow cookers actually make quick work of getting a meal on the table. Just toss the ingredients in the cooker in the morning, and dinner is ready when you get home. Your home will smell yummy, too!
15, 20 and 30 Minute Meals Ideas
- Some of my favorite quick and delicious meals are things made in parchment paper. The French call it “en papillote,” the Italians “al cartoccio,” but we Americans simply call it cooking in parchment. This cooking method actually involves wrapping a parcel of food, typically fish or chicken with vegetables, in parchment paper. It’s then baked in the oven until the parchment puffs and it’s all cooked through. Not only is this technique easy to do, it also looks quite impressive at the dinner table (there’s a big reveal when everyone cuts open their own packet) and it’s very healthy to boot. Very little oil or fat is needed to cook in parchment because the food effectively steams inside the parchment. What you’re left with is very tender juicy meat and vegetables, flavored with whatever herbs, spices you’ve included.
- Making a big batch of pizza dough, dividing and freezing before the dough doubles in size is another great idea. Remove the dough the day you are craving pizza and simply let it thaw and double in size. You can make all kinds of pizza like panna pie, sweet and salty pizza, Chicago Deep Dish, or a Greek Style Pizza. You can even make a breakfast pizza or Stromboli.
- Stir fries are a great and quick way to prepare a meal. The protein with the added fiber of vegetables makes stir fries a nutritional powerhouse. Serve your meals with rice to complete this well-rounded meal. My favorites are Mongolian Beef, Honey Glazed Chicken and Chicken and Broccoli.
- No time for homemade soup? Think again! 15 to 30 minutes soups that taste like they have been cooking all day are very easy to make. Many of them can be prepared in a slow cooker s well. Our family favorites minestrone soup, chicken egg drop soup, and sausage and potato kale soup.
- While some Mexican recipes can be time consuming, things like chicken enchiladas, cheesy chicken quesadillas, and Mexican Style Lasagna take no time at all.
- Pasta always makes for a quick dinner. Recipes like cavatappi with tomato and garlic, scallops and linguini, and chicken tetrazzini pack an immense flavor punch and take no time at all.
- Last but certainly not least, especially for those of us who can be outside most of the year, grilling is your best friend when it comes to quick and delicious meals! Some of our family favorites are: jerk chicken, grilled romaine salad, sizzlin’ steak with a super fresh chimichurri sauce, Asian chicken kabobs, grilled spinach feta turkey burgers and our family favorite– Asian burgers.