Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dinner in Under 30 Minutes, Post 1 in an Unnumbered Series

I talk about food a lot. I talk to a lot of people about food. With all these conversations I've been having, it's become extremely clear to me that people really stress out about what they're going to feed themselves for dinner every night. I don't know why it to me so long to figure this out: that stress was the thing that got me to start this blog. The last two years have been all about my need to reduce that stress in my life.

I don't expect people to follow my menus by the week, or even by the day. This is what I cook for my family, but I've realized that there are a few things I do to ease my nights that apply to everyone.

First step:
Build your list of greatest hits: what do you cook that you enjoy eating?
For some of you, this may be a fairly long list: I like variety, so my list of favorite dishes is rather long (well over a month's worth of meals). But if I were busier, I'd be happy with a list of ten meals. Don't think about it too much and don't go into too much detail. Here's a sample list for me:
  1. Macaroni and cheese
  2. Pasta with a long-cooked meat sauce
  3. Some kind of stir fry with rice
  4. Grilled meat (chicken, fish, beef?) with vegetables
  5. Chili (maybe this one, or this one)
  6. Some kind of Thai-spiced soup or curry
  7. Pasta with vegetables, and maybe a fried egg on top.
  8. Some kind of sausage (pork, hot dog, turkey) with beans and a salad or slaw
  9. Breakfast for dinner: eggs, bacon and toast; an omelette; a frittata
  10. Soup, soup and more soup
Now that's just ten items, but each one has multiple variables and so I've got hundreds, if not thousands, of variations to play with. On that list #1, #2, #5, and #10 can all be made ahead (a day, a week, a month - all depends on the size of your freezer). The rest can be made in 20-30 minutes, #9 can be done in less than 15 minutes.

Second step: Here's the hard part: You have to schedule a little time in to do some planning. You make time to watch Desperate Housewives, or 24, or America's Next Top Model, or [insert guilty pleasure here]. So, give yourself 20 minutes to plan your meals. Just 20 minutes, I swear. The added bonus is that it gets easier the more often you do it.

In the next post on this subject, I'll talk about the planning process. So your homework in the meantime is to write a list of five to ten greatest hits. By now, you've probably written 25 Random Things about yourself, so ten things you like to eat shouldn't be so hard. :-)

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