A whopping 92% of Americans say the last thing they want to do after a long day at work is spend time cooking. Balancing work, family, and hobbies demands efficient weeknight cooking — weeknight meals that can be prepared in under an hour.
Or even sooner. According to a study conducted by Kitchen Stories, 41% of Americans want their weeknight meals done in less than 30 minutes. Since 70% of Americans also claim to cook at least three times a week, every extra minute spent in the kitchen accumulates quickly.
Creating a homecooked meal in under 30 minutes might sound challenging, but it doesn't have to be. I'm a professional recipe creator, and I've compiled a list of quick and easy meals that taste amazing.
Weekdays can be chaotic, and a little planning goes a long way. Taking a few minutes over the weekend to outline meals for the week and do grocery shopping will save time during the week. It is also a great way to ensure you cook what you actually want to eat, not just satisfy a momentary craving.
Create a Weekly Menu
Knowing what's on the menu each day saves home cooks from the “What's for dinner?” panic. Plus, it helps streamline grocery shopping. Take a few minutes to think through what you want to eat throughout the entire week, including breakfast and snacks, and write it all down.
With a newly created weekly menu, grocery shopping for the week will be much easier. Be sure to get everything needed to avoid last-minute supermarket runs. That means ensuring you have everything you need to cook all weeknight dinners, as well as household essentials such as toilet paper, toothpaste, milk, and fruit.
Once the shopping is done, get chopping. Chop and prepare anything that can be prepped ahead for the week: slice veggies, marinate proteins, and pre-cook grains. Store them in labeled containers for easy access during the week.
Double Up for Leftovers
When planning a weekly menu, it's a good idea to plan for one or two extra servings for each meal. The additional portions can become lunches or dinners for the next day or go in the freezer for another busy night. This cuts down on cooking time and ensures always having good food on hand.
Embrace One-Pot Wonders
One-pot and one-pan meals are a busy cook's best friend. They minimize prep work, reduce the number of dishes to wash, and are often relatively hands-off. Here are some ideas to consider:
- Stir-Fries: A mix of veggies, protein, and sauce cooked in one pan, ready to eat as it is, or with a side of rice or noodles. It's quick, versatile, and packed with flavor. Try a chicken teriyaki stir-fry, or make a Thai version with curry paste and a dash of coconut milk.
- Sheet Pan Dinners: Toss a favorite protein and vegetables with seasonings, then roast them on a baking sheet. Experiment with a new combination, or go for classics like chicken with veggies or lemon pepper salmon with baby potatoes. These recipes ensure easy prep and minimal cleanup.
- Pasta Bakes: Layer uncooked pasta, protein, and veggies in a baking dish. Add shredded cheese, pour over milk or cream, and bake for an hour. Families will have a complete meal without any hassle.
Get Creative With Leftovers
Having the same meal two days in a row might sound boring, but it doesn't have to be. Instead, transform those leftovers into entirely new dishes. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Roasted veggie frittata: Pour whisked eggs into a hot pan and add leftover veggies, cheese, and protein. Cook on the stovetop, then finish in the oven.
- Wrap it up: Use leftover proteins and veggies for wraps or sandwiches. Add some fresh greens and a tasty sauce for a quick, satisfying meal that's perfect to bring to go.
- Make a bowl of it: Combine leftover grains, proteins, and veggies. Top with a flavorful sauce or dressing for a nourishing, no-fuss dinner.
Use Time-Saving Appliances
Modern kitchen gadgets can be a game-changer for time-crunched cooks. If strapped for time when cooking, consider getting a pressure cooker, slow cooker, or air fryer.
- Pressure cooker: These can drastically reduce cooking times for dishes that typically take hours. They're perfect for making stews, curries, and soups, but they can also be used for anything from risotto to potatoes.
- Slow cooker: Prep ingredients in the morning, set the slow cooker, and come home to a hot meal ready to eat.
- Air fryer: Crispy, delicious results without needing a lot of oil – and it's quicker than most other cooking methods. Perfect for quickly cooking up snack favorites like chicken wings and fries, and a great way to cook veggies and foods like salmon straight from frozen.
Embrace 30-Minute Meals
It's easy to forget that cooking tasty food doesn't have to take a lot of time. There's an abundance of dishes that can be on the table in under 30 minutes. Some examples are:
- Simple stir-fries: With pre-cut veggies, quick-cooking proteins, and a premade stir-fry sauce, stir-fries are a speedy dinner solution.
- Pasta: 30-minute pasta dishes abound, and you can find one with almost any flavor you desire. If you're lucky, you can cook it all in one pot.
- Speedy skillet dishes: From sautéed shrimp with garlic and lemon to spicy sausage and peppers, the skillet is your ticket to fast, flavorful meals.
Cooking on weeknights doesn't have to be a daunting task. With a bit of planning, creativity, and the right tools, it’s possible to whip up delicious meals and still have plenty of time to unwind and enjoy the evening. So put these cooking hacks to the test and reclaim your evenings from the dreaded kitchen hustle.