How to Have Dinner Ready in 30 Minutes

How to Have Dinner Ready in 30 Minutes

A nutritionally sound meal is made up of macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates), plus a variety of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). In other words, dinner should include a nice balance of fruits and vegetables, grains, proteins, dairy, and fats. Variety is the way to go—for health— because it keeps mealtime interesting.

The USDA recommends that 45 to 65 percent of daily calories come from carbohydrates, 10 to 35 percent from protein, and 20 to 35 percent from fats.

No need to bring your calculator into the kitchen—just eyeball the plate, filling half with low-starch, low-fat fruits and vegetables (go easy on plantains and avocados) and the remaining half with a combination of lean meat or plant protein and healthful carbohydrates. Follow these steps and you are ready to make dinner in a flash, any night of the week.

1 Map it out. Planning meals helps you avoid the pitfalls of fast food and overspending. Think about it: When you're starved and need to grab something quick, you wind up ordering a pizza or buying premium-priced prepared foods at the store. If you've planned your meals for the week and shopped accordingly, you won't be caught empty-handed and hungry.

2 Prep your fresh food in advance. Spend 30 minutes preparing a week's worth of produce. Peel and slice carrots, core strawberries, wash and store lettuce (see Care and Handling of Lettuce), and cut heads of broccoli and cauliflower into florets. Store in airtight, lidded bowls in the fridge. Ready to be eaten raw in salads or with dips such as hummus and salsa, or sautéed or steamed in the space of 5 minutes, these foods are right for your budget and your health.

3 Make a roast. It can serve as a foundation for a week's meals. Bake a turkey or two chickens, pop a brisket in the slow cooker, or make a pork roast in a Dutch oven. Eat it right away for dinner, then refrigerate or freeze the leftovers for future sandwiches, stir-fries, salads, and soups.

4 Keep quick protein sources on hand. Eggs are cheap and nutritious, and they are easy to cook. Boil them and slice them over salads, stuff an omelet with veggies and a sprinkle of cheese for a hot dinner, or make quiche, if you are feeling ambitious. Canned beans, packed with protein, fiber, and vitamins, are cooked and ready; toss with onions, chives, peppers, and tomatoes, and dress with oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper, for a 10-minute salad.

5 Keep the freezer stocked. Leftovers, soups and casseroles, meat and fish all keep well for months in the freezer. Flash-frozen vegetables from the store —picked and frozen at their peak—can actually be more nutritious than fresh! Plus, they're cheap and long-lasting. With a full freezer, you are ready for anything.

AREN'T CARBS BAD FOR ME?

Carbohydrates, made up of starches, sugars, and fiber, provide us with the fuel we burn daily. Without them, our bodies can feel sluggish and our brains fuzzy. The higher the fiber and the lower the sugar, the better the carb.

RECIPE: LINGUINE PRIMAVERA

Pasta primavera (or "spring pasta"), a vegetable-heavy Italian classic, is an easy, economical, meatless dish that's quick to prepare. Use as a main course, served with green salad and garlic bread (an excellent use for a slightly past its prime baguette or French bread!), or as a side dish for a meat or fish entrée.

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound linguine (for extra nutrition, use spinach linguine or wholewheat linguine)

3 tablespoons butter

½ large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups chopped broccoli or cauliflower, or a mix (frozen is fine)

1 cup thinly sliced carrots

¾ cup sliced black olives

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (or substitute 1 teaspoon dried basil and 1 teaspoon dried oregano)

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

⅓ cup dry white wine, cooking sherry, or chicken broth

1 large tomato, diced

1 cup freshly shaved Parmesan cheese

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. (This should take about 10 minutes.)

2. While the pasta boils, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add the onions, garlic, broccoli or cauliflower, carrots, olives, Italian seasoning, and black pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onions start to soften.

3. Pour in the wine, sherry, or chicken broth, and continue to stir. Add the tomato and cook for a minute or two.

4. Drain the pasta and transfer it to a large serving bowl. Add the sautéed vegetables and toss well with the pasta. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top.

Variations

• For extra protein, add strips of cooked chicken, turkey, drained ground beef, or cannellini (white) beans when you add the tomato.

• For a rich tomato broth, skip the wine, sherry, or broth and substitute jarred marinara.

PROCEDURES FOR PERFECT PASTA

Since you learned to boil water here, you should be a real pro at making pasta. All a box of dried pasta requires is a large pot of boiling water and a timer. Here are some tips to refine your pasta-boiling process:

• Fill a large stock pot with water and set it on the stove over high heat, until it comes to a boil. Before you put in the pasta, add generous amounts of salt to the water—this will ensure that the pasta is adequately salted.

• Follow the package instructions to determine how long to cook the pasta. Typically, pastas cook in 8 to 12 minutes. If you prefer your pasta slightly firmer—that is, al dente—remove it a minute or two before the package instructions indicate.

• When it's done to your liking, drain the pasta in a colander, then toss with sauce and any other additions, and serve. To fully infuse the pasta with its sauce, dump the drained pasta into the pot with the sauce and cook together for a couple of minutes.

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