03/07/2012 09:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Healthy Shortcuts To Shave Minutes Off Your Dinner Time

By Hilary Meyer, Associate Food Editor, EatingWell Magazine

Before I had a baby, one minute was one minute. Just 60 seconds. And I had a lot of minutes. I could use them where I wanted, and mostly I chose to use them at dinnertime—leisurely pulling a meal together, eating slowly, sipping wine, then cleaning up. Fast-forward nine months and now my dinnertime routine looks like an episode of Iron Chef. I’m scrambling around, food is flying off the cutting board and I’m yelling, “Hurry up!”

I’m trying to bank some minutes. I’m now acutely aware of their value and the prospect of having a few of them set aside at the end of a long day after the baby is asleep makes me giddy. Sure, I could just call for takeout, but I don’t want to be the mother who develops healthy recipes for a living, then feeds her family Chinese takeout from down the street three times a week. (By the way, we have easy, excellent recipes for Healthy Chinese Food to Make at Home at EatingWell.) And I don’t want to set the precedent that dinner is a race either. So I’m going to use some time-saving shortcuts to get a healthy dinner on the table for my family and get me a few extra minutes at the end of the day.

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Shortcut 1: Use Your Microwave
Time saved – 25 minutes

Your microwave isn’t just for reheating a cup of coffee. It’s a tool for cooking, and it can be pretty efficient. For example, one of my favorite easy dinners is stuffed baked potatoes. In my oven, potatoes take 45 minutes to 1 hour to cook, but in the microwave they take only about 20 minutes. Not everything is suitable for the microwave, but vegetables in particular lend themselves well to being nuked. So next time you need to pull together a vegetable side dish, or a stuffed potato, consider saving time by using your microwave instead of your stove or oven.

Don’t Miss: 7 Unexpected Uses for Your Microwave

Shortcut 2: Buy Prepped Vegetables
Time saved – 15 minutes

Often on the periphery of the produce area at the grocery store you’ll find bags or boxes of vegetables that have already been washed, chopped, sliced or cooked. If you’re in a time crunch, use them.  Look for bags of broccoli florets (you’ll save time chopping them from the whole head) or a shredded carrot-and-cabbage mix for a throw-together slaw. Opt for baby spinach over adult spinach. You can easily find it prewashed (time saver!) and you don’t have to remove any of those pesky tough stems.

Related: Supermarket Habits That Make You Spend More Money

Shortcut 3: Raid the Salad Bar
Time saved – 20 minutes

I hate to admit that I often let my salad greens wither in the fridge because I don’t want to go through the trouble of prepping other vegetables to go with them.  But I recently got into the habit of raiding the salad bar at the local grocery store. I skip over the lettuce and just pile up the toppings–hard-boiled eggs, sliced mushrooms, cucumber and red pepper. I can buy just what I need for the next couple of days and skip all the cooking, slicing and chopping.

Shortcut 4: Use Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Time saved – 20 minutes

It’s soup season, and we love lots of vegetables in our soup. And by “lots” I mean variety. Instead of being tied to my cutting board all night, I stock up on frozen vegetables that I can add to my creation quickly. The beauty of frozen vegetables is that they’re usually all chopped up and ready to go. Plus you can buy mixed bags of the stuff–broccoli and cauliflower, for example, or a stir-fry mix with peppers and onions–so you can get the variety you’re looking for without stuffing your freezer to the brim.

Recipes to Try:
Tortellini Primavera and More Recipes Using Frozen Vegetables
6 Secrets to Speedy Soups

What are your favorite time-saving tricks?

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By Hilary Meyer, EatingWell Associate Food Editor

Hilary Meyer

EatingWell Associate Food Editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing healthy recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.