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12 Food Hacks to Get Dinner on the Table Fast

These genius food prep tricks are your ticket to quick weeknight meals.

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iStock/gordana jovanovic

Freeze soups, sauces, and chilis in Ziploc bags

Then lay the bags flat to freeze. As Jenny Ward of the family lifestyle blog Dinner A Love Story suggests, you’ll save time by thawing whatever is in the bag under running water for one minute. And you’ll save space once the bags are frozen—try “filing” the frozen stews and soups in your freezer like books on a bookshelf. This is much more efficient than stacks of clunky Tupperware.

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Make it vegetarian

Sometimes working with only vegetables can speed up cooking time and make life easier. (For instance, it can reduce the risk of cross contamination with raw meats). In the summertime, toss vegetables on the grill for a quick and easy side or main. For inspiration, here are 10 of the healthiest vegetables you can eat.

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Use a meal delivery service once or twice a week

Maybe the idea of cooking every night is overwhelming. Meal delivery services such as Blue Apron, Plated, and Peach Dish deliver fresh ingredients to your home with step-by-step instructions for creating a home cooked meal. The recipes are portioned out to your family’s size and serve as a great introduction to new flavors and ingredients. Nervous cooks will get practice in the kitchen and learn new techniques.

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Defrost the night before

We know the scenario—you go home to make dinner, open the freezer, and then realize all the best protein you have on hand is a frozen block. Place it in the fridge to defrost the night before. Make it part of your cleanup routine (“load dishwasher, get chicken out of freezer”) so it becomes automatic.

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Cook one or two “mains” over the weekend

A little effort over the weekend goes a long way. Prepare one or two main dishes, such as a casserole or lasagna. With the main dish already prepared, you can whip up a simple side salad or vegetable in less than 10 minutes. Plus, it takes the pressure off of cooking from scratch every weeknight. Try these healthy casserole dishes for inspiration.

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iStock/Robyn Mackenzie

Dust off your slow cooker

Slow cookers are a busy family’s best friend. Let the appliance do the work for you while you’re on the job or out of the house tackling a to-do list. Come home to a pot roast, stuffed peppers, or even sloppy joes, or any of these healthy slow cooker recipes. You’ll serve dinner quicker than the time it takes to set the table.

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iStock/Debbi Smirnoff

Transform leftovers

Cook once, eat twice! Chicken stir-fry can become tacos the next day. A bowl of chili easily transfers into bell peppers for a baked dish another night that week. This strategy saves your sanity, plus keeps the picky eaters in the house satisfied, writes Charity Mathews of the blog Foodlets.

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iStock/Milan Markovic

Think small

A thick piece of chicken can take ages to bake. The same goes for a large piece of steak. Sliced or cubed meat cooks in a fraction of the time. Cookbook author Mark Bittman simply cuts chicken breasts in half to save time. Check out his 19 tips to cook any meal faster.

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Purchase pantry essentials

Every night doesn’t need to be gourmet. In fact, “shopping the fridge” can be satisfying and fun—so long as it’s well stocked. When you have all the basics covered (think eggs, bread, deli meat, mustard, pasta, maybe a bag of frozen veggies) it’s really easy to throw together a sandwich or three-ingredient pasta for dinner. Just be sure to make a list before heading to the grocery store. The app Anylist is one way to organize, plus it lets you share your grocery list with family members or friends.

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Use a microwave to speed things up

Microwaves can help you with more than just softening butter. Nuke a potato for a few minutes to soften it and then finish it off in the oven to crisp and release all the flavors. You’ll save at least a half hour with this method. The same goes for a spaghetti squash.

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Remember that seafood cooks in just minutes

Shrimp, scallops, and thin pieces of fish take two to three minutes on the stovetop or under a broiler. Prepare the side vegetable or grain first—that’s how quickly seafood can take to finish.

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Hit the farmer’s market for what’s fresh

Nothing is faster than not cooking at all. Buy vegetables in season—they’ll be fresher, crisper, and sweeter than anything you roast, sauté, or fry. Then serve them raw as a main salad or marinate the vegetables for a slaw.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest