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Ask the Dietitian: 30-Minute Meals

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Looking to spend less hours in the kitchen while still cooking delicious meals? Cooper Clinic Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Elana Paddock, RDN, LD, CDCES, shares meal prep time-saving tips along with recipes ready to serve in 30 minutes or less.

Elana’s time-saving tips:

  • Select a day to plan a few recipes for the week and create your grocery list. Weekends tend to work best for me!
  • Try to select recipes that don’t require a lot of equipment to help simplify and save clean-up time.
  • Use frozen veggies and keep low-sodium canned or jarred food like beans, salsa and marinades on hand.
  • Make enough for leftovers to eat throughout the week or freeze for future meals.

This recipe for Festive Fajitas is a perfect fit for a family meal in a pinch. For a fiber boost, serve with low-sodium black beans. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper and salt to taste and heat the black beans in the microwave or in a sauce pan on the stove top.

Butternut Squash Mac n’ Cheese with Chickpea Pasta is another family-friendly meal that requires minimal ingredients and can be easily made in 20-30 minutes. And it has the added bonus of protein, fiber and potassium from the bean-based noodles. For another nutrient-rich option, sub out the chickpea pasta with 100% whole wheat noodles. To achieve an ultra-smooth cheese sauce, use a hand or submersion blender after combining the cheese and butternut sauce.

Mediterranean Farro Pilaf with Sautéed Shrimp is great to serve at a dinner party or as leftovers. Omit the shrimp and add a can of no-salt-added chickpeas to make it a meatless vegetarian meal.

Additional Time-Saving Tips

  • Buy pre-cooked frozen seafood for a quick, ready-to-heat and eat protein source.
  • To make the dish vegetarian, use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth and a can of no-salt-added chickpeas instead of meat.
  • Use an Instant Pot to speed up the cooking process.
  • Learn to multitask in the kitchen. For example, while your rice or pasta cooks, sauté the veggies so your meal comes together in less time!
  • Use pre-cut veggies from the store when possible such as butternut squash, broccoli, onions, garlic, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
  • Carve out time to cut veggies when you get them home from the super market and store in the fridge so they are ready to go when you begin cooking various meals during the week.
  • Invest in a good set of kitchen knives for safety and improved efficiency when cutting up fresh produce.

Try these helpful tips for less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying these delicious recipes with friends and family! For more recipes and nutrition advice, visit our Health Tips page.

To schedule a one-on-one nutrition consultation or learn more about Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Elana Paddock, RDN, LD, CDCES, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition.