Making dinners during the week is a challenge – whether you’re juggling a full-time job, kids doing homework, or an attention-seeking toddler. (Or maybe all of those!!)
It’s so tempting to eat fast food or buy prepackaged meals, but my budget and health preferences say no to those shortcuts.
Here’s how I figured out how to serve my family healthy dinners in 30 minutes or less most nights of the week.
The Challenges of a Healthy Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less
Getting a healthy dinner on the table every night can feel arduous and sometimes I wish I didn’t have that job.
That’s because getting dinner on the table quickly isn’t just about those 30 minutes before dinner.
It’s the grocery shopping, the meal planning, and the timing of it all so all parts of the meal are served hot at the same time! There’s so much that goes into serving healthy dinners that you don’t consider until you are the one doing it.
I realized that the real challenge with trying to serve my family a healthy dinner every night isn’t about the cooking.
The challenge of making weeknight dinners is sometimes I feel like I’m juggling so much that I don’t have the brain space to plan healthy 30-minute meals.
It’s the mental work!
Whether or not you work outside the home like me, most cooks of the house have a lot of responsibilities on their plates. The brainpower required to plan and execute healthy food feels exhausting.
Yes, I have Pinterest boards and handwritten plans, but then I’d inevitably forget something when I was at the grocery store and can’t find an easy substitution.
RELATED: Not sure what your style is? Figure out your meal planning style here.
I tried a meal planning app in the past that was aimed at real food, but I found it frustrating because I’d have to buy an entire bag of celery and only used 2 stalks and the rest went bad.
It just didn’t meet my values. Wasting food (and money) just wasn’t something I was keen on.
Then, I discovered 30 Minute Dinners by Tiffany of Don’t Waste the Crumbs.
My Review of 30 Minute Dinners
I was thrilled when I found 30 Minute Dinners because it had everything I was looking for in a meal planning service.
30 Minute Dinners has real food options that are healthy for the five days of the week. It comes with a color-coded shopping list that makes it easy to pick and choose if there’s anything I want to skip.
All the meals can be made in 30 minutes or less but it does tell me what items can be prepped in advance (but it’s not required!).
It also points out if an item can simmer all day in my slow cooker or Instant Pot instead.
Each month has a vegan or vegetarian option and there’s enough in the archives to pick from if you go meatless for lent or other reasons.
With the other meal plans, three of the meals always have a meat-based protein and the other two have optional meat proteins.
Some meal plans are based on one meat so it’s easy if you want to use a whole chicken that week and others are mixed with 2-3 meat options.
There’s always a suggested side dish as well to decide if you want to include it or not depending on if you want leftovers, have company coming, or just have hungry teens.
Since new plans come out every month there’s always something new to try. The main reason I left the last meal planning app I used was because it got too redundant, but 30 Minute Dinners is always adding new recipes.
I also like that I can change things up on the weekend. Since I don’t have the same time pressures, I can experiment on those days. But if you wanted to, you can use keep using the plans in a row and not take breaks on the weekend.
A New Twist on Batch Cooking
Have you tried batch cooking? It’s one of my favorite kitchen hacks to save time while cooking real food, but my take may be slightly different than the ones you’ve seen before.
Instead of making large batches of food and saving them for later, I batch together kitchen tasks and link one night’s dinner to the next. Think of it as getting a head start on your next meal. The net result is time savings AND fresh dinners every night.
The current trend in meal prep seems to be focused on taking several hours on a weekend day to chop and prep veggies, cook meats, and then assemble the leftovers into a multitude of containers.
This is great if it works for you, but my family gets sick of eating leftovers all the time and I get tired of keeping track of all the containers in the fridge! Plus, spending 3-4 hours in the kitchen on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon is usually the last thing I want to do.
My Real Food Head Start 7 Day Dinner Plan provides a framework for incorporating my technique each day to save time on future meals and even start stocking your freezer if you want, while still making and serving a fresh dinner. The best part is, you use the time you are already in the kitchen – no extra prep day needed!
30 Minute Dinners: My Favorite Features
Here are the main reasons why I love this program:
Healthy Food Options
It doesn’t require processed food.
My frustration with some of the other 30-minute dinner ideas I came across was that they were really pasta heavy or based on processed foods. Not this one!
There are vegetables at every meal so I feel good about what I’m feeding my family.
I’m not proud of it, but I used to weigh 200 pounds! I’m back down to a healthy weight since I learned how to stop a food craving.
Eating healthy is really important to me as I work to maintain that weight loss that I’ve kept off for over five years now.
30 Minutes Dinners is a great mix of simple but varied tastes with different spices and inspirations. It’s helped me maintain that weight loss.
The meal plans come with a substitution guide for gluten-free and dairy-free ideas. It’s also easy to make swaps if you have other common allergies like eggs or corn.
I feel best when I eat grain-free and 30 Minute Dinners has enabled us to do that with easy substitutions.
The meal plans are intentional so that food doesn’t go to waste. If you buy a bag of carrots, it tells you how to use the entire package.
In the same way, it tells you what dishes to add stray vegetables to so that if you have some leftovers in the fridge, you remember to use them.
I love how it takes the mental work off of me!
With other meal planners, I felt frustrated when I went to the local farmer’s market and found my favorite weird vegetables like rutabaga, and couldn’t find a way to use them.
I appreciate that each month 30 Minute Dinners releases new meal plans that have seasonal options. Some of the more rare vegetables are included as suggested side dishes or listed as optional add-ons so you can customize the plan to utilize what’s available in your area.
I always feel hesitant to spend money on something I might be able to take the time to plan myself but I’ve saved money by not wasting so many foods that have gone to the trash in the past.
Homemade Options to Save Money
Even though I like saving time, sometimes my budget trumps my time. So I make the homemade recipe options earlier in the week or on the weekend if it helps me save money.
30 Minute Dinners notes what items can be homemade so that I can prepare them how I want to.
From canned beans to tomato sauce to dressings – the meal plans let me pick whether my budget or time is king that week.
For items that are homemade, the ingredients and recipes are provided which makes it super easy to implement.
My biggest takeaway from 30 Minute Dinners is that it has taught me how to be a more efficient cook.
I’m kind of an efficiency freak (hence, why Katie and I get along so well!). See How to Be More Efficient at Work if you want more ideas there.
The meal plans not only tell me what to do but they give tips on why things are done a certain way so I can repeat it on my own.
We frequently cook once and eat twice or use batch cooking methods to save time.
There are also tips on how to reuse items so that I have fewer dishes to do. For example, if you toss some cubed potatoes in a large bowl of olive oil and salt, I can serve my side salad in that same bowl.
Tiffany’s meal plans are littered with tips.
There are always those tips that I know I should do but I forget to implement in the moment like putting cherry tomatoes between two plates to cut them at the same time instead of individually.
How 30 Minute Dinners Works
There are two levels in 30 Minute Dinners.
The basic meal plan releases 4 meal plans each month that take seasonal produce into account, but you can choose any plan from the archives depending on what sounds good.
You can pick to have just the meal plans or you can take things up a level by becoming a NINJA. You can earn all your belts and get these extra perks as a NINJA every month:
- live cooking demos
- monthly resources
- instructional videos
- curated recipe videos
- 30 Minute Dinner Facebook Group
I love watching the instructional NINJA videos with Tiffany. Her methods are super practical.
I also especially enjoy the curated recipe videos where you’re shown how to do stuff like chop produce efficiently.
But the best part of being a NINJA is probably the Facebook group where I get to learn from others.
Sometimes a concept just clicks when you hear it in a different way, you know?
Download This Sample 30 Minute Dinner Meal Plan
I like to try before I buy. You can try this free sample meal plan from 30-minute dinners to see how it feels. Then, you can try 30 Minute Dinners for 30 days and if it doesn’t meet your expectations, you get your money back.
You’ve got nothing to lose and mental space to gain!
Dinner Recipes with 30 Minutes or Less of Prep Time
- Dairy-free baked ziti
- Cauliflower mac and cheese
- Grain-free taco bowls
- Meatless quinoa chili
- Sweet and savory chicken with cabbage
She writes about navigating chronic pain and chronic illness with hacks and hope at www.pastorsj.com.