November 20, 2017

Three Tips for 10 Minute, $10 Dinners (& less)


Our Becoming Conference is here, and I am putting the final touches on many of our activities for the weekend.  Yes, some of those final touches include taking three hours of meal time material and putting it into this one hour workshop.

I know many of you can’t attend, so I’ll try and post an update throughout the weekend. I know there will be some wonderful learning tips I will glean from others.

Since you are exactly the “audience” that I am planning my workshops  for, I thought it would be insightful to hear your thoughts and questions on the “Meal Time Mountain” subject.

I would SO appreciate your help, and so would those sitting in my session. My question is two fold:

After reading the description below, what are some more specific questions or areas you’d like me to address if you were in the workshop. ( I will try and use these as future blog posts as well)


if you feel you are fairly proficient in the kitchen, what would your top three tips be in getting started to help those attending the workshop.  Everyone does the meal time thing so differently, I would love to share varying perspectives, since not every method is for every family.

Conquering Meal Time Mountain with 10 Minute, $10 Dinners (& less)”

It’s 5:00pm and the dreaded, “What’s for dinner?” question beckons once again.

If there’s one day to day stress point with which every Family Manager deals, it’s getting organized in the kitchen without spending a fortune to feed the family. Let’s tackle this dilemma together as we brainstorm meal planning tips (even if you are not a planner), C.O.S.T. Cooking (Cook Once, Serve Twice), One hour power cooking sessions, and ways to save in the kitchen even if you never desire to cut coupons (gasp).

Jen will finish with ideas to make your house a haven with a “Welcome Home” mentality; entertaining on a budget is so much easier than you ever thought possible.

Thanks SO much for helping me with this. I think the comments will be fascinating for everyone to read.

Now onto some Tasty Tuesday inspiration: I can’t wait to see what you’ve been doing in the kitchen.


  1. Jen, I have such fond memories of the Becoming Conference last year–your tips were awesome and I’ve used a lot of them over the past year. My own biggest struggle during dinner is that come 5 o’clock, having been on the go for about 13 hours already, I am EXHAUSTED but my 3 and 6 year old are crabby and hungry and raring to go. If I were going this year, I would love to hear you tackle a few ideas for keeping your small kids occupied during dinner preparation. No matter what, I know you’ll do great! Have fun! 🙂 xoxo


    Angi @ schneiderpeeps Reply:

    @Ruth @ Living Well Spending Less, When my children were little I would let them have an appetizer of fruit or veggies while I was cooking dinner. Then at the table it was fine if they just wanted the main meal and not the veggies.


    Jen Reply:

    Ruth – we will miss you. You hold a special place in my heart for hanging out with us last year. 🙂


  2. I feel like I am pretty good with power cooking main dishes, but I still struggle with healthy veggie dishes for those last minute meals. I try to avoid cream based vegetables, and I’d love to have longer lived options for feeding my family fresh vegetables. Have any insight?


    Linda Reply:

    That is something that I would like also because we get in a rut of bagged salad and a bag of frozen veggies. We tend to eat the same things over.


  3. My “secret” is a very simple meal plan for the week nights that reflects our out of the house commitments that day. So Monday nights we have either venision sausage or canned venision along with potatoes and either cabbage or kale. To add a little variety sometimes I mash the pototatoes and sometimes I cube and roast them. Last night I put it all together in a soup and served it with crakers.

    Here’s the crazy thing, my family doesn’t even really care that Monday nights dinner is pretty much always the same. They just want to be fed. I think sometimes we get all this mom guilt that all our dinners aren’t restuarant size or perfect when really our family just wants to be fed. Turn the lights down and light some candle because even lentils and rice look pretty sophisticated in candle light.


  4. I have an 8-month old little guy, and dinner has become a beast since he started crawling and eating everything he can find on the floor! It’s hard to cook when you have to step away from the stove every 30 seconds and swab out a little mouth 🙂 So playpen time is reserved for dinner prep–that way he doesn’t get bored of the playpen and I can cook in [relative] peace. 🙂

    The other biggest secret I’ve found to stress-free mealtime is to have the dishwasher unloaded BEFORE I start to prepare dinner. I always do fine with the cooking, but the cleaning up afterwards is what gets me. If I don’t clean up, then cooking the next day becomes hard, and the cleaning up after that is twice as hard. So I start my dinner prep by unloading the dishwasher (and usually washing any pots and pans that got dirty during the day). Even if it means we eat a little later, it still saves my sanity after dinner.

    The key is to figure out which part of the process is hardest for you: if it’s cooking the meat, then keep cooked meats in the freezer. If it’s side dishes, find some freezer-cooking side dishes to make ahead of time. If it’s cleaning up, then try to do most of your dishes during your peak-energy time in the day. And of course, if something every stops working, don’t be afraid to change it up.

    Looking forward to reading more tips, too!


  5. My biggest tip would be to cook ahead–maybe that means 10am for a stay at home mom or Sunday evening for a work out of the house mom. Any time you can prep food ahead means that when you approach the witching hour/dinnertime you’re just reheating and it’s easier. If you’re up for it, you can make large batches of soup, casserole, pancakes, etc. once a week and eat from that. You can also learn to double a recipe as you cook it and freeze the second one. But if weeknights are already hectic, that’s not the time to do it. I use Monday afternoon but I used to do it over the weekend. Just a few hours saves so much stress later.


  6. What I need are more vegetable-rich, fast ideas for my husband and myself. We are no longer feeding the hungry hordes with hollow stomachs, but need to eat quick, good meals in order to tend to grandchildren and elderly relatives. Low carb is important at our stage, and more veggies! Any ideas?


  7. My top three tips would be:

    1) Keep a well-stocked pantry and maintain it. Consider your garden food among your supplies, if you have one.
    2) Have a weekly (at least) menu plan, using items from your pantry, with a back up plan for use, if necessary, and follow your plan as much as possible.
    3) Do as much cooking as you can ahead of time, say in the mornings or night before, use left-overs, or have some ‘quick and easy’ options on hand such as packaged mixes, freezer meals, etc. Don’t forget to use your crockpot.

    If all else fails, bring home a pizza or go out to eat! ;o)

    Other ideas I have found to be helpful:
    Be flexible. If something doesn’t work, change it to something that does. Enlist your famly members to help with meals, or even take turns being responsible for meals. When we were both students, my husband and I took turns with each taking a week for cooking. It was a fun adventure! I have friends who plan the same category of meals weekly. For instance, soup on Monday, casseroles on Tuesday, beans/lentils on Wednesday, crockpot meat on Thursday, pizza on Friday. That’s too limiting for me, but if it works for your family, go for it! :o)

    Jen, thanks for all the wonderful tips and recipes I have learned from you! You will be wonderful at the conference!! Wish I could attend. :o)


  8. Prep is key for me. On Sunday I dice a few onions , celery and carrots and cook-but not overcook- macaroni, rice or potatoes for the fridge. Then take 2-3 meals worth of meat out of the freezer and put into the fridge. Veggies get washed, cut and bagged. If I have time I throw a few chicken breasts in the oven and bone them for the fridge also.
    When I am done work and need to get a meal on the table fast, I have some options. I am amazed at the variety of meals I can make by having these few items already prepared. I have a small broiler pan (from Target) and can cook seasoned meat or fish in no time.


  9. I really like to prepare a few meals at a time and put them in the fridge. My meals have to be filling for my 3 boys and husband. Thanks for all you do. I have followed you for the past 9 months and using your thrifty ways have changed my life, for real. God bless you Jen.


  10. 1) Shop your pantry, fridge, freezer…then check coupons, specials for the week
    2) Always jot down a menu plan for the week
    3)Always have pinto beans on hand, it will stretch any meal
    @Angie-yes, my kids used to think ANY meal by candlelight was pretty special : )


  11. If you can double it, do, and freeze 1/2. That’s about it, along with there’s no sense in only making one lasagna, and always serve a salad….

    If I was going, I would love for you to take something you regularly prepare ahead and freeze (say, shredded chicken, browned ground beef or pre-cooked beans or brown rice) and show a few different things you might make out of one of them, using common pantry items (i.e. pasta, tortillas, onions, potatoes, garlic, carrots, canned tomatoes etc….).

    Also, maybe dishes that would make great make-ahead dishes that would be great for either dinner or breakfast or both. Or what to feed a crowd you didn’t plan to feed (maybe using those prepared-ahead items above) — I love those posts on your blog, and they are so pertinent to those of us who are social or have social teenagers.


  12. {For the record, I am married stay-at-home momma with a darling 7-month-old baby boy. :o}

    I haven’t read thro’ all the comments, so please forgive any repeats, but I think 3 of my top tips for getting started {and staying motivated to get started} in the kitchen is :

    1.} View cooking for your family as a blessing, joy, and creative outlet. A blessing b/c :: you have a family, you have food, you have a home & appliances. A joy b/c :: there is no more basic way to show love & care for your dear ones than to provide tasty, nutritious food for their mouths & tummies. And a creative outlet b/c :: no matter how UNartistic you may be, you CAN learn to cook simple, delicious food on ANY budget.

    2.} Clean up as you go along. Empty the dishwasher before you start. Put ingredients away as soon as you’re done with them. Clean up spills immediately. I think often we’re more overwhelmed with the impending doom of the aftermath than the cooking itself. If we train ourselves to minimize that, we just might find ourselves looking forward to the actual process a whole lot more!

    3.} Use the internet, Pinterest, blogs, etc. wisely. While they can be a big help, ultimately it’s your family & circumstances. For example, honoring your husband’s preferences is more important than following a particular blogger’s recommendations. Oh, and if you’re spending time reading recipes on Pinterest instead of planning what you’re going to serve your own family for dinner…well, PURPOSE DEFEATED!! :o)


  13. Hope this is not too late, I’m behind on my blog reading! Have a supply of Quick Fix ideas for dinner is so important to me. Here are a few of my “must haves”:

    1. I buy ground beef in bulk, brown it in a large pot, separate it into quart size freezer bags (approx 1 lb / bag), then freeze it. It is pre-cooked and quick to thaw. Use it for sloppy joes, tacos, shepherds pie, spaghetti, Hamburger Helper…..

    2. I get boneless chicken in bulk as well. (I prefer thighs.) I boil the entire bag in a large pot. I chop the cooked chicken and store it in the freezer in quart size freezer bags. Use it for quesadillas, fajitas, soup, casseroles….

    3. Spring for convenience items like refrigerator mashed potatoes, pre-cut veggies, paper plates. Convenience items may cost more, but it’s cheaper than a trip through the drive through.




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