The Myth of the 30-Minute Meal

While the 30-minute meal is synonymous with Rachael Ray, the idea of quick dinner, made from start to finish, in 30 minutes or less, is not new. The real question isn't about where it began, but if it's actually possible.

There are probably two camps when it comes to 30-minute meal debates. Those who live by un-recipes, and those who try to genuinely make a recipe marketed as 30 minutes happen in 30 minutes. Un-recipes are basically recipes that you know by heart: scrambled eggs, bacon, salsa thrown on a tortilla for breakfast tacos (or breakfast tacos for dinner!), a can of peeled whole tomatoes crushed by hand tossed in a deep sided-skillet with garlic already sizzling and a handful of basil, and hot dogs thrown on the grill, topped with a last-minute chili.

While un-recipes honestly get us through most weeks at the last minute, say you wanted to try a guaranteed 30-minute meal. Don't count on it clocking in under 30 minutes, and that's because it's all in the details.

And, I’m cooking a 30 Minute chicken dinner: Chicken Tetrazzi! #chicken #dinner #food #recipes #cooking

A photo posted by Rachael Ray (@rachaelray) on

Often, recipes that are sold as 30-minute meals don't include the prep time which, as almost every home cook knows, takes more time than the actual cooking of the meal (unless it's a Sunday and the sauce is simmering for 12 hours). So fajitas can be an easy 30-minute meal - but when you start slicing and dicing all of the ingredients, especially if your knife skills are that of an average person and not Julia Child, chances are you're spending more time prepping the toppings, adding time to that ticker.

This is nothing against Rachael Ray and her concept, but it highlights a bigger problem when it comes to glorifying cooking. It makes it seem simpler than it is. We should all go outside of our comfort zones and try to make one meal a week, or every two weeks, that is different and a bit challenging. After all, we'll never grow as home cooks if we don't try, at least. But when you're reading down an ingredient list and you see things like six potatoes, peeled, chopped into cubes, that takes time! Time that often isn't accounted for in the idea of 30 minutes, especially if the recipe is listed as "six potatoes, chopped." Because the slicing and dicing is expected to take place beforehand, some recipe authors won't count that time in their 30-minute time block.

Maybe if more 30-minute recipes included prep time in their recipes, we would find that not all of these recipes are what they claim to be. They're still delicious, though, and when it comes to good food and feeding those you love, is 40 minutes really that different from 30? That's up to you to decide.

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