Picture of a 30 minute dinner

How to become a 30 minute dinner chef

I’m sure any mom can relate to those moments when your kid says, so sweetly, “Can you come play with me?” My heart sinks as I answer, go play by yourself – I have to finish these dishes.” Or make dinner or ________ (insert house or work project). How do you win? There must be a way to “do it all”… some way to keep the home running and also have time to soak up our sweet children, and maybe a little time for ourselves somewhere in there. 

I’ve heard about dinners that take half an hour to make. Are those a real thing? Can someone learn to be a 30 minute dinner chef? Recipes often claim that’s all it takes to whip up a tasty meal. I don’t know about you, but dinners take me about an hour to cook, whether it’s from a recipe or something I make up on my own. But surely it must be possible! I did a little internet sleuthing to bring you tried and true tips from experts who really do know how to make a meal in 30 minutes. 

Tips from real 30 minute dinner chefs

The kitchn.com has a fabulous article that dishes up all the places we unwittingly go astray when we cook. Think:

  • Are the things you almost always use gathered in the same place, like your spices, olive oil, onions, garlic, and most-used cooking tools? 
  • Read a recipe thoroughly before starting. That way, you’re not surprised by directions part way through that required chilling or thawing or something else you should have done yesterday. 
  • Clean as you go. This gives you space to work as your cooking progresses, and makes for less clean up later. This is especially helpful in tiny kitchens where messes can make you start to lose your cooking ingredients or tools, which obviously eats up time when you spend a minute looking for the measuring spoon that you just put down. 

Eat This, Not That! offers 30 tips to cut down on time in the kitchen. Some of my favorites include:

  • Sharpen your knives (it makes chopping faster)
  • Get yourself some kitchen shears (think – fancy, sharp scissors that replace a knife – you’re faster and your fingers are safe). 
  • Cook with a small pot. It takes less time to heat and also distributes heat more evenly as your food is heating. 

Finally, remember the old wisdom to measure twice, cut once. It’s the same in the kitchen – if you move deliberately – read the recipe twice, don’t rush – you will be way less likely to make mistakes. And not having to fix a mistake? That’s solid gold.  

Keep showing up

Getting systems in place so that cooking or cleaning takes less time doesn’t happen overnight. But if you keep showing up in this area, looking at where you’re at and choosing small changes to make, you’ll find yourself in a new space before you know it. If you become a 30 minute dinner chef, maybe you really can sneak in a half hour of laughter and play with your children before dinner! 

Ice cream with sprinkles. Who says adults don't know how to play or have fun?!

Big smiles served here: how to amp up your play

Today my daughter (she’s 2 now) spent some time playing with stickers. One sticker was a pair of eyeglasses. She carefully sticks it on her eyelid and smiles at me. I smile back, especially with my eyes but I make no declarations about the situation. After a few moments she laughs out loud and says “I silly!” I join her laughter. There are a thousand reasons I love being a mom, but the steady stream of laughter and play ranks high on the list. 

Play is something I’ve been pondering…adults are just kids in aging bodies. We love play, but it can sometimes feel elusive. How do we tap back into that fun side of ourselves? Read on for some ideas on how to amp up your play at home and work.

What is play?

In a sweet article with 37 reader-driven ideas for play, Sandra Pawua describes play as, “a purposeless activity that brings about joy and pleasure […]  You’re simply immersed in the moment-to-moment experience of play with a child-like abandon.” Isn’t that such a nice summary? Play is this thing that brings lightness to our hearts, but it can be forgotten in the mental train track of the day (unless of course we’re in the thick of playing with our kids). One of the play suggestions in the post is to build a snowman, which brings back a fond memory. 

One night, while living in the coastal city of Olympia, Washington, it snowed buckets. At around midnight, my husband and I decided to do something about our rain-free fortune and built the parts for a massive snowman. With hushed giggles, we assembled it outside our neighbor’s front door, eager to share in some smiles the next day upon its discovery.

Sometimes all you need to spark play is curiosity. Ask yourself: What is the most fun thing I could do right now? 

How to strengthen your Play Muscles

Funnily, the things I found entertaining as a kid are often still the case today. It’s fun to skip rocks at the beach, to draw, to play games that require looking or acting silly. But ya know, it’s sort of like a muscle – if you don’t use it, the skill becomes a little rusty. How do you amp up your play if it’s been a while?

In her post on 10 Ways to Have More Fun and Play More as Adults, Marelisa Fabrega offers a number of ways to strengthen our play muscles. These range from planning minimum play time (similar to minimum daily exercise time) and scheduling specific time blocks for fun activities. She also recommends going on a play date with your partner instead of your standard date night activity. Sign me up! 

Play at Work


Play at work…now here’s a realm where the idea of play can feel a little far fetched. But some people have figured it out! 99designs has a nice article that covers the spectrum of what play is, describes play’s ability to maximize team creativity, and offers some ideas to get us going. Ever tried writing your to-do list as a limerick? Have you invented a fun tradition that you do before starting a difficult task?  Check out the 99designs link for more inspiration.

Amp up your play!

I hope this week brings you laughter, and play, and moments of delight. And wherever this finds you, be it nursing a sick family or eagerly anticipating the next phase of life, give yourself a big dose of appreciation and gratitude for all that you are and all that you’ve become. It’s breathtaking.

Aw, why not sweeten the deal. Go on and treat yo’self to some sprinkles on that next scoop of ice cream. Just for fun.

****Know anyone who would love more play in their life? Share this post with them! Extra points for anyone who leaves a comment telling about something playful they did recently.