Surprisingly Effective Time Savers: The Optimal Default Meal

timesaversoptimaldefaultmeal Surprisingly Effective Time Savers: The Optimal Default Meal

Ever caught yourself spending more than 10 minutes doing nothing in particular, just wondering what you should have for lunch or dinner? Well the default meal is a way to solve this problem yourself, so you end up rarely wasting time on the same issue again.

The idea behind the default meal came from realizing that I defaulted back to the same 2 or 3 meals after long consideration several times every month. Of course the next step was to find the optimal 2-3 meals, so there was always a perfect and obvious option to choose from.

An Optimal Default Meal Should Be:

  • Quick and easy to make(includes easily accessible ingredients).
  • Cheap
  • Tasty
  • Flexible (As in seasoning or even main ingredients can be changed for different and equally delicious flavors.)
  • (Optional?) Be Healthy

How It Saves More Time Than You Think:

Unless you’re arranging a dinner party, or you’re preparing a treat for yourself or trying a new dish in preparation, you should never specifically think about what to have for dinner for more than 5 minutes. Or enter a grocery store without knowing perfectly well what you’re going to get. This way you can easily save 20-30 minutes of indecision about dinner per week, and if you’re anything like me, up to 1-2 hour of aimless grocery store wobbling.

Then there’s the time you save in the making of the food. Now this depends on a few factors. If you usually order takeout to your place, and you use the time while waiting for takeout effectively and not just sitting around rendering the time saved redundant, then there is little doubt that you spend some more time. But if you usually cook your own meals anyway, then having a small selection of dishes that you can whip up in a few minutes is usually a pretty significant time-saver. When I try to make new dishes I have never done before I will use anywhere between 10-30 minutes extra on dinner, and 3-7 minutes extra on lunch. Both from the insecurity and recipe checking, as well as them often not being as quick as the easier alternative.

Next there’s the money aspect. You save however much money would have been spent on takeout food vs how much you spent on the meal you made. Saving money you used your time to make could be interpreted as saving time in the long run.

Then there’s the fitness aspect. If you eat healthy compared to an unideal alternative, you could be saving some workout time, if you’re trying to lose weight or getting more out of your workout if you’re trying to bulk up.

I talk a lot about trying new things, and I believe that should also be the case for food. But when the choice is between ordering takeout and making something quick and easy, it’s a lot better to have a default option that is walk in the park to make.

Some Extra Time Saving Cooking Tricks:

  • Flatten chicken breasts/other meat or divide in half lengthwise. Will cook through in half the time or less. Flattening can be done while in the pack and doesn’t make any dishes to clean.)
  • Use noodles or couscous instead of pasta/rice/potatoes. (Could use quick rice, or preboiled potatoes but I’m not a big fan myself.)
  • Always start with what takes longest to cook, then you have time to prepare the other ingredients while it’s already cooking. So always cut the meat first if you’re cutting meat for cooking and also fresh vegetables for salad. ( If you only have one knife and cutting board you would have to wash them, but it would still be quicker. Remember to stir as to not burn.)
  • Improve your knife skills.

My Current Default Dinners:

Stir fried chicken breast or pork, sometimes beef with a simple salad. The trick to making this an actually delicious dish is the garnish for the salad, and the seasoning for the meat. I vary between simple flavors like: soy sauce and heavy heavy garlic, soy sauce garlic and ginger, chili, cumin and garlic, honey and soy sauce for the meat. For the salad, lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, with salt and pepper and olive oil to taste. You can also drop the lemon juice and add some fruit to the salad. Like apples, or tangerines. Use different seasonal vegetables and lettuces for the salad. You can also add things like couscous, croutons, feta cheese or turn it into a pasta salad for variety.

Wholewheat(optional) simple pasta bolognese. With minced meat and canned tomatoes there is minimal chopping/cutting. If you have a hand mixer with a mini food processor attachment, you can blaze some onion and garlic, and carrots if you have, to add some extra flavor. Or you can grate, chop the vegetables and add to taste.

Super simple stir fry, with wholewheat noodles. Sometimes I cheat and use a frozen wok mix, of course defrosted first for shorter cook time, but it just isn’t the same. If you use broccoli or cauliflower, make sure to split them into really small pieces, otherwise they get done really unevenly. Suggested vegetables: bean sprouts, bamboo shoot, water chestnuts, broccoli, onion and cucumber. Make some easy wok sauce with oyster sauce, soy sauce and honey. Or a spicy tomato sauce by adding either tomato paste, water and chiliflakes, or some canned crushed tomatoes and chiliflakes/chili spice. For the latter option could add some corn starch mixed in a tablespoon of water for thickness.

My Current Default Lunches

Plain yogurt with seasonal fruits, and ryvita with cheese or ham. Pretty straight forward.
Oatmeal with banana/apple I like to add the fruits fresh after the oatmeal is done, but some like to add it along with the oatmeal.
Super simple stir fried meat + salad(smaller serving) same stuff.

When you get really sick of your choices, you could always switch to a couple of others. If you need some ideas check out: Recipe Roulette

If anyone wants pictures and more comprehensive recipes, ask and I will oblige.

Do you know of any other seemingly small but surprisingly effective time savers?

Picture by Andrew Dyson


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8 Responses

  1. Sheree December 17, 2013 / 9:40 am

    Really great ideas as this is one thing that truly gets me down daily. Cooking for myself is a drag and because of work, gym, fiance and daily tasks I tend to leave little time for cooking. This usually ends up with me grabbing unhealthy takeaways or worse – going without meals completely! Do you maybe have some suggestions of inexpensive, healthy meals that can be prepared in bulk and frozen for easy microwaving? This would surely save a lot a valuable time during the week and lead to healthier food being consumed that gives more energy for being super-effective! Thanks!

    • ragnar December 17, 2013 / 7:20 pm

      I’m going to make something healthy I think would do alright after freezing and see how things work out. I’m not exactly sure what the cheapest ingredients are where you live so you’ll have to enlighten me if I get something wrong!

      • Sheree December 19, 2013 / 5:40 am

        Haha, no problem. I live in South Africa, so that means nothing is particularly cheap! :)

  2. Razwana December 17, 2013 / 6:40 pm

    Ragnar – optimising efficiency – love it!

    I use a similar concept for meals during the week – for 5 days, I pretty much eat the same thing. It takes the thinking out of cooking and means I can get more creative on the weekends.

    - Razwana
    Razwana recently posted…Perspective. Bucks fizz. And the art of ‘you have arrived’My Profile

    • ragnar December 17, 2013 / 7:19 pm

      Interesting idea. I’m going to have to try that! The weekend meals probably become extra delightful that way. Would also remove the need to go shopping for ingredients more than once a week because you know exactly what you need.

  3. Kevin Cole December 18, 2013 / 10:45 pm

    This is a HUGE time saver for sure!

    I have all my meals planned out ahead of time and even prepare some of them before the week begins. Looking through your fridge for 30 minutes kills precious time.

    Being prepared in advance is a simple, but awesome life hack. No question about it.
    Kevin Cole recently posted…I Love YouMy Profile

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