“Lean cuts of beef make a flavorful, healthy and quick dinner. See more easy weeknight meals pictures.©iStockphoto.com/rez-art
Unless you have a personal chef, putting a nutritious dinner on the table every night can be a real challenge. Most of us don’t have the time to spend a couple of hours on prep and cooking — or even one hour, for that matter. It can sometimes seem like take-out and tuna cans are the only options.
Not so. You can make a well-rounded meal without committing to an afternoon in the kitchen. One of the biggest determinants of how long you’ll spend cooking is your protein source, and happily, the ever-popular beef option is fully conducive to getting a healthy meal on the table in no time.
Here, five tips that will have you serving up a beef dinner in less than 30 minutes — no drive-thru, no delivery charge and no can opener. We’ll begin with an approach that works absolute wonders when you’re able to plan ahead …
- Stew It
- Toss It (in a Wok)
- Open a Package
- Stack It (in a Sandwich)
5: Stew It
Sometimes, the best way to save time in the evening is to make some time in the morning. If you have an hour before work, before the kids get up or while school is in session, throwing together an easy beef stew that will cook while you get other jobs done can be a perfect way to get dinner on the table quickly come 6 o’clock.
Precut stew beef and canned or bagged vegetables are going to be the fastest way for you to get the stew going. Toss it all in a slow-cooker and walk away. Come dinner time, the extent of your dinner prep is pulling a ladle out of a drawer.
Grab a bag of premade salad and store-bought fresh bread or corn bread, and you’ve got a well-rounded dinner in no time.
Try it tonight:
- Favorite Beef Stew
- Slow Cooker Beef Stew
- Beef Stew
Next, little time, lots of flavor …
While some people love a rare or medium steak, the safer option is well-done. Caution dictates a minimum temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit for beef.
Looking for flavorful beef without a lot of work? It’s easy: Grab a plastic bag or shallow baking dish, insert beef, pour in marinade and refrigerate.
It’s best to plan ahead for this one, too, and take 5 minutes to start the process the night before or the morning of. Then, when dinner time is 30 minutes off, your steak or burgers are already fully seasoned and ready for the grill, the pan, the pot, the oven or the wok.
Even if you forget to bag the beef early, you can marinate for 20 or 30 minutes and still get great taste.
And there’s another reason to marinate: It can hinder the formation of cancer-causing compounds that can result from grilling, broiling or frying beef.
Try it tonight:
- Mini Marinated Beef Skewers
- Red Wine Marinated Beef
- Flank Steak Grill
Next: No time to plan ahead?
Meat and Cancer
It has been discovered that many methods of cooking meat result in the formation of cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA). It has also been discovered that marinating meat before cooking can greatly reduce the number of these molecules.
3: Toss It (in a Wok)
The combination of high heat and small pieces (more surface area) that characterize stir-fry makes for a super-fast beef dinner, and the emergence of bagged, prewashed veggies makes it easier than ever.
In just 10 to 12 minutes, you can fully cook bite-size pieces of steak or beef tips and a big ole bag of ultra-nutritious broccoli in a wok (you can also use a large skillet, if you prefer). Premade stir-fry sauces and boil-in-a-bag (or premade!) rice makes the meal even faster and easier — you can get a complete beef-and-veggie stir-fry meal on the table in less than 20 minutes.
Supermarkets and butchers typically sell precut stir-fry beef, or else you can cut your own from almost any round cut. The latter takes a bit longer, of course, but often costs less.
Want to make the sauce yourself? Try:
- Spicy Beef Stir Fry
- Beef and Asparagus Stir-Fry
- Orange Beef
Next, a range of beef-dinner solutions in easy-open packages …
Is beef on sale this week? Bulk purchasing during a price cut can end up saving a lot of money in the long-run. Buy a ton and freeze it. When properly stored, in the original packaging and the coldest part of the freezer, beef can keep for up to six months.
2: Open a Package
For some time now, food manufacturers have heeded the call of the time-short cook. In your local grocery store, you’ll find dozens of packages designed to help you turn affordable, quick-cooking ground beef into a flavorful, fast meal.
You can brown a pound of ground beef in as little as 5 or 6 minutes. Combine that beef, right in the pan, with a genius, low-maintenance kit of seasoning to make tacos, sloppy Joes, beef with pasta, beef with rice, beef Stroganoff or beef chili, just to name a few. These flavors are often extremely kid-friendly, too, which can help a lot. In 20 minutes, you’ve got dinner ready — and a pretty healthy one, too, if you choose lean ground beef and whole-wheat accessories and steam of some quick veggies as a side.
Got some extra time tonight? For slightly high-effort versions of these prepackaged classics, try:
- Chipotle Taco Filling
- Beef Stroganoff
- Chunky Beef and Pepper Casserole With Noodles
Finally, the ultimate, no-cook solution …
As with any raw meat, when handling beef be sure the juices don’t come into contact with any other foods, and wash your hands and prep area thoroughly when you’re done.
1: Stack It (in a Sandwich)
We usually think of beef as something you cook for dinner, but it just takes a look inside the deli case to see there are a whole lot of options in the precooked realm. And it doesn’t get much quicker than simply opening a package. Cold slices of roast beef or corned beef, cheese, lettuce, mayo and whole wheat bread make for a fast, satisfying, and easy-to-assemble meal when you combine it with a bagged green salad and some reduced-fat potato chips.
For a hot version of the quick-and-easy beef sandwich (like a Reuben), take an extra 5 minutes and cook it up in a pan or a clamshell-style counter-top grill, which makes excellent Panini. You’ll spend a little longer on clean-up, but sometimes there’s no substitute for a hot meal.
Try it tonight:
- Stanley Sandwiches
- Roast Beef and Feta Pitas with Cucumber Sauce
- Way-Long Sandwich
Whatever you make, remember: "Fast and easy" doesn’t preclude "healthy." Choose lean cuts, whole-grain carbohydrates and lots of veggies for a perfectly nutritious beef dinner, all in less time than it takes to get to the drive-thru and back.
For more information on quick, easy weeknight cooking, check out the links on the next page.
Seriously, It’s Healthy
Beef is an excellent source of protein, B vitamins and iron. Lean cuts can be a tasty component of a healthy diet.
Lots More Information
- 5 Simple French Dinners
- 5 Ways to Use Avocados
- 5 Cheap Pasta Meals for Families
More Great Links
- Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner: Food Safety
- Harris Teeter: Beef Nutritional Chart
- WebMD: Marinate Meat for Healthy Grilling?
- Beef, lean, organic. WH Foods. (Oct. 24, 2011) http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=141
- Colihan, Kelley. "Marinate Meat for Healthy Grilling?" WebMD Health News. Aug. 1, 2008. (Oct. 24, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20080801/marinate-meat-for-healthy-grilling
- Know Your Cuts and How to Cook Them. Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner. (Oct. 24, 2011) http://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/typesofcuts.aspx