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Whip up a weeknight meal quicker than you can pick one up.

Well, folks, I did what I often do on weeknights around 5 p.m.: I called my husband at work and asked what he had for lunch. Is this some type of obsession I have for him (or food)? Not exactly. It's my way of deciding at the last minute what to make for dinner. You see, if he had tacos for lunch, I rule out all things Mexican. If he had a sandwich, anything deli-like is off the list.

Yes, I often decide what to cook for a weeknight dinner mere minutes before the troops converge on my kitchen. I know it's tempting to do the takeout thing on weeknights, but bear with me. I think you'll find that some of my "faster- than- takeout" dinner ideas (below) are just what the "Recipe Doctor" ordered.

It may seem like takeout is faster than cooking. But if you break it down minute by minute, it isn't that much more convenient than a fast homemade dinner. Just last night, I called in a takeout order to a restaurant chain. Here's how the time went from that moment on:

7:30 p.m.: Cycling class ends and I place the order on my cell phone. The restaurant tells me the order will be ready in 15-20 minutes. So I drive there; it's about 10 minutes away.
7:55: I pay for the food, after parking and then getting through the line at the restaurant.
8:10: I arrive home and start unpacking the dinners.
Total Time: 40 minutes
Total Cost for family of 4: $35 (that's with my two teen daughters getting the kids' meal, my husband and I splitting an entrée, and a $1 tip for the nice lady at the front desk).

OK, so now you're thinking, "Well, of course it took 40 minutes; she went to a full-service restaurant. That's why drive-through fast food is the ticket on a weeknight." Well, I tried the fast-food route and it did improve my time -- but not by much. Here's the breakdown of my fast-food drive-through experience:

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