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Faster-Than-Takeout Dinners

Whip up a weeknight meal quicker than you can pick one up.
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6:10 p.m.: I pick my daughter up from the dance studio. I haven't had the chance to go to the supermarket, and last I checked, there was next to nothing in the fridge. So I'm thinking fast food is the way to go. We drive 10 minutes to a part of town we fondly refer to as "fast-food row."
6:28: Other families must have the same idea, because it takes us eight minutes to get to the intercom and order our dinner.
6:32: We pay for our food and head home.
6:42: We're home and unpacking dinner.
Total Time: 32 minutes
Total Cost for family of 4: $20 (includes 4 chicken sandwiches, 4 side salads from the dollar menu, and no drinks).

So now you're thinking "32 minutes? What can I cook in 32 minutes?" Read on.

Faster-Than-Takeout Option 1: The Potato Bar

I discovered this awesome weeknight dinner option one day when I decided to use that 5-pound bag of potatoes sitting in the corner of my kitchen, and I've never looked back. We do this about every other week. Fitting for a family with an Irish name, don't you think? Here's my timeline for a potato bar dinner (see more specifics in the recipe below):

Starting Time: 6:05 p.m.: I threw four potatoes into my microwave/convection oven and set it to sensor cook for "hard vegetables." Then I preheated the oven to 400 degrees (I'll explain why later). I ran to the grocery store while they were cooking and bought a few items I was missing (shredded, reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese; fat-free sour cream; and green onions). When I got back, the potatoes were tender and the oven was preheated. I rubbed a wee bit of canola oil on the outside of each potato, set them on a baking sheet, and let the outside crisp up a bit in the oven for 15 minutes.

I opened the bag of cheese, put a spoon into the nonfat sour cream container, chopped the green onions, and set out the pepper grinder and whipped butter and less-fat margarine (either has less fat per tablespoon than stick butter or margarine). I even had time to steam a little broccoli and sauté some pre-sliced mushrooms, in case anyone wanted to get a little fancy with their potato.

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