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Quick meal strategies essential for busy people

“Oops! I totally forgot about dinner!” It happens. Maybe you didn’t actually forget but your hectic, nonstop day happened. Suddenly it’s 6 p.m. and the family is looking to you because they’re starving. What’s for dinner?

There are so many reasons to draw a blank at dinnertime. Someone unplugged the slow cooker, the chicken didn’t defrost, you didn’t make it to the store, or you set out the dinner ingredients and the kids ate half. I feel your pain because I’ve been there. Honestly, between work, school, homework, activities and running a household, it’s a wonder that our families get fed at all.

Before you call for pizza or head to the drive-thru — stop. You have a backup plan because you’re reading this column right now. Welcome to the SOS meal. As in calling out an SOS — Save Our Supper. Or sanity, you decide. An SOS meal is a planned set of economical ingredients that you always keep in your pantry intended to guarantee a nearly effortless, healthy, inexpensive dinner that practically make itself.

Here are two ideas for dinners that take less than 10 minutes to prepare and have your family sitting down to dinner in less than 30 minutes. It takes longer than that to go through the drive-thru at McKentucky Junior King.

The most important take away (so you don’t pay for take-out), is to have a plan before you need one. By the way, these recipes work when you just don’t feel like cooking so you can get out of the kitchen and move on with your life.

SPEEDY SKILLET VEGGIE CHILI

Harness the power of your freezer and can opener in this high-speed chili. It’s delicious as is, but you could add some cooked protein like leftover chicken, pork or hamburger.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 20 minutes

What you’ll need:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 16-ounce bag frozen onion and bell pepper blend

1 14.5-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes with green chilies

1 15.5-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 15.5-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup corn kernels, canned or frozen

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons cumin

1 cup water or broth

Salt and pepper to taste

Any accompaniment you may have such as sour cream, tortilla chips or shredded cheese.

Here’s how:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and pepper blend (don’t even bother to thaw it), add a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent and peppers are soft, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, start opening cans. When the onion and peppers are cooked, dump the tomatoes, drained beans and corn right in the skillet. Sprinkle with chili powder and cumin and stir. Add a cup of water or broth, and simmer for about five minutes. Serve with accompaniments as desired.

LINGUINI WITH GARLIC LEMON TUNA

The most time-consuming variable of this recipe is boiling the water for the pasta. Using better quality tuna improves this dish but use what you have on hand. If you happen to have a fresh lemon laying around, use it, but bottled juice is absolutely fine.

Yield: 4 servings

Time: Less than 30 minutes

What you’ll need:

8-12 ounces linguini or other pasta

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 5-ounce cans tuna, drained

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus zest if using fresh lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons capers

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

Here’s how:

Starting with hot tap water, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Assemble the ingredients, then start opening and draining the cans of tuna and beans. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tuna, beans, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper. Gently stir and heat through.

By now your pasta should be about ready. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta and immediately add to the sauce in the skillet. Add the capers and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley; toss until the spaghetti is well coated. Add the reserved pasta water as needed to thin out the sauce.

Serve warm, garnished with remaining parsley and pass the pepper mill.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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