Thursday, September 23, 2010


 This post is dedicated to make-ahead meal ideas!  Incidentally, the bulk of the recipes I'm providing here can be frozen, which makes them wonderfully versatile.  You can have on hand for later in the week...or better yet, double the batch and keep the extra one in the freezer for a brainless option down the road. 

As an (inappropriately long) aside, there are a number of other strategies in the mode of convenience that don't necessarily mean making an entire dish in advance.  They simply require planning.  A friend informed me that Rachael Ray is starting a new show about this concept.  While I generally don't really feel her vibe, I'm certain she'll put me to shame in her execution.  I'll still offer my ameateur tips, sans production company:
  • Prep ingredients ahead to make your life easier (and your kitchen less messy!) when it's cooking time. Some examples would be pre-roasting chicken breasts for quesadillas or pre-chopping your veggies so you can just open up a baggy instead of pulling out a cutting board and knife when it's time to saute chopped onions. 
  • Plan your menus to accommodate the same ingredients.  Though it can require some creativity to make each dish feel unique, this strategy supports the efforts of convenience, frugality, and minimizing shopping chaos.  Several forms of this:
    •  Reinvent something you've already prepared.  Example: use leftover pulled pork from the weekend, and turn it into pulled pork soft tacos.  The flavor profile is vastly different with the addition of some traditional, fresh Mexican toppings.  While this is a main dish example, I do this more often with less significant components. For instance, if we're having rice over the weekend, I'll make a cup more to save that step for stuffed peppers. (I'll get to that recipe!)
    • Buy one ingredient for multiple dishes. Example: big bag of baby spinach.  Saute half of it with garlic to make a quick (like 3 minutes), light side dish, and use the leftovers in an easy stromboli.  Tangent within a tangent (like Inception, huh?): I can't resist providing the instructions for this, because it's awesome, kid-friendly, and fast.  Roll out store-bought pizza dough and pile it with salami, a generous heap of whatever cheese you like and, and about 10 shakes of italian seasoning.  Close it up, bake it seam-side down on an oiled sheet pan for 20ish minutes at 375, and serve with marinara for dipping. 
  • Use the slow cooker!  Taking just 10 minutes in the morning to throw everything in can mean zero work at dinnertime; the beckoning aroma in the house is just a delightfully free benefit.  I must admit that I don't take advantage of this handy tool as often as I could.  Perhaps we can all become inspired together.   That's another post.
The point of this (already endless) note is to provide a sampling of make/freeze ahead meals, and here they are! 

Before I conclude, I must seize an anecdotal opportunity, because it totally makes me smile.  It's not about prepping in advance, but about using unexpected leftovers after the fact.  My dad is the king of this.  It is simply not in his DNA to throw away even a scrap of food.  I'll never forget the night - I was a teenager, I think - when he took the remaining bits of everything we had for dinner that week, threw it on top of some lettuce along with the last crumbs from a Dorito bag and called it "Fiesta Salad".  Dad, please know I am not judging here; you have really inspired me to reduce waste (and thus, cost) in my life.   In fact, Ryan frequently catches me employing a similar practice.  If When he teases me, I affectionately remind him that the Fiesta Salad probably helped fund my college education.


Christy said...

THANK YOU THANK YOU! This is so practical and way needed for a busy mom! :)

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