Spending an afternoon preparing a freezer full of meals that take mere moments to heat up can leave you feeling satisfied with your afternoon in the kitchen. There’s something that feels so good about being prepared, making creative meals ready to go at the drop of a hat, and having what can amount to a month’s worth of meals available at your fingertips!
Make-ahead meals can save your butt on busy days. Who are we kidding, though? Any day with kids is a busy one when this one has soccer, that one has gymnastics, you’ve got a PTA meeting, and your husband has to work late. Who has time to cook on days like that?
To help you out with those busy days, we’ve put together some of our favorite healthy make-ahead meals that will go from freezer to table with a minimal amount of work.
Instead of whipping through a drive-through on your way to work, why not take a few minutes and make 12 to freeze? Grab 12 English muffins, 12 slices of Canadian Bacon, 12 slices of cheese and a dozen eggs. Spray your muffin tin with nonstick spray, add your eggs, then pop into the oven for about 10 minutes. Assemble your sandwiches and wrap individually in Saran Wrap. Put them into a large ziplock bag and into the freezer they go! A few minutes in the microwave on a paper towel and you’ve got breakfast.
Feeling like something different, but still the same? Wraps are easy to carry and easy to eat on the go. Scramble a dozen or so eggs (depending on how many wraps you want to make — 2 eggs is the perfect amount per wrap) like you usually do. While you’re working on the eggs, cook two slices of bacon per wrap on a cookie sheet in the oven (parchment paper will save you the clean up as well) until desired crispiness. Shred some cheese, assemble and wrap. As with the breakfast sandwiches, wrap individually in Saran Wrap and then freeze in a ziplock. Warm them in the microwave for about 2 minutes. Eat with a side of salsa if you have some on hand.
If you’re trying to stay away from carbs or are gluten-free, these adorable breakfast egg muffins fit the bill! Nice and easy to make and eat, but you can also use any number of different vegetables to start the day off on the right foot!
Getting a quick dinner on the table makes the entire night go more smoothly. Hit up the dollar store and buy a wide selection of aluminum takeout containers with cardboard lids. These make labeling and freezing portions a breeze. They also stack easily.
Below is a selection of different kinds of make-ahead meals that you can reheat and have ready in 30 minutes or less. Take whatever you’d like to eat out of the freezer in the morning and let it thaw in the sink (just in case) during the day. When you get home, toss your meal into the oven at 350 until it’s heated through, about 20-30 minutes. Add a side salad, and you’re golden!
One thing to remember — because you’re reheating all of these meals, it’s better to slightly undercook things like vegetables or pasta as the reheating process itself will cook things a little longer. Avoid overcooked pasta or vegetables by undercooking everything, even though it will go against your instincts!
Who doesn’t love Mac & Cheese? It’s a comfort food for the ages, and it’s surprisingly easy to make. Cook your pasta, make the béchamel sauce, combine and freeze in family sized portions. Don’t bake them until you’re ready to eat them.
This is one of my favorite meals to freeze and reheat. It’s an inexpensive, family-friendly option that’s a complete meal in one shot. Be forewarned, the sauce may separate a little as it thaws, but don’t worry. A good stir will solve that. This recipe uses sliced beef, but ground beef is a good substitute.
Another dinner no-brainer for our family. You can simmer this on the stove for the day while you work on the other entrees. The best part about this chili is that you can add whatever you’d like to it. Personally, I add mushrooms, white, black and red beans, onion, garlic and green peppers near the end of the simmer. Top with sour cream, green onions, and shredded cheddar, then serve with a dinner roll. Chili can also be assembled in your crockpot and left to simmer while you’re at work.
Every time I do a bunch of meal prep, this is one of my go-to’s. Using all bone-in chicken thighs instead of a full chicken provides a punch of flavor, and is also cheaper. This dish is excellent with mashed potatoes. Freeze the sauce separately either in small containers or in a muffin tin to make “sauce pucks.” Add fresh green beans as a side for a well-balanced meal.
Lasagna is likely a family staple, but it tends to make more leftovers than anything else. An effortless way to solve this is to make lasagna rolls. Instead of layering your lasagna, start by laying one (undercooked) noodle out. Spread your tomato sauce or passata on the noodle. Add a layer of ricotta cheese mixed with spinach, a layer of mushrooms and one more thin layer of sauce. Gently roll the noodle up from one end. Place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet then repeat for as many noodles as you have. Freeze in a single layer. Preheat the oven to 350 and cover the tops with tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese. Cover loosely with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes, uncovering for the last 5 minutes. Add a tossed salad and some garlic bread, and you have a delicious meal in minutes.
Dahl is a staple in many Indian homes for good reason. It’s delicious, easy to make, and inexpensive. One pot goes a long way! You can use any lentils you have on hand. This recipe uses red, but green or yellow work as well. Once you get the basics of this dish down, playing around with the flavors or different lentils becomes second nature. Like soups, make sure to taste as you go. Indian seasonings can be delicate and well balanced, or so heavy-handed that they can turn your family off Indian flavors forever. Serve with quinoa or rice and, for an added kick, throw on a dollop of plain yogurt and some spicy lime pickle.
If you liked the Dahl, you’re going to love Butter Chicken. Another Indian staple, Butter Chicken freezes beautifully. Serve with basmati rice, and this meal can be ready in 15 minutes or less. A quick tip for perfect rice: bring your rice and water to a boil, cover the pot and turn off the heat, then leave the pot completely alone! The steam will cook the rice, absorbing the water and providing you with fluffy rice in 15-20 minutes. Just don’t take the lid off or move the pot from the original burner, and you’ll have perfect rice every time.
For my family, a stew is a wintertime comfort food. It’s chockful of vegetables and makes a warm, hearty meal. Coating the stew meat with seasoned flour first and browning it before you add the stock and other liquids will give your stew a depth of flavor you won’t get otherwise. You can play with different kinds of potatoes as well — sweet potatoes, russets, baby red-skinned ones. The options for vegetables in a stew are only as limited as your imagination.
Another comfort food in our home, chicken (or turkey) pot pies are always better homemade. Make the filling then use frozen pie shells. Make sure you pierce the top of the pie shells to allow steam to escape. Add an egg wash if you’d like the crust to be extra crispy. Don’t bake the pies before you put them into the freezer. Take them out first thing in the morning to defrost in the fridge to keep the pastry from getting soggy during the day. Bake at 375 for 35 minutes.
Do you have favorite make-ahead meals your family enjoys? If so, please share them with us in the comments!