Perfect Beginner Guide for Making Ahead Meals

Dinner recipes you can make ahead of time are the best friend of any busy person. There are so many times when you have things going on; whether it’s work, school, taking care of your kids, or cleaning the house, where the last thing you feel like doing is whipping up a time-consuming meal for yourself or your family.

Does that mean you have to settle for a frozen pizza? Absolutely not! Make-ahead meals are the perfect way to have delicious meals every day by cooking them when you have the time, so that you can enjoy them even when you don’t have time to cook.

ahead meals

Imagine the feeling when you’ve been running around all day and it’s now 7pm, stomachs are growling and you haven’t started dinner, and then you remember you already have a mouthwatering meal that is fully cooked and just waiting to be reheated. Now all you have to worry about is setting the table and enjoying that tasty meal.

Different Types of Make-Ahead Meals:

  • Single make-ahead meals. If you know you have something going on one night and you know you won’t have time to cook, single make-ahead meals are simply when you cook a meal ahead of time and either refrigerate or freeze it for later.
  • Batch cooking. This involves cooking several portions of something all at once and then portioning it out to either refrigerate or freeze. Examples include a batch of lasagnas or a large pot of chili. 
  • Meal prep for one. For those who are cooking for one, meal prep is similar to batch cooking but involves portioning out individual meals into single-serving containers. Many people meal prep lunches to bring to work or dinners if they live alone.
  • Mise en place. A French term that literally means ‘setting up,’ mise en place is a technique that involves chopping vegetables, making a sauce, marinating your meats, or anything else to prepare a meal so that everything is ready for you when you’re ready to cook.

Refrigerated make-ahead meals are a great time-saver, but it’s important to eat them within a few days of cooking in order to maintain freshness. Freezing make-ahead meals allows them to maintain freshness for months before you need to eat them, eliminating the pressure of having to eat it in a short time-frame.

Tips on Freezing Food.

  • Bring your food down to room temperature before freezing
  • Make sure your food is tightly sealed in a container or bag
  • Foods with lower water contents freeze better, as high-water foods can get limp or soggy after freezing
  • Blanch vegetables before freezing to stop the enzymes that continue the ripening process
  • You can freeze cooked meat, but never refreeze raw meat that was frozen and thawed
  • Ice cube trays are great for freezing stock and fresh herbs that can be preserved in water or olive oil

While many foods are freezer-friendly, it’s important to know which foods may not do so well after being frozen so you can avoid any unpleasant surprises when you reheat a meal.

What Not to Freeze:

  • Deep-fried or breaded foods, as the outside that was once crispy will turn mushy after thawing from frozen
  • Cream-based foods and soft cheeses, which separate after being frozen
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Lettuce

Anything you freeze will thaw out with a slightly different texture than it originally had, especially foods with high moisture contents. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t still freeze them, you just need to adjust your expectations accordingly.

For example, frozen tomatoes shouldn’t be thawed out to add to a salad because they will no longer be crisp like they once were. Tomatoes that were once crisp and firm wind up thawing out mushy after being frozen, which would not work for a salad but is perfectly fine for a stew or sauce.

Whether you’re cooking for one or for the family, looking for vegetarian recipes or meat lover recipes, looking for comfort food recipes or healthy recipes, you can find delicious make-ahead meals that can be frozen to enjoy at your leisure.

What are some of the benefits of preparing make-ahead meals?

  • Saving time. When you cook in batches on a day when you’re not busy, you eliminate the time you would normally spend each day cooking.
  • Saving money. When you don’t have time to cook it’s easy to just order take-out instead, but cooking at home saves a significant amount of money, especially if you plan ahead and buy ingredients in bulk.
  • Healthier eating. When you cook food yourself, you get to control the ingredients that go into it. Pre-made meals from the store and fast food are often loaded with preservatives, sodium, and other unhealthy substances.

Another great way to make meals ahead of time but still on the same day is by utilizing your slow cooker. If you have time to prepare a meal in the morning but you know you’ll be busy for the rest of the day, look for slow cooker recipes that take ten to twelve hours to cook.

This way you can prep your slow cooker during your free time and then ignore it until you’re ready to eat. You can also prep a slow cooker recipe the night before (or months before, if you freeze it!) by adding all of your prepped ingredients into a sealed bag or container so that all you have to do the day of is toss the contents into your slow cooker and set the timer.

ahead meals

When you prepare your own meals, you not only have the power to control what you’re putting into your body and the bodies of your family members, but you also save money. Preparing your meals in advance allows you to cook when you have the time, so you don’t have to feel stressed when you don’t have the time.

Imagine spending a Sunday afternoon preparing meals for the week in bulk and in doing so, saving yourself at least thirty minutes a day that could be spent doing something you enjoy or getting that big assignment finished. If you prepare make-ahead meals to eat Monday through Friday, you’re saving a minimum of two and a half hours throughout the week!

Here are some delicious dinner recipes that can be cooked in advance and frozen:

  • Baked Ziti, a fan-favorite that will leave your taste buds begging for more
  • Hawaiian Pork Roast that’ll fall apart on your fork and make you feel like you’ve been transported to a luau in Honolulu
  • Roasted Red Pepper Soup for those looking for a flavor-packed vegetarian dinner recipe
  • Rustic Italian Tortellini Soup that you won’t be able to get enough of
  • Black Bean Enchiladas that are spicy, gooey, satisfying, and vegetarian-friendly
  • Stuffed Chicken Rolls filled with ham and cheese for incredible flavor in every bite
  • Eggplant Parmesan, a mouthwatering lightened-up version of a classic
  • Skillet Shepherd’s Pie that promises to be the best shepherd’s pie you’ve ever had
  • Southwestern Casserole, a guaranteed crowd pleaser packed with protein to keep you satisfied long after you’re finished eating
  • Zucchini Pizza Casserole for the perfect way to sneak more vegetables into your kids’ diet with a meal they’ll fall in love with
  • Thai Beef Stir Fry, a colorful combination packed with tasty and vibrant flavors
  • Chicken Pot Pie that you’ll want to keep eating, for freezing add just the filling to a sealed bag or container so you can make the flaky golden crust fresh when you’re ready
  • German Meatballs, a versatile favorite that can be enjoyed with sauerkraut, tomato sauce, or a sweet cream gravy
  • Buffalo Chicken Pizza that’ll taste just as delicious after it’s been frozen as it did the first time around
  • Moroccan Braised Beef, a flavorful stew the whole family can enjoy now and later

Still wanting more make-ahead dinner recipes? Here are 150 more that are freezer-friendly and ultra delicious.

Going Forward

By planning your meals ahead of time and figuring out what works best for you in terms of how and when you cook, you save a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money in the long run. Next time you find yourself lounging around with nothing to do, try making some freezer-friendly meals to put away for later so you can see for yourself how helpful it is when you’re busy. Whether you’re cooking entire meals or utilizing the mise en place technique by doing the prep work for your meals ahead of time, you’re helping provide your future self with stress-free meals that you’ll be thankful you took the time to create.


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