Champions for busy bees everywhere, make-ahead meals are insanely helpful tools to keep in your back pocket. In an increasingly fast-paced world where many of us are constantly on the go, meals that can be prepared ahead of time are a treasure.
Today, I’m sharing with you some of my top tips for make-ahead meals. By the time you’ve finished reading this quick guide, you will be more than ready to take on the wild world of meal prep. Without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff.
Why Are Make-Ahead Meals Important?
It’s no secret that there’s a cult following behind make-ahead meals. If you type “easy make-ahead meals” into Google, you’re met with over 900 million results.
Those of us who are die-hard meal prep lovers will tell anyone who will listen about how incredible make-ahead meals are. Some may even call them life-changing, I kid you not.
If you have not yet been introduced to the make-ahead meal universe, let me be the first to welcome you. It’s great here, you’re gonna love it. You may be wondering, what’s the big deal?
What’s so great about making meals ahead of time? Well, just about everything, but I’ll narrow it down to a few of the main benefits of make-ahead meals.
Make-ahead meals save you time.
For starters, one major and fairly obvious benefit of make-ahead meals is that they save you a ton of time. By spending some additional time to prepare your meals when you’re not busy, you end up saving yourself a ton of time when you are busy.
Or even on those lazy days when you really, really don’t feel like cooking.
Getting breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the table every day can be crazy challenging when you have about a million other things to do.
Making meals ahead of time gives you hours of your life back each week. This is time that can be spent reading, meditating, working out, watching TV, spending time with your family—whatever makes your heart happy.
Make-ahead meals make healthy eating easy.
More often than not, I find myself running around like a chicken with my head cut off. By the time I realize I still need to make dinner, I’m starving and exhausted. A dangerous combination that usually leads to me ordering take-out or throwing a frozen pizza in the oven.
While these are totally acceptable options every now and then, they aren’t exactly the healthiest habits. Enter: the make-ahead meal.
When you make your meals ahead of time, you can ensure that you always have a healthy home-cooked meal to enjoy on the days that you aren’t up for cooking. Goodbye frozen cardboard pizza, hello fresh and delicious meals!
Not only does meal prepping your meals ahead of time save you time and make healthy eating easy, but it also saves you a ton of money in the long run. Imagine if you were to order take-out every night of the week… It adds up fast.
So, to summarize—make-ahead meals are fabulous. Now that you’re onboard (how could you not be?), let’s dive right into my top 7 tips for make-ahead meals.
1. Always cook once to eat 2 or 3 times.
This is important, yet insanely easy. It simply requires making multiple servings at once, rather than preparing just enough to eat for lunch. If you’re making a salad like my Superfood Black Bean and Quinoa Salad or Healthy Curry Quinoa Salad, you can easily double or triple the ingredients and refrigerate the leftovers.
This ensures that you not only have a healthy meal to enjoy right at that moment, but that you can enjoy it again later in the week without having to put in the effort again.
Dishes like salads, overnight oats, casseroles, and soups are perfect for this. If you know you won’t mind eating the same meal later in the week, why not save yourself the trouble of doing it all over again?
I especially like doing this with meals that freeze well, like my Hash Brown Casserole and Vegan Black Bean Soup, because they can last up to a few months in the freezer.
Prepping several servings of one meal all at once will save you a ton of time in the long run and ensure that you always have a healthy and delicious meal ready to go.
Here are some of my favorite healthy soup recipes to freeze for later:
- Creamy Cauliflower Soup
- Easy Vegan French Onion Soup
- Healing Butternut Squash & Carrot Curry Soup
- Spring Chili Soup With Zucchini & Carrot Noodles
2. Pick any day of the week and make 3 to 4 recipes that you love.
Choose a day when you know you won’t be too busy – a lot of people choose Sunday – and dedicate a few hours to cooking batches of 3 or 4 of your favorite recipes.
If you get into the habit of grocery shopping and cooking a few delicious meals on Sundays, you will always have something healthy on hand to enjoy throughout the week.
This could include dishes like egg muffins, overnight oats, shredded chicken, and fried rice. Really, anything that lasts in the fridge for at least a few days will work great.
Simply prepare your meals, package them up in airtight storage containers, and refrigerate or freeze them until you’re ready to eat them.
This is a fantastic way of utilizing your free time and giving yourself a break during the week when the last thing you want to do is cook a meal after a long day.
3. Pick up some glass storage containers.
Whether you opt for Pyrex containers or mason jars, it’s important to get some reliable glass storage containers. Not only do these last way longer than the plastic ones and keep your food fresher for longer, but they make it easy for you to know what’s in your fridge.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ This statement is beyond true, especially when it comes to what we keep in our fridge.
I can’t count the times I have forgotten about leftovers, all because I forgot what was in the container and wound up pushing it to the back of the refrigerator.
By storing your meals in glass containers, you will always know exactly what’s inside of it. This helps to cut down on food waste and just makes life a lot easier.
4. A large dutch oven is the best friend of the make-ahead meal.
If you don’t already have a dutch oven, I highly recommend investing in one. When it comes to meal prepping, this guy is your best friend.
A dutch oven is a thick and sturdy cooking pot with a tightly sealed lid. It serves the dual purpose of acting as both a cooking tool and a storage container.
You can cook several servings of a meal in your dutch oven, then place the lid on top and pop it directly into the fridge once it’s cooled for easy storage.
When you’re ready for another serving of the meal, simply pull out the dutch oven and help yourself. You can repeat this all week long for quick and easy meals. This works great for recipes like my Healthy Game Day Chili and Easy Balsamic-Thyme Lentils.
5. Find ingredients that can overlap.
There’s a popular misconception that making meals ahead of time requires buying a million different ingredients. This is absolutely not true! One of the best secrets to successfully preparing make-ahead meals is finding dishes that use overlapping ingredients.
Things like quinoa, hemp seeds, chicken breast, and berries are frequently used in tons of delicious, healthy recipes. Stock up on a few basic ingredients like these that you can utilize throughout the week for different recipes.
For example, here are some of my favorite healthy make-ahead meals with quinoa:
- Fiesta Quinoa Soup
- Lemony Chicken Quinoa Soup with Homemade Bone Broth
- Quinoa Breakfast Bowl with Berries
- Hummus and Quinoa Superfood Veggie Bowl
There are plenty of staple ingredients you can stock up on and use in your healthy make-ahead meals throughout the week. Some of my go-to ingredients include:
- Rolled oats
- Brown rice
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable)
- Frozen berries
6. Don’t forget about your macros.
One problem that people run into when preparing meals at the last minute is that they often find that they don’t have the ingredients for complete meals.
When you’re crunched for time and want something quick, it can seem daunting to have to prepare multiple components of a meal.
When in doubt, stick to your macronutrients: protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and fiber. Macronutrients are essential to providing our bodies with energy and keeping us feeling nourished, satisfied, and healthy.
I try to incorporate one of each of these components into all of my make-ahead meals to ensure that I get a well-balanced meal each day.
To help you with the planning process, I’ve listed out some of the basics for you.
- Healthy Proteins: Lean meats, lentils, poultry, nut butter, seafood, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, skim or low-fat milk, and eggs.
- Healthy Carbohydrates: Brown rice, quinoa, oats, sweet potatoes, berries, whole wheat pasta, chia seeds, whole grains, bananas, and vegetables.
- Healthy Fats: Avocado, chia seeds, eggs, fatty fish, nut butter, nuts, olive oil, flaxseed, olives, and coconut oil.
- Healthy Fiber: Berries, avocado, carrots, beets, broccoli, artichokes, brussels sprouts, lentils, chickpeas, beans, and peas.
7. Choose make-ahead meals that can be served at any temperature.
When I prepare my make-ahead meals, I often try to prepare dishes that can be served cold, warm, or at room temperature. This is a huge help when I’m looking for something I can grab on my way out the door.
Whether I’m headed off to work, going on a long drive, or going for a hike—having a quick meal or snack that can be served at any temperature is a beautiful thing.
Everyone is different and what tastes great cold to me may not taste great cold to you. Think about the types of meals that you enjoy at any temperature and use this as your make-ahead meal inspiration.
For example, I personally enjoy shredded chicken, frittatas, and overnight oats regardless of whether they are served hot or cold.
For a little inspiration, here are a few of my favorite overnight oats recipes:
If you want to prepare and store your meals for longer than a week, you can freeze most dishes for 1 to 3 months. Just make sure to seal them in airtight storage containers and consider double-wrapping the containers in freezer-proof plastic.
I have found that most curries, stews, stir fry dishes, rice, and quinoa tend to freeze and reheat really well. In my opinion, thawing and reheating one of these delicious meals beats a mediocre frozen pizza every time.
I tend to have a ridiculously busy schedule on most days, so make-ahead meals have been a total game-changer in my life. They save me a tremendous amount of time, effort, energy, and money.
When you are absolutely wiped from a crazy day, there is nothing more comforting than knowing your dinner is sitting in the fridge waiting for you.
If you weren’t already a make-ahead believer, hopefully you are now. All it takes is a little bit of forethought and I guarantee you it’ll make your life infinitely easier.
To give you a nudge in the right direction, here are 10 Healthy Meal Prep Recipe Ideas to start with. Let’s get cooking!
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