Friday, August 10, 2012

Ideas for Making Meals Ahead of Time

You know those ideas you wish you'd had a few years earlier because then you'd be rich (and also brilliant, forward thinking, etc.)? Yeah, I have a lot of those.

One has to do with making food ahead of time so you have something to eat on those cramped nights that pop up in this thing called life.

A quick google shows plenty of blogs about make-ahead meals. I do wish one was mine because a meal in hand--in the freezer or refrigerator--is a great way to save money in that it keeps you from eating out or taking in or (horror) running to the store to buy those pesky things you don't have (and, if you were unwise and sent your husband or took your kids, also buying 17 other things that you didn't need until you got into the store and saw them and realized you needed them desperately). When I read books and blogs about how to eat cheaper, they often sing about making your meals ahead.

It also keeps you from the puddle of tears a night with a stressed/late/rushed/messed up dinner can bring. Not that I speak from experience or anything. We would never eat a starved, haggard, haphazard meal at 7:00 o'clock, especially not tonight, nope not us.

Do-ahead meal preparation also saves you time in that you can combine your prep times (i.e. chop all the vegetables you'll need in one session) and that you don't have to make dinner every night of the week. As the start of school approaches with soccer and homework and piano students at my house a couple nights a week, this sounds even more appealing. Did I mention a puddle of tears earlier? Good.

Since I am not exactly brilliant at this myself, I offer you Some options for those who want to start planning ahead. My sister (always a step ahead of me in these things) has tried several. Here are a few she recommends:

The Fresh 20. You have to pay for this one, but it is fairly cheap and it saves you money in that it's built not to waste any food (i.e. you'll buy a head of cabbage and use half for one meal and then half for another, but in completely different and delicious ways). This is the idea I wish I'd most thought of. It's not so much making your meals ahead as perfect meal/shopping planning put out in front of you so you don't have to think. My sister really liked this--she said the recipes were delicious (and whole foody) and they didn't waste stuff.
Once a Month Mom. Freezer meals for a month. The idea is appealing, but I found the site a little daunting, but then I find the idea of making 20 meals at once a little daunting too. A little time on the page and I'm sure I would have been soaring along.
Five Dinners in One Hour. According to my sister it was more like 1 1/2 hours, but still. Also, they tend to use some processed ingredients (canned soups and the like), but it's still more wholesome than Denny's. By a long shot. Can I get an Amen?

As for me, I'm not quite ready to jump on the wagon just yet (at least not completely). Whah? After all that build-up? Well, I can't entirely pretend that laziness isn't a factor. Preparing your meals ahead takes some thought and planning. But it's not the only factor. My kids, have I mentioned it?--they're picky. As is my husband. That makes a lot of these websites tough for me to use because I'm the only one who would eat the food. Which means I'd have to plan my stuff my self.

Furthermore, I have no problem with a casserole here and there, but a casserole every night is not my thing. I realize that that not everyone is doing casseroles for their plan-ahead meals, but casseroles (and their canned chicken soup components) still often play a significant role.

Yet perhaps my biggest reason for dodging the do-ahead meal is that I kind of enjoy the ritual of preparing my meals every day (except, of course, for those puddle-of-tear nights). You can call me crazy if you want, but the process of whipping out the skillet and chopping some stuff to put in it relaxes and centers me in a way that whipping something out of the freezer and plopping it in the oven does not (and in a way that spending 2 hours to 1 day preparing all the week/month's food also does not). I notice that many of the people who advocate freezer meals or plan-ahead cooking don't always really like to cook. They just want it done so that they can save money and eat healthier. I have no problem with that, but it's not me. That said, there are days when it's 4:45 and we need to eat at 5:00 and I'm not ready. A few eggs and a salad can save the day, but not, you know, every day. And not when you're out of eggs and salad. And school and soccer and dance and 2 nights with piano students--it's coming. Sometimes, when I don't take deep breaths, it's enough to make Burger King start to look appealing.

Thus, there are a few planning ahead things I've determined to begin doing. (Especially after tonight; did I mention that it was a bit rough?) They're lazy things. They're just the type of thing I think I can actually pull off because they don't require too much thought. Things that will actually make it so that eating at home really does seem more appealing, delicious, and easy that going out.

1. Doubling stuff. Wow, that's pretty brilliant. I mean, why don't I have my own blog about prepare-ahead meals? And yet. This is kind of hard for me. I tend to undercook. In a way this is a method of controlling my portions and not overeating. In a way, it's a form of denial (do we really eat that much butter in one week?) that can't be avoided if making 5-7 breakfasts or dinners at a time. Nevertheless, with a little teeny forethought, doubling a meal should be pretty easy. You don't have to plan and coordinate meal components and be really brilliant with your food planning. You just have to do twice as much. And so, undercooking be darned, I've determined that if I make something that can be kept in the freezer, I'm going to make twice as much. This goes for breakfast cookies, casseroles, soups, breads, etc. I gave it a whirl tonight with the cornbread I made. It felt kind of nice.
-To make this work, I need to stick the to-be-frozen parts somewhere besides the countertop, lest it be eaten by me or the minions before it can be frozen in order to avoid the overeating-of-the-food-that-is-to-be-saved-for-later issue.

2. A salad or some vegetables for the week. I can easily prepare my own "bagged" salad mix (kale and romaine anyone? yum) so that we can have a quick one when we need one. Even better if I also cook a little bacon and hard-boil some eggs. A friend of mine sometimes preps dippable veggies for her kids for the week--carrot sticks, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. (which could also be plopped into grown-up salads as well). And Tamar Adler roasts and sautees vegetables enough for a week. I can do it too.

3. Make extra parts of meals: browned meat, sauces, bacon bits, or whatever. To me, this is the riskiest type of pre-prep since parts of meals are the easiest forgotten. Nevertheless I think it's worth a try. These bits can be thrown onto pasta, bread, tortillas, or stuffed into vegetables to make a meal so much quicker.

So while I don't know that you should expect to see a meal plan for an entire week from me anytime soon, I'll be working to be more efficient and prepared. Take that tear-puddle nights.


  1. I roasted summer veg in my crockpot earlier this week, a whole HUGE crockpot full and then were phenomenal to have to munch on and add to meals all week long!

    If you want to test out those fresh 20 recipes sometime I'd be up for doing it with you, Jean! I've been wanting to try a series like that for a long time, but so many require so much "prepared" food (as you mentioned) that I never could find one that I really wanted! But that one sounds tasty and 20 meals sounds way more feasible with a friend to do it with.

    1. Brilliant idea. And no oven babysitting.

  2. I went and looked at the Fresh 20. You could totally do that -- imitate their plan but make it flexible for larger families (eh? eh?!) Also, cubed chicken with lettuce in a cup doesn't sound so awesome to me... am I setting the bar too high here?

    1. The only problem is that I'd have to make it flexible for pickier families, which of course means that I'd have to make it completely inflexible because that's what picky families are--bah. What I really need is a dinner plan for 2 (or some nights 1) with a round of peanut butter spoonfuls and some bowls of applesauce. Balance, I say, balance. But, seriously, I would like to try it with you (or we could steal one of my sister's old menu plans, unless that is unethical, which maybe it is). I can always half things:). I think my sister said it was only a few dollars to sign up. Is that right or am I remembering wrong?



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