Pasta dishes and casseroles are perfect make-ahead meals.

How to Perfect the Make-Ahead Meal

Making meals ahead of time lets you eat delicious homemade foods during your busiest moments. The principle is simple – when you have a large chunk of free time, you make a big batch of an easily reheatable recipe, like pasta or soup. Separate it out, and eat it throughout the week.

While the concept is simple, there are a few pitfalls that can make this method feel complicated. Here are a few tips that can help you make sure your premade meals turn out perfectly:

Pick Detailed, Familiar Recipes

Make-ahead meals are all about taking advantage of the time you have and making life easier when you're busy. To embrace this fully, pick recipes that take a little bit of time and effort. Premaking a recipe that only takes 10-15 minutes to complete probably isn't the best use of your time. If you could make it on a hectic evening, skip it. Instead, choose a meal you love, but can't imagine having time for during a stressful week.

However, you shouldn't pick a brand-new recipe for make-ahead meals, either. You want something you know backward and forward – that way if something goes wrong, you'll know how to fix and adjust it. Tried-and-true recipes are the way to go, since you'll be relying on the food for a number of days. The last thing you want is to make something that turns out to be a disaster and end up scrambling for meals you'd already planned.

Portion Your Meals Out

Premade meals fit perfectly into building a healthier lifestyle, as they give you the chance to portion out all of your meals at once. When you do this, you avoid overserving yourself, or picking your servings based on how hungry you feel. When you separate everything out right away, you know exactly how many portions the dish will provide. This method also makes it way easier to keep track of calories, since you can evenly divide up a recipe and know how much is in each container.

Prepare yourself individual servings to make meal times simpler. Prepare yourself individual servings to make mealtimes simpler.Prepare yourself individual servings to make meal times simpler. Prepare yourself individual servings to make mealtimes simpler.

If you pack lunches for yourself or for others, this can make mornings a breeze. Simply grab a container of your premade meal out of the fridge, drop it into your lunch bag, and head out the door. Make a couple of different meals ahead of time, and you'll have plenty of variety to choose from before you go. You can also set up portions of healthy sides like carrots, grapes or celery sticks, which can be used to mix and match healthy lunches.

Premake Half a Recipe

"Doing half the work ahead of time will make life easier."

You don't have to limit yourself to making entire recipes ahead of time: Consider prepping half a recipe, instead. This is particularly useful for recipes that call for a number of simple, but time-consuming tasks, like those that require a lot of chopping. Instead of trying to balance dicing your veggies while you saute your beef, you can chop veggies the night before, store them in the fridge, and add them when the time is right!

You can also make ingredients like sauces ahead of time, and save yourself some trouble getting dinner on the table during busy weeknights. If you have a recipe that you know, as a whole, isn't going to reheat well, preparing just half of it beforehand can still go a long way toward making your life much easier.

Store Items Properly

Storage is probably the most important part of make-ahead meals. If your food isn't stored properly, it might not last long enough to be good-to-go at meal time. Take, for example, make-ahead salads. Salad can last a fairly long time stored in the fridge – provided the leaves are dry. Many people forget to keep salad dry, or to store it tightly sealed against humidity, and then are disappointed by their wilty greens.

Storing your items properly will keep them fresh for far longer.Storing your items properly will keep them fresh for far longer.

You'll also want to have a firm idea of what can and can't be frozen, or what will lose flavor or nutritional value after certain lengths of time. Some foods won't go bad right away but will still quickly pass a point when they're no longer appetizing. Have a firm understanding of the items' shelf lives, as well as how you plan to reheat them, as you put them in storage.

Pampered Chef offers plenty of storage solutions you can use to keep your premade meals fresh and ready to go. One of our favorite premade meal devices is the Salad and Berry Spinner. Every step of your salad prep can be done right in this handy little spinner – use the inner colander to rinse your leafy greens, then spin them dry in the spinner. Once you've gotten rid of all that excess liquid, pop on the storage lid and keep it in the fridge! As long as your leaves are nice and dry, your salad mix should last for about a week.

4 Responses to How to Perfect the Make-Ahead Meal

  1. Nancy February 11, 2016 at 11:20 pm #

    Awesome ideas and tips. I just LOVE having meals waiting ready for me to make when I need them. Spinning my salad completely dry is really key too. Learned that the hard way. Thanks for all the great tips!!

  2. Shelley February 12, 2016 at 6:33 am #

    Great tips!

    • Deb Derry February 18, 2016 at 3:04 am #

      Wow!! Great idea shared here!

  3. Bec March 2, 2016 at 5:16 pm #

    Whenever I make dinner, especially a staple meal that I make over and over- I try to double cook. One to eat now, and one to freeze for later. I also chop celery and onion, put in separate freezer containers and freeze. Then I can just break away a few handfuls as needed. Leg work is done and it really cuts down on time and clean up in the kitchen.

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