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give me your top 3 make ahead meals

I need make ahead meals. I work, have two small kids and would love to eat something different every day for a year. However, I end up making some things over and over because they are easy to prepare. I do turkey breasts, pork ribs, corned beef, whole chickens, beef ribs; all in the slow cooker. It is just simple to get it ready in the morning and eat when we get home. From stuff I have in the pantry, I willl do salmon croquettes, linguini with clam sauce, doctored up spaghetti, ramen, mac and cheese. I can do a quick baked/broiled fish with roasted veggies.

But, what I am looking for is your top 3 make ahead meals. I want something that will be ready when I get home or perhaps, just assembled ahead of time so that when I do get home, it doesn't take much effort, ie throw in the oven, quickly saute, or just plate and eat! My husband doesn't really like casseroles, so those are out.


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  1. During the winter months I make a lot of soups and stews to tide me through the week as they are hearty, healthy, easy to freeze, and easy to reheat for dinner- a small side salad and its good to go. I find meatballs to also be a good thing to make on a Sunday and then have to re heat throughout a week, or save for a later date in the freezer.
    Im not sure how much your kids would be thrilled :-) but I have salad for dinner basically every night because its fast and easy. Pre chop the veggies on the weekend-at least for a couple of days, and then I usually just grill a protein. Makes for a tasty dinner.

    1 Reply
    1. One of the ways I make quickie meals is using my trusty food saver. 1 - Pre-cook hamburger and divide into appropriate packages (1 lb. each usually works for us). Easily reheated for Sloppy Joe's, Beef enchiladas, Stroganoff, Pizza, Taco Salad, Tacos, Nacho's, et. al.) 2 - Make up a batch of Chicken Tetrazzini (my recipe makes 2 9x13 pans) - again, divide into sealed bags and freeze. Take out the bag from the freezer the night before and leave in fridge. Then reheat in a casserole dish for about 45 minutes while you relax (if possible). 3 - I make a batch of of shredded Chicken Enchiladas and seal them in individual portions and then can reheat them as needed.

      2 Replies
      1. re: boyzoma

        I'd love your Chicken Tetrazzini recipe!

        1. re: edinaeats

          Sure. Here you go!



          1 (16-oz.) package vermicelli
          ½ cup chicken broth
          1 Large Onion
          1 Large Green Pepper
          1 Large Red Pepper
          2 Tbsp. Butter
          4 cups chopped cooked Turkey or chicken breasts
          ½ Bag frozen peas/carrots (thawed)
          1 (10 3/4-oz.) can cream of mushroom soup
          1 (10 3/4-oz.) can cream of chicken soup
          1 (10 3/4-oz.) can cream of celery soup
          1 (8-oz.) container sour cream
          1 (6-oz.) can sliced mushrooms, drained
          ½ cup (2 oz.) shredded Parmesan cheese
          ½ teaspoon salt
          1 teaspoon pepper
          3 cups (24 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese

          1. Cook vermicelli according to package directions; drain. Return to pot, and toss with chicken broth.
          2. Sauté chopped Onion, Red and Green Pepper in Butter.
          3. Stir together Turkey or chicken and next 9 ingredients; add vermicelli, and toss well. Spoon mixture into 2 lightly greased 11- x 7-inch baking dishes. Sprinkle evenly with cheese.
          4. Bake, covered, at 350° for 30 minutes; uncover and bake 5 more minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

          Prep: 15 min., Cook: 10 min., Bake: 35 min. Makes 2 casseroles. Freeze unbaked casserole up to 1 month, if desired. Thaw overnight in refrigerator. Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature, and bake as directed.

          You really can add anything you like with this. Sometimes I add diced celery and saute' with the peppers too. And if I don't have red peppers, I'll add a small jar of pimento's.

      2. Homemade ramen. http://indirectheat.blogspot.com/2010...

        The best part is, you can toss leftover veggies and meat in the broth with some noodles, so you're eating something tasty, taking 10 minutes to get it ready to serve, and you're cleaning leftovers out of the fridge, all at the same time.

        1. My top make-ahead meal is definitely chili. Here is a chicken chili, slightly simplified from the smoky, dark recipe I recently developed.

          Chicken Chili

          2 T. canola oil

          2 medium yellow onions, diced

          4 cloves garlic, minced

          1 large green pepper, diced

          1 lb. ground chicken or turkey

          3 T. chili powder

          1 t. cayenne pepper, or to taste

          1 T. ground cumin

          ½ t. salt

          ½ t. freshly ground black pepper

          2 chipotle peppers (from canned chipotles in adobo), minced

          1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (fire roasted, if you can find them)

          1 c. beer

          2 cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed

          1 T. unsweetened cocoa powder

          2 t. Tabasco sauce, or to taste

          Fat-free sour cream, lime and scallions for garnish

          Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and green pepper and sauté 5 minutes more. Add the chicken, break up with a spoon and sauté for 3-4 minutes until it loses its pinkness. Add the chili powder, spices, salt, pepper and chipotle, and cook over low heat for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes, beer, beans and cocoa. Bring to a boil, then simmer 40 minutes. Add additional water if the chili seems too thick. Stir in the Tabasco. Season to taste with additional salt, and serve. Top with fat-free sour cream mixed with a squeeze of lime, and sliced scallions.

          Here is the more hardcore version - spicier, more complex:

          1. I really love mexican arroz con pollo. I know I've seen some crockpot versions.


            Just heat up a few tortillas and serve with guacamole and salsa.

            1. Enchilada, pasties, and lasagna. I assmebly them all ahead and freeze them in a disposable foil pan. In the morning before work, I put the pan on a cookie sheet (still frozen) and program the oven to turn on a half hour before I get home at 350F. By the time it starts to bake in the oven, it has thawed out. Also, I use my skillet sized pressure cooker alot....I work and have kids, too, and it has been a life saver!

              Similarly, you can freeze chicken breasts or pork chops in a marinade, take it out of the freezer in the morning, and throw them on the grill when you get home. Again, for a side I like to put raw whole potatoes in the oven, program it to turn on an hour before I want to eat and bake them at 400 F for an hour. They come out perfectly!

              3 Replies
              1. re: momskitchen

                I'm super interested in your skillet sized pressure cooker. Is it shallow like a skillet, or just wide? It sounds like a huge convenience!

                1. re: mattwarner

                  It's shallow like a skillet...here it is:


                  I own 2 Kuhn Rikon pressure cookers - this one, and a big one, they are spendy but well worth the money.

                  1. re: momskitchen

                    Very nice! I use our pressure cookers all the time. Funny though, I have never used a crock pot. We heat w/ wood here in Maine and I used my cast iron Dutch ovens a lot on top the wood stoves.

              2. Not a make-ahead meal, but a prep-ahead meal...fajitas. I cut up the peppers and onions the night before and even the chicken breast too. This way, when I get home, I just cook it. Serve tortillas, shredded cheese, salsa, or whatever else. Sometimes I make rice, other times I just heat up corn to go with it.

                This recipe is very easy and fool-proof....I have been using it for years.


                1. 1) Pork or Chicken in Tomatillo/Chipotle Sauce:
                  in a pressure cooker
                  brown meat on both sides
                  cover with tomatillo sauce (homemade is best, bottled works if you're in a big rush)
                  stir in some chipotle in adobo
                  cook 20 minutes on highest pressure
                  in the meantime, make rice. Warm tortillas.

                  2) Tacos de carne
                  In a crockpot, in the morning:
                  use an inexpensive roast cut in pieces, or buy beef stew meat
                  Put in crockpot. Add about 1/2 a cup of water, a clove of garlic, and a tablespoon or
                  2 of mild red chili (anaheim/ new mexico red). Cook on low all day.
                  Serve with tortillas, cut green onions, radishes, queso fresco, etc.

                  3) Pasta with "red, green and white"
                  1 can sundried tomatoes (in oil)
                  2 boxes of frozen spinach
                  lots of cilantro
                  1 or many cloves of garlic

                  While pasta is cooking, mince garlic and saute in a bit of the tomato oil. Set aside. Cook the spinach. Chop the tomatoes into smaller pieces. Combine tomatoes, garlic, spinach and as much of the oil as you like. Crumble the feta. Chop the cilantro. When pasta is al dente, mix in with oil/tomato/spinach mix. Stir to combine. Add feta and cilantro. Stir. Good with red wine.

                  1. You can make and freeze:

                    Meatballs (for swedish meatballs or spaghetti and meatballs - or even a meatball sandwich) Cream sauces don't do so well frozen but you can certainly do tomato sauce.

                    Lasagne (preferably meat and spinach because it keeps moist and doesn't dry out)

                    Anything bready does well, so pizza.

                    Meats: burgers (beef, lamb, whatever you like. Can even cook them in advance)

                    Chop your salads ahead of time too, they can last 3 days or so in the fridge. Add tomatoes at the end so they don't "pickle" everything else with their acidity.
                    I've made tabouli layering all the ingredients but not mixing it, then just dressing and serving, lasted in the fridge a few days!

                    Tacos, easy to prepare filling and fun to assemble, if you pre cut the veggies in advance it's just a matter of heating up the shells/filling and serving the veg/cheese/dips.

                    Pasta sauces are a breeze, basil pesto, spinach, or anything you can think of, keeps in the fridge at least 2 days and you can just boil the pasta.

                    1. Before I retired, I usually cooked later in the evening, for reheating the next day. Sometimes a big batch of chili or meat loaf and the like, sometimes just enough for two meals. Unless I am making breakfast for dinner, or a burger, I rarely cook just enough for one meal.

                      I'm a big proponent of using regular and mini muffin tins, since they cook faster than loaf and other larger pans. Meat loaf is faster in muffin tins, and scooping (melon baller, coffee scoop, small ice cream scoop) the mixture into the minis gives you "meatballs" faster than rolling in your hands. I regularly use the minis for baking brownie and blondie bites in 15 minutes.

                      Sometimes I pound chicken breasts and bread them before freezing. They can be thawed during the day in the fridge, or even sauteed from frozen (use lower heat and take more time). Whenever using the oven, put in some potatoes to bake, even if you won't use them that day. They'll reheat nicely (and chilled cooked potatoes which are reheated have a lower glycemic index than just-cooked).

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: greygarious

                        You mentioned meatloaf---when I was working I would make double the amount, have half for meatloaf tonight and freeze the other half (raw) in a baking dish. Next time I made mashed potatoes I would make double, have half for dinner tonight, and put the other half on the meatloaf-frozen-in-baking dish, producing a shepherd's pie without extra effort.

                      2. I'm not sure if you like Asian food but I usually make stir-fried dishes and curries ahead of time. They are good for reheating and tends to stay quite fresh for couple of days. When I was working full-time, I used to cook big portions of 2-3 dishes of these on Sunday so I didn't have to worry about cooking dinner during weekdays.

                        I find that most type of Thai curries can be prep ahead. You just need to put them in the freezer and reheat whenever you want (they can be kept this way for weeks). For fresher curries, I'd usually cook a large amount of curry with little meat and veggie. Then I'd only freeze the rest of the curry (without meat and veggie) in the freezer (I usually separate them couple of zip-locks bags - by portion). Then for later meals, I'd reheat the curry and put fresh meat and veggies in. For Asian stir-fried dishes, I wouldn't keep them for more than 3 days.

                        1. Fried rice is wonderful, normally I make it the day after pizza since I have leftover chopped toppings/veg. It takes seconds, and it's not bad to have cooled rice in the fridge which can be made the night before or anytime in 15 mins.

                          1. Crusted Baked Eggplant/Zucchini/Tomato Stackers -- crusted with TVP combined with cornmeal and herb, and dipped in egg whites

                            Not make ahead, but so easy to do asap (which I did tonight) is scampi over spaghetti squash or pasta.

                            Stews and chilis are great for this... set it and forget it.

                            Fish tacos... do everything ahead (make salsa and chop veggies), but sear fish right before serving (and if you're like me, make tortillas)

                            Frittatas and quiches

                            I almost always have caramelized onions on hand that I've done in the crockpot. They always come in handy and go with many meals,

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Emme

                              How do you make caramelized onions in the crock pot? Do you freeze them?

                            2. You could stuff pork loin with spinach, feta and roasted red pepper- or anything else you like, and then brown in a pan and then bake once youre home. While its in the oven you can make a quick side or salad.

                              Calzone is another quick one- I make a lot of dough and freeze in batches. Then its just a matter of defrosting the dough, rolling out, and stuffing with any fillings I like. Wrap tightly, and bake. I make whole wheat pizza dough so its healthier.

                              When my mom was writing her dissertation and had very little time, stir fry with steamed rice was our regular meal. The rice cooker made that super easy to make in advance, and pre-prepped veggies just needed to be sauteed in a little chicken broth, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, oyster sauce- then topped with a dash of sesame oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

                              You could mix it up with your regular roast chicken by marinating it in a tandoori rub in the morning before roasting when you get home.

                              1. Geez lilmomma, what you're doing now sounds terrific!!!! Can I join the family?!

                                Can't imagine there are too many new things or tricks for you to try. Heck maybe you should be serving the advice up for busy moms. Think 'write a book'. Seriously.

                                1. Raise 5 chow pups into Chow hounds. Beside soups, stew, and spaghetti w/ tomato sauce, we ate a lot of chicken leg Parmesan & chicken thigh Parm. Back a whoe rack on Sunday, serve w/ fresh miked broccoli and pasta or rice. We ate a lot of pinto beans as well. The kids like making their own tostadas. Friday was pizza night. We bought fresh dough and Mrs. Keg and I would go into pizza production line mode. The last would be ours, send the kids into the living room and sit down w/ a bottle of vino and relax. A big pot of fish chowder was another popular one. Keep adding fish & milk as the week progressed. The last meal one son requested before moving to Korea was kolbasi & kapusta w/ ribs. On of my mom' and her mom's Russian specials passed down. Cook cabbage, onions, carrots, carroway seed, and a jar of kraut down in the oven w/ a rack of spare ribs in the center, throw some fresh kolbasa on top, uncovered. Serve w/ mashed potatoes and a sour cream, cucumber, sliced red onion salad. Ochen Horrow Show (very good in Russki)
                                  Papa Dumkeg

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                                    that's sounds wonderful - what is kolbasi? a sausage?

                                    1. re: bayoucook

                                      Yes, a slavic, Russian-Polish style of garlic pork sausages. Andouille or other pork style sausages would work, but stay from the supermarket plastic packed Hilshire Farms type sausages.
                                      There is a big Polish mail order company out of Chicago called Polana, that will give ideas.
                                      I grew up making our own. My bro & I still do.

                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                        Went to the website and I love it, thanks!

                                        1. re: bayoucook

                                          Try barharborfoods.com for good quality canned fish products too. A local company.

                                      2. re: bayoucook

                                        It's spelled "Kielbasa...kapusta is sauerkraut.

                                        1. re: momskitchen

                                          Both spellings are acceptable. Polish vs Russian variations? Kolbasi (Kielbasi) is the plural. Want in Russian cyrillic too? My last name was butchered in translation as well.
                                          Yes, I forgot the xren, grated horse radish w/ either grated beets or sour cream to tame down if needed, to go with the Kolbasa.

                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                            I'm going to look more into this kind of cooking; my mouth is watering. Any suggestions for a cookbook or website?

                                            1. re: bayoucook

                                              Sorry, no I collect cookbooks, just got new Greek and Irish ones, but no slavic. It's what I grew up on, a lot from my mom & grandmother. Wait, there is a Russian food site w/ recipes and Russian products. I'll search it out.

                                              1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                thank you - the foods seem to comprise so many things we love - sauerkraut and cabbage, beets of any kind....I'll do some research as well.

                                                1. re: bayoucook

                                                  I gave a quick look and can't find the site that I used, many look good, though.

                                    2. Assuming you are in the Northern Hemisphere, so warm weather will be quickly upon us. You can buy a side of fresh salmon at Costco or Sam's Club, usually 3-5 lbs. Poach it (you might need to cut into pieces or steaks) in a court bouillon of white wine, whole peppercorns, dill weed, lemons). This should not take more than 15-20 min in pieces. Cool the salmon. It will keep for 3-5 days in the fridge and there are lots of things you can do with it: serve whole with a mayo/yogurt dill weed sauce, great in orzo pasta salad with some peppers, olives, shallots (red onions) and vinaigrette dressing, you can spice it up a little for salmon fish tacos.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                        To help w/ cost, fish and salmon cakes were a fave w/ the kids too. Left over mashed patatos, diced onion, egg, form cakes, dust w/ flour, fry, yum. Serve w/ coleslaw. A big batch of coleslaw lasts too.

                                      2. I have 2 words for you: "crock pot"

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: runwestierun

                                          This doesn't actually fit the criteria of make-ahead, but it is fast. Lately I've been throwing raw frozen shrimp, broccoli (which I wash and cut up when I get home from the store) and angel hair into boiling water. They all take about the same amount of time to cook. I usually put the shrimp in first, then when the water returns to a boil, add the broccoli and pasta and set the timer. Drain the whole mess, and grate some parm over it. I am excited by anything that contains protein and vegetables and only takes one piece of cookware to prepare!

                                        2. I like stuffed shells or lasagna rolls for making ahead. I put the sauce and parmesan on top and cover, so they can go straight into the oven. Doesn't get easier than that ...

                                          1. -- someone else mentioned muffin tins. Kids who don't like meatloaf, love it when it is in a muffin tin, individual portions. Can be made ahead and frozen. Serve w/mashed potatoes (if you have TJs, they carry an excellent frozen disk mashed potato, can be done simply in microwave) add a veggie of choice

                                            -- round steak. braise and put if fridge to cool overnight. Trim off fat and slice thinly. Add cooked veggies of choice (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans) and stir fry sauce and saute. Serve over rice and top w/peanuts. Can be made ahead and then stir fried when serving.

                                            -- spiral sliced ham. cut into amount(s) needed for dinner(s). Can be double bagged and frozen. make meal w/sweet potatoes and garlic spinach
                                            make meal of ham & cheese omelets served w/garlic bread and salad
                                            make bean soup w/ham bone

                                            1. 1) Fake Chicken and Dumplings: In a large deep baking dish put 2 boxes of frozen pierogies, the kind with mashed potato filling; and boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into several pieces, Cover everything with chicken broth from a carton. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. If you do this in the evening it will be ready just to warm up the next night when you get home.
                                              2) Chicken pieces in baking dish, sprinkled generously with soy sauce and garlic powder and covered with a can of crushed pineapple. 3) (This one may get me flamed on Chowhound---gourmets, please look away)--- boneless skinless chicken breasts in baking dish, covered with undiluted contents of can of Cream of Chicken Soup. Bake for an hour. Juice oozes out of chicken and combines with soup to make a gravy that, while disgusting to elite cooks, may be acceptable to the working parents of two small children. Also: if you have a rice cooker, cook the largest possible batch using converted rice (aka parboiled or golden) as the grains won't mash together when you freeze it, which is the object of this exercise---freeze individual or dinner portions in little plastic bags and zap when needed. I have found this does not work well with any variety but the converted "golden" rice.