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Need recipes for make-ahead/heat-em-up dinners for 2 very hungry boys home from college...ideas?

I love to cook...I really do. But during the week I have a very limited amount of time, and I like to hit the gym after work, so I often don't get home until 9 or 10. To try and come home and make dinner every night, well, I just can't do that anymore. My son (his friend from college lives right across the street and he is like my 2nd son!) is perfectly capable of cooking something easy, but I know he loves my cooking. I'd like to find a few really hearty/yummy recipes that I can make and freeze, or at least stick in the fridge, and then they have good home-cooked meals when they get the hungries (which is, let's face it, 24/7. :-))

As an example, I made this the other night. It lasted 3 nights, and they LOVED it.

I also keep seasoned grilled chicken frozen in containers, and then move them to the fridge so that they can add chicken to those steam bags of veggies. They also love the Voila frozen dinners - but each boy can eat ONE for dinner!!

Any other suggestions? Hoping for something different, and not terribly time consuming?

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  1. If you're looking for items that are readily microwavable...
    I suggest a Mexican themed dinner where they can mix it up to get different dishes.

    Taco meat or chili verde, Mexican rice and refried beans.
    They can make nachos, tacos, burritos, taco salad or just a plate dinner.

    1. A real simple pre-prep meal is rice/veggie/meat in a microwave safe container. Cook the rice (brown often for myself), cook the meat (I often use chicken/turkey/tilapia), add some veggies raw (broccoli, asparagus). Layer them rice bottom then meat then veggie. Microwave for a few minutes and ready.

      If you didn't know microwaving veggies turn out amazing, keep their color, stay crisp and supposedly best way to keep the nutrients. Was taught this by a guy I knew that couldn't cook and was a workout fanatic. He used to do this every sunday for his whole weeks worth of food.

      Honestly though might be better to let them fend for themselves or learn to cook. They will have a long life of it ahead of them and the skills/practice will never hurt.

      1 Reply
      1. re: NekoNekoFancyPants

        Actually, they "fend for themselves" most of the time, already. :-) I'm not looking to have a hot home-cooked meal 3 times a day, beleive me. My son can cook a mean breakast, and he does, and he takes care of his own lunch as well. I would just like to provide a couple of good meals a week that they can heat up.

      2. Sounds like your boys have similar tastes to my SO...he loves those frozen skillet meals too, and eats one of them for lunch when I don't have leftovers for him.

        What about enchiladas? You could either buy canned sauce or make the sauce on the weekend.... same for cooking up whatever meat. My SO likes ground beef enchiladas made w/ the taco seasoning packets... in flour tortillas with cheese in them, and on top. Takes maybe 15-20 to assemble and another 15 to bake. Not much real cooking involved :)

        Also, this casserole is very easy and SO loves it: http://www.tablefortwoblog.com/2012/0... It's better reheated the next day.

        This is sorta similar to the rigatoni you made, but the pesto makes it a bit different: http://www.dashrecipes.com/recipes/co...

        We also both enjoyed this baked chicken, and it's a snap to put together: http://www.chow.com/recipes/30350-asi... Reminds me I should make it again soon.

        There's lots of other italian-y kind of things... skillet lasagne, baked chicken parm etc.

        Oh, also you could roast or grill a big hunk of beef, like a tri-tip, and then thinly slice... great for sandwiches the next day.

        1 Reply
        1. re: juliejulez

          Wow those look great!! I will be trying them ALL.

          Hadn't thought about cooking a beef roast for sandwiches...great idea!

          1. re: GH1618

            I always get 3 nights out of chili. 2 nights as regular chili, and 3rd night spread over cheese quesadillas.

            1. re: jeanmarieok

              Don't forget chili dogs or chili cheese baked potato (if necessary, they can cook up the potato's in the micro.

          2. Enchiladas (either chicken or beef - or both, since they are hungry boys) with some spanish rice.
            Chicken & rice is an easy heat and eat meal.
            Make a roasted red pepper sauce and refrigerate and all they have to do is cook some pasta.
            Fritata's reheat well.
            Scalloped potatoes and ham also reheat well.
            Lasagna? Try several different types. Chicken lasagna with a beschamel sauce instead of ricotta.
            Any kind of wraps with a pasta salad.
            I've also been known to cook a small turkey with all the trimmings and plate individual meals on a plastic plate, vacuum seal and freeze. Easy reheat in the microwave and so good (turkey, stuffing, potatoes, veggie and gravy).
            Tubs of Chili are really great as well. They can add their own toppings.
            Keep stuff for Nacho's on hand.

            Other than that, leave printed recipes on hand so they can learn as NekoNeko suggested.

            1 Reply
            1. re: boyzoma

              Yeah I make a hellava chicken and rice soup, and tortilla soup, and chili, but somehow I just never want to make that stuff in the summer.

            2. This is a terrific Tuna Noodle Casserole that I used to make when I kept my mother's freezer stocked with microwavable meals. It was one of her favorites.


              I'd sometimes use panko instead of breadcrumbs and substitute gruyere for the cheddar, and would also add frozen peas. I'd sometimes double the amount of tuna as well, but it wasn't at all necessary.

              1. My kids would always eat lasagna. That can certainly be frozen.

                And, if you made a bang up mac and cheese, it could stay in the fridge for a couple of days, until demolished.

                Another fridge item which can be eaten at will, without reheating is your favorite broccoli salad. A batch of that should be good for 2 or 2 1/2 days refrigerated.

                But, why not just make a batch of the stuff you make that they like?

                4 Replies
                1. re: sueatmo

                  "But, why not just make a batch of the stuff you make that they like?"

                  Because frankly, most of the stuff that I make, takes a LOT of time. I want easier/quicker dishes...that still taste good. :-)

                  1. re: FitMom4Life

                    Maybe just spend one weekend a month making 4-5 different things and freezing it. That should get you past the time consumption factor - except that one weekend.

                    And invest in crockpots. Lifesavers. :-)

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      Well I have a crockpot, but I can't count on them being home when it's done (to at least turn it off!). I love using the crockpot though...it just has to be a night where I am going to be home. I might revist some crockpot recipes though...thanks!

                      1. re: FitMom4Life

                        I read some good advice on this site a few years ago and rethought the crockpot timing -- Instead of leaving the dish to cook from the morning, it works well to start it when you go to bed. In the morning, it's done and you can let it cool until you head to work and put it in the fridge. Reheating can be done at any time after that, a portion at a time.

                2. ok..pls don't think I am crazy b/c I know it's not even close to the same thing but, I have great success with making big batches of "veal meatball stew" to have on the ready for my almost 1 year old.
                  Now, before you laugh me off, please note- this child can pack it away and when she's starving, food better be ready or God save you. I make it very simply by using ground veal and adding egg, a touch of nutmeg, seasoned panko, salt, pepper, a touch of milk and simmer them in chicken stock with veggies like baby carrots, parsnips, mushrooms, peas, cut potato, etc... it stays in the fridge really well, and I also freeze it. You could serve it over rice, pasta, egg noodles...you could add orzos.
                  I would imagine you could use chicken if it was cheaper, but i'd add sage and a touch of ricotta into the chicken meatballs to keep it moist.
                  I;ve eaten it when I was super hungry and didn't feel like coking for myself.
                  You could also do meatballs in red sauce and prep for reheating to make meatball sandwiches.
                  all in all- anything meatball practically cooks itself and super easy to freeze in ziploc bags or containers.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: MRS

                    I'm going to try those veal meatballs. I think my kid would demolish them

                    1. re: cheesecake17

                      The easiest dinner/ lunch ever. I use organic chicken stock. Get it boiling and then get the meatballs in. If I do chicken meatballs, I definitely use a wetter combo of ingredients. Depending on your kids' taste, you could make the veal meatballs more sophisticated with the addition of parmesan cheese, fresh basil, or other flavors. I keep it on an Italian vein, but you could also do it Asian, with those types of flavors- cilantro, sesame, ginger, etc...
                      Seriously- super easy, not very time consuming, best in fridge or freezer!! So adaptable for varied tastes and very healthy!!
                      I hope your kids enjoy!!

                      1. re: MRS

                        Thanks! My kid isn't so picky- but if she doesn't want to eat then she just won't eat a thing.

                  2. Since they are both comfortable cooks I'd focus on having kitchen staples on hand: eggs, pizza dough, pasta, bread, cheese, produce and a few notes on the frig for pull together ideas. Focus on your own home cooking on the weekends and let the guys have at it in the kitchen during the week!

                    You're entitled to your week night routine and at their age they're move than old enough to figure out a few meals.

                    1. The key to easily reheatable meats is using fattier cuts that don't dry out: chuck roast/boston butt/chicken thighs/ground beef. Roasted vegetables is a good reheatable side. A simple frozen veg is Trader Joe's haricots verts.

                      This recipe is so much better than you think it's going to be and it lasts for days. You don't have to use a crock pot if you don't have one. It reheats well in the microwave. Use boston butt instead of pork tenderloin. Sear it if you have time. Serve it over rice, as fajitas/burritos/over salad.


                      White chicken chili. I don't use a recipe but this looks along the lines of what I do. Serve w/ salad and corn bread. Add a can of hominy if you don't want to do the cornbread. Use boston butt for a "posole' like stew.


                      Meatloaf. Make it ahead and they can pan fry and make sandwiches. My son's new favorite is a meatloaf toad in a hole--cut a hole out of the meatloaf, pan fry and add an egg in the end. Top w/ cheese.

                      Savory bread pudding/strata. Mix it up in the morning and have them cook when they get home. Or put in the crock pot. You don't get the nice crust but you get smooth custard. I don't use a recipe but something like this (mix it up, cover w/ plastic wrap then have them bake).


                      2 Replies
                      1. re: chowser

                        Wow - the strata looks amazing. Adding to my list! Sheesh...never even heard of strata before - thank you!

                        1. re: FitMom4Life

                          It's actually a great breakfast food for special occasions. Make the night before, bake in the morning. It's just a savory bread pudding when you come down to it. I love that you can add whatever you want.

                      2. Have balls of dough in the fridge/freezer that they can make their own pizzas.

                        Individual lasagnas in small foil pans they can heat up (IN THE OVEN, not the microwave! LOL)

                        Hearty soups (couple of the frozen "artisan" crusty rolls in the oven/toaster oven, and it's very filling!)

                        Pulled pork! You can make up a huge crockpot full, and then freeze it in 2-3 cup containers. Have some soft rolls available, bagged coleslaw that they can toss with a bit of mayo and/or vinegar.

                        Chili is another easily freezable meal. Get them boxes of Jiffy cornbread, and it's a done deal.

                        Meatloaf for sandwiches.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: LindaWhit

                          Pulled pork! Yep!! That actually reminds me of a good crockpot recipe I can use. You guys are great for- getting my brain kickstarted on this!! :-)

                          1. re: FitMom4Life

                            Pulled pork is a great idea! I do 2-3lbs at a time in the slow cooker and it always makes plenty.

                            1. re: whitneybee

                              Pulled pork is delicious in tacos, quesadillas, cuban sandwiches and in omelets, too. You can get a lot of miles out of pulled pork.

                          2. re: LindaWhit

                            I make pulled brisket for my husband. Freezes well in small containers, and he puts it in the micro to heat.

                          3. Roast a large roaster chicken, and put it in the fridge. You can pick at it all week. Grab a drumstick and some frozen veggies for a side. Take some of the breast meat and make a sandwich, etc. Same goes for a turkey breast, you can do the same thing.

                            I see a lot of Mexican food ideas, but Chinese food is also a great way to go. Buy some beef (I like sirloin myself) and slice thinly. Add to a large frying pan with some sliced onion, a bag of frozen broccoli, some soy sauce, ginger, garlic and you have beef and broccoli. Make some rice and keep that in the fridge with it.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: mwk

                              I'd love to do more with the beef...that sounds really awesome. I've never tried doing a stir fry...but gosh that sounds good. I might even try that tonight if I can find a good cut of meat at the store.

                              1. re: FitMom4Life

                                You can also use boneless chicken thighs or breasts. If you go for the beef, get something that will be tender with short cooking time (like the sirloin, or another good steak type). You don't need a lot of beef to feed a lot of people, when you mix it with the vegetables, so splurging on a good, tender cut will make a big difference. Also, if your boys like things with a bit of a kick to them, add a teaspoon or more of chili garlic paste to the sauce.

                                1. re: FitMom4Life

                                  Another time-saving tip for beef stir fry is to buy enough beef (I also use boneless sirloin) for two meals; marinate all of the sliced beef; use 1/2 immediately and freeze the other 1/2 in the marinade. Then when you're ready to use the second batch, all you have to do is to prepare the vegetables (I like asparagus sliced thin) and the stir fry sauce.

                                  To prevent the second half from developing freezer burn, I cover the top of the beef in the container, making sure all of the edges are between the beef and the container.

                              2. I've been cooking from Robin Miller's cookbook Quick Fix Dinners, and made a recipe last night similar to this one that was excellent - used rice instead of the barley, and butternut squash in place of acorn. This could be prepped and left for them to heat /reheat in microwave or oven.

                                A pork tenderloin is another quick-fix main that can be used dozens of ways. Often served with a microwaved sweet potatoe in our house. Any leftovers get shredded for tacos/burritos, along with some rice & salsa.

                                1. A chopped up kielbasa.....sautéed. Add onions a pkg of Shredded or diced potato, some spices if you want, some cream of mushroom soup. Put in a casserole. Top with shredded cheese.

                                  Freeze or refrig the casserole. Heating depends on the state...1 hour at 350 for frozen Maybe more. 30-40 mins from fridge.

                                  no comment on the lifestyle

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                                    Oh...that Kielbasa reminds me of another of my favorite quick Go To dishes...Fried cabbage and Kielbasa (with or without noodles). If your family likes Cabbage, it's great.

                                    In a large saute pan with a lid, put 2 TB butter. Slice one Kielbasa into thin rounds. Saute in the butter until golden and it has released a bit of its fat. Chop 1 onion and add to the pan, cook until translucent. Garlic is optional, if you like garlic, add a chopped clove or two when you add the onion.

                                    Use a medium (2-3lb) cabbage, sliced thinly, almost like cole slaw size. Saute in the butter and fat in the pan until a bit brown. Add a few shakes of Tabasco sauce (to taste...I like it spicy) or any other hot red pepper sauce. If you prefer to be low carb, stop there and serve in bowls, or put in the fridge for eating later. If you want more substance to it, add a half-box of cooked pasta shapes or egg noodles to the mixture (whatever you like).

                                  2. You have gotten some amazing ideas already. What a great resource for any busy family!

                                    My son is only 12 but a few thing I always batch cook and have on hand in the freezer for easy meals he can make himself are:

                                    *bags of meatballs. He can easily turn these in meatball subs, spaghetti and meatball, eat on their own

                                    *small pans of baked pasta dishes. Lasagna, mac and cheese, stuffed shells, etc. Can be nuked if rushed or baked.

                                    *beef and bean burritos

                                    *egg sandwiches

                                    *trader Joe frozen jasmine and brown rice. There are always things in the fridge for stir fries or rice bowls.

                                    1. The COTM for May was Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless. A ton of these recipes are online and you can get great recs from here:


                                      Somewhat the point of this is to eliminate some steps, but not taste, and have it ready in 30 minutes or so. The Cowboy beans are simply amazing! And if you make up some salsas, rice and beans, they can add to it. I love this book!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        Oh yes, the Chipotle Meatballs would be great for OP too.

                                        1. re: juliejulez

                                          I still haven't tried those but love the pork tinga:


                                          Unlike this version, in the cookbook he eliminates the browning and it goes straight into the slowcooker with the potatoes on the bottom. This make a lot but would also be easy to double.

                                          Gotta do those meatballs :)

                                      2. Barbecued Beef or Pork---Cook the meat overnight in crock pot with canned tomato sauce, a few cans of water. vinegar, brown sugar, chopped onion and green pepper, salt, garlic, and cinnamon and clove (don't omit the last two). Tear the meat up with two forks or remove it to a cutting board and cut it up. Adjust the seasoning and add hot red pepper if you want it. Eat on hamburger buns.

                                        Also if corn has been shucked already and is in refrig in plastic bag they will microwave it.

                                        You can also leave a cake sitting around.

                                        1. I love the Monster Minestrone soup recipe from A Dinner a Day. Although it's a great vegetarian version, I often add some seasoned cooked ground beef or diced cooked chicken to warm during the last few minutes of cooking, to keep my spouse happy. It does take me about 30 minutes of chopping to get everything in the pot, but it cooks nicely on it's own after that and makes a huge quantity. You can see the ingredients list by looking for the last week of October in google books preview at this link

                                          1. I do a lot of the stir fry, Mexican & Asian type dishes listed here.

                                            When flank, flat iron or rib eyes are on sale, I buy a few meals worth, then season, marinate and portion out in freezer bags for for separate meals. It can be taken out in the a.m. Then throw it on the grill or in broiler pan that evening. Pork tenderloins are good for that as well. They take to dry rubs or marinades well, or can be cut up into chops or stir fry pieces.

                                            Chicken and rice is a ubiquitous dish in every cuisine. I make some iteration or other at least once a week: French roasted with lemon & thyme, Mexican as fajitas & Spanish rice, Italian milanese or cacciatore with rice or pasta, Japanese sukiyaki and white rice.... Here's a real tasty Middle eastern prep that my kids enjoy and we usually have enough for a couple meals. The sauce is addictive. http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...

                                            Quick pesto and herb based blender sauces like chimichurri and salsa verdes can do a lot to perk up pieces of chicken, pork or fish. And vegetables can be quick sautéed with a sauce to make a simple pasta primavera that they can whip up on their own.

                                            And Querencia is right, I leave cakes out and they tend to disappear quickly enough....

                                            1. Lasagna is our go to meal when we're out for the day, you can make a huge batch of it at a time. Freeze it and then bake it at a later time. I also like making something called King Ranch casserole

                                              Pulled pork is also a simple thing to make that goes a long way