Tricks and Recipes for Make-Ahead Meals

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Action-packed weeknights, overscheduled weekends, days when you have too much to do before guests come over or before you go to someone else’s house with a dish in hand — there are plenty of times when “make-ahead” meals can come to the rescue.

Make-ahead meals put you in control of your schedule. You do the preparation when you have some extra time, then you’re rewarded with a quick, home-cooked meal when things get hectic later in the day, week, or month.

Since dinnertime is often a hectic time for families, Janice Bissex, RD, author of The Mom’s Guide to Meal Makeovers, says it can really help for moms or dads to make all or part of the meal in advance.

“Prepping ingredients to toss together at the last minute or assembling the full meal for reheating can make the dinner hour more relaxed and manageable,” Bissex tells WebMD in an email interview.

There are several ways to make your meals ahead of time. You can assemble them early and keep in the refrigerator until you’re ready to pop them in the oven. Or you can completely cook your meal, freeze or refrigerate it, then just warm it up at mealtime. Some make-ahead meals don’t even require baking — like main-dish green salads or pasta salads.

Paulette Mitchell, author of 13 cookbooks including A Beautiful Bowl of Soup, says her favorite strategy for make-ahead meals is to plan a soup and salad menu.

“All soups often benefit from being made ahead because standing time allows the flavors to blend,” she says. Further, she says, most homemade salad dressings taste better when they are made a day in advance.

If you’ve got a slow cooker, you’ve got a leg up on make-ahead meals. Judith Finlayson, author of The Healthy Slow Cooker, calls the slow cooker the most effective time manager a cook can have.

“You can get all the ingredients prepped and even partially cooked, in most cases for up to two days ahead,” she says.

Many slow-cooker recipes are suited to being prepared ahead of time, she says. Slow-cooker dishes like stews and chili also lend themselves to being frozen or refrigerated and reheated.

“You can do “big batch” cooking and have dinner for a second night during the week,” she says. “Eat a portion on the day it is cooked, and freeze the rest for future meals.”

Make-Ahead Meals for Breakfast or Brunch

Here are four make-ahead saturated fat, 61 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 175 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 27%. (With pesto): 299 calories, 27 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 11 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 63 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 227 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 34%.

Alfredo Potato Lasagna

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 1/2 cups “hearty stews, chili” OR 1 frozen dinner light + 1/4 cup “starchy foods and legumes with fat” OR 1/2 cup “starchy foods and legumes with fat” + 1 serving “lean fish without added fat”

If you want to make eight servings of this dish, double the ingredients and use a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. To make it ahead of time, just prepare the dish up to Step 5. I used Classico Roasted Garlic Alfredo (in 16-ounce jar) for the recipe and it worked very well. If you don’t want to use tuna, you can substitute 1 1/2-cups of any shredded meat, such as roasted chicken or grilled salmon.

3/4 cup (6 ounces) bottled Alfredo sauce (choose a brand with no more than 6 grams fat per 1/4 cup serving)

1/2 cup fat-free half-and-half or low-fat milk

1 1/2 pounds potatoes, cut widthwise into 1/8-inch thick slices

3 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or more if you like)

12-ounce can albacore tuna (in water), drained

1 cup frozen peas or edamame, lightly thawed

1 cup shredded part-skim Jarlsberg or reduced-fat Swiss cheese (or use gruyere, smoked gouda, or white cheddar)

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees if you’re baking the dish right away. Coat a 9 x 9-inch baking dish with canola cooking spray.
  • Add Alfredo sauce and milk to a medium bowl and whisk together until smooth. Spread a heaping 1/4 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. Layer one-third of the potatoes over the sauce and sprinkle with a dash or two of pepper.
  • Add Parmesan cheese, tuna, peas or edamame, and shredded cheese to a large bowl and toss to mix well. Spread half the tuna mixture over the potatoes in the dish. Top with a heaping 1/4 cup of sauce, then half the remaining potato slices. Top with more black pepper and the remaining tuna mixture.
  • Finish by spreading a heaping 1/4 cup of the sauce on top, then the remaining potato slices. Pour the remaining Alfredo sauce over the top. If you aren’t baking right away, cover with foil and keep in refrigerator until ready to bake.
  • When ready to bake, keep the dish covered with foil and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Then uncover the dish, reduce heat to 350 degrees, and bake about 20 minutes more or until potatoes are tender. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6 servings

Per serving (using Classico Roasted Garlic Alfredo): 342 calories, 26 g protein, 36.5 g carbohydrate, 10.8 g fat, 4.8 g saturated fat, 41 mg cholesterol, 5.5 g fiber, 534 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 28%.

Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2007 Elaine Magee