Make-Ahead Dinner Strategies

It slowly creeps in. First it’s back-to-school night. Then it’s a mid-week soccer game. Before you know it, your family is busy three nights out of five during the school week and faster than you can say “what’s for dinner?” you are looking for the quickest way to get a meal to your family’s table.

There is no better time for wholesome, make-ahead dinner strategies than the return of the school year and all that comes with it. Take out, fast food and eating at restaurants is not only costly, but usually isn’t nutritionally balanced. While offering a gourmet dinner is also not likely to happen, we need to find the middle ground and develop a strategic plan for getting healthful meals to your family’s table.

Step #1: A moment with your calendar

This critical first step is essential for effectively making ahead your dinners, planning for your week and saving time and money. Look over your week to determine the late nights, schedule changes and other factors that will create a time crunch for you and your family. This must-do step will set the stage for your week and impact what you do next when you go shopping. Then plan your meals.

Step #2: Weekly grocery shop

So, now that you know what your week looks like and have planned dinners accordingly, it’s time to go to the store. Before you leave the house, however, go through your refrigerator and pantry to see what you have and check expiration dates so you can use those foods first. Once your list is created, bring it to the store and stick to it! Since you have already put the time in, you can be sure that the list you have is the one designed to streamline your week.

Step #3: Prep while you can

Whether it is washing and dicing fresh vegetables ahead of time, making a large pot of brown rice, dicing and freezing onions or rinsing and soaking beans, use your time most effectively to prepare and save time for when you don’t have it. If you have a full day at home, make a casserole, soup or bread and bake chicken, then date and freeze for future use.

Step #4: Make too much…especially of these foods

Grains (like brown rice, pasta and quinoa), skinless chicken breast, lean meatballs, grilled vegetables are foods that are worth making too much of. Leftovers can be used to create healthful school lunches and quick and easy dinners. Recreate these ingredients using different spice blends, dressings and marinades. Your family won’t even realize it is the same grain they ate the night before!

Step #5: Write a note

This step is especially important if you are not the one home every day to get dinner going or pack lunch. You have a plan for lunch and dinner…it is essential that everyone else knows it too. Skipping this step may mean your family orders a pizza while the fresh, wholesome food you have prepared  slowly goes bad in the fridge and money is wasted.

For more tips and make ahead dinner strategies, check out our webinar, Healthier Home Cooking.

Rainbow Pizza

Rainbow pizza

This cheese-less pizza turns the average pizza night into one of your healthiest meals of the week! Kids and parents alike will be attracted to the beautiful color of this pizza that can easily be made gluten free or even vegan (depending on the pesto used). Dice up extra bell peppers and summer squash for another dinner.

Vegetarian Pot Pie

This well liked recipe calls for 1/2 of a whole yellow onion. I suggest dicing the entire onion and saving the rest for a future recipe. If you are unable to find mushroom broth, low-sodium vegetable broth is a good substitution.

Tired of cooking? You’ve earned a night (almost!) off. Grab the extra diced onions from your Vegetarian Pot Pie and peppers and squash from your Rainbow Pizza and sauté with a little olive oil. Follow these instructions for a quick and easy frittata! (Please note: this Frittata recipe calls for asparagus, please skip this step and use the onion and vegetables you have on hand. Cheese is optional.)

Balsamic-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

It is well worth making extra of this delicious recipe. Leftover Brussels sprouts can be used in a variety of ways, including just adding them to a simple salad on a busy night to turn that salad into something more.

Beef Mango and Barley Salad

When preparing the barley for this meal, make extra for a future meal.

Black Bean Toss

A perfect use for the cilantro left over from the Beef Mango and Barley Salad. While this recipe calls for scallions, I suggest substituting green onions (a very small change) and using the leftover onions for Black Bean Pizza.

Busy night? Grab your grill pan (or other skillet) and cook up some boneless, skinless chicken tenders. While the chicken cooks, put together a salad and warm up your leftover Brussels sprouts and barley. Voila! A balanced dinner in 10 minutes!

Black Bean Pizza

Ready for pizza again? Use the extra green onions from the Beef Mango and Barley Salad to make this crowd-pleasing, Mexican twist on traditional pizza. To make this gluten free simply use Cabot 50% Light shredded cheddar cheese and gluten-free pizza dough.