Interested in creating make-ahead meals that are healthy and budget-conscious?
- 2 Minutes Read
Make evening meal prep quick and easy by following these three steps.
Cooking ahead and creating make-ahead meals that are both healthy and budget-conscious helps dinner become a joy to prepare. Use this time-saving method of cooking and freezing meats in advance so that you can look forward to cooking dinner. With pre-cooked meat stored in the freezer, it takes less than 30 minutes to put together dishes like tacos, chili, spaghetti sauce, soup, fajitas, and quesadillas. A side dish of fresh fruit and a glass of low-fat milk make a complete meal.
Purchase large quantities, especially when on sale, and store them in the freezer until you have time to prepare them. Weekends may work well.
To prepare the ground meat, either brown it on the stove or bake it in the oven. To bake, place the raw ground meat in a large roasting pan. You can cook up to nine pounds at a time. Bake, covered, in the oven at 325 degrees F for at least one to two hours until it is no longer pink. Halfway through, break up the larger chunks of ground meat with a wooden spoon so it cooks evenly. When done, take the roaster out of the oven, remove the lid, and let it cool for about 30 minutes. To drain the fat, spoon the meat into a large sieve and let the fat drain into a large bowl. Discard the fat. Place a plastic bag in a two-cup measuring cup and fill it with the cooked ground meat. Label, date, and freeze.
To prepare chicken, you can either grill, boil, or bake it. You can cook up to nine pounds at a time. To bake, place the chicken in a large roasting pan. Cover with one to two cups of water to prevent it from drying out. Bake, covered, in the oven at 325 degrees F for one to two hours until the juices run clear when you pierce the chicken with a fork. Let cool in a sieve so it cools faster. Then, cut chicken into one-inch cubes, measure out 2 cups and place in small plastic bags or freezer containers. Label, date, and freeze.
Because your meat is pre-cooked and ready to go, you now have more time to tweak your recipes to make them healthier by increasing the vegetables. Create a new twist on an old favorite in order to achieve the recommended intake of at least three vegetable servings per day. One way to start is to simply double the vegetables in a recipe. Adding more vegetables will not ruin a dish.
Use your pre-cooked meat for recipes such as spaghetti sauce, tacos, soup, casseroles, and quesadillas. You will be pleased with how much quicker you can get a meal on the table.
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This content was reviewed and updated by Brenda Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES on July 21, 2022.
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