Interested in creating make-ahead meals that are healthy and budget-conscious?

  • 3 Minutes Read

Remember how convenient leftover Thanksgiving turkey is for creating make-ahead, delicious and healthy meals? Use this same idea to make evening meal preparation quick and easy by following these three steps.

Make ahead meals healthy

Creating make-ahead meals that are healthy and budget-conscious helps make dinner a joy to plan. Time saving methods like cooking and freezing meats ahead of time can make cooking dinner something to look forward to.

Like Thanksgiving leftovers, pre-cooked ground beef and diced chicken take less than 30 minutes to make meals such as tacos, chili, spaghetti sauce, Southwestern soup, fajitas and quesadillas. Add a side dish of fresh fruit for dessert and a glass of lowfat milk to complete your meal!

Three easy steps to create make-ahead meals that are healthy and delicious

Step 1: Buy meats on sale

I look for boneless chicken breasts or ground beef on sale (for me, this is about $2.00 a pound). I purchase large quantities, and store them in the freezer until I have time to prepare them. Weekends work well for me.

Step 2: Cook large amounts

Ground beef: Prepare on the stove or in the oven

To prepare ground beef, you can either brown it on the stove or bake it in the oven, my preferred method. Place your raw ground beef in a large roaster pan, similar to what you would cook your turkey in. I usually cook a minimum of nine pounds at a time. Put the lid on and bake in the oven at 325 degrees F for at least one to two hours until the beef is no longer pink. Half way through, I break up the larger chunks of ground beef with a wooden spoon so that it cooks evenly. While the meat is baking, it is a great time to work, study, do an exercise video or take a nap! When the ground beef is evenly browned, I 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 into the garbage in an empty can and not down the drain. I learned the hard way with an expensive plumbing bill afterwards! Then, put a plastic bag in a two-cup measuring cup and fill it with cooked beef. Label the bag and freeze. Note: There will be a lot less fat to drain and dispose of if you use lean ground beef.

Chicken: Grill, Boil or Bake

To prepare chicken, you can either grill, boil or bake it. Again, my preferred method is to bake it in the oven with a lid, so I can do something else like clean or fold laundry at the same time. Similar to the ground beef, place at least nine pounds of raw chicken into a large roaster pan. You can even take it directly from the freezer without thawing, and place in an ovenproof dish. Cover with one to two cups of water to prevent it from drying out. Cover with a lid and bake at 325 degrees F for one to two hours until the juices run clear when you poke the chicken with a fork. Let cool in a sieve so it cools more quickly. Then, cut chicken into one inch cubes, measure 2 cups, and place in small plastic bags or freezer containers. Label the container and freeze.

Step 3: Creatively cook and increase your vegetables

Because your chicken and ground beef is pre-cooked and ready to go, you now have more time to tweak your recipes and make them even healthier by adding additional 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 your vegetables. Adding more vegetables will not ruin a dish. You can also try roasting vegetables on a large sheet pan. Click here for the keys to roasted vegetables made easy.

Healthy Beef or Chicken Recipes for Dinner

Now that you have pre-cooked ground beef and chicken, try some of these recipes and see how much quicker you can put a tasty, healthy meal on the table. For even quicker cooking, place frozen chicken or ground beef in the microwave two to three minutes to slightly thaw before you use them.

Spaghetti sauce

Instead of just sautéing onions and garlic, grate some carrots and sauté them as well before adding the tomato sauce. My German mother-in-law does this, and the grated carrots not only added a lovely sweetness but also a lot of vitamin A.


One of my favorite make-ahead healthy meals is tacos. Instead of just sautéing onions, complement your dish with some finely chopped red peppers, a good source of vitamin C.

One of my favorite make-ahead healthy meals is tacos. Instead of just sautéing onions, complement your dish with some finely chopped red peppers, a good source of vitamin C.

In addition to doubling the onions, garlic, and celery, I have started adding chopped zucchini and tripling the cilantro (fresh and cooked) for a healthier, hearty taste.


Saute chopped onions long enough on low heat (about double the time) so that they begin to turn brown and naturally caramelize for a delectable flair on your quesadillas. Enhance the mixture with color by adding thinly sliced green, yellow and red peppers.

Bottom Line

By following the three steps above, you can save time, and enjoy a healthy meal. Also, consider creatively increasing your vegetables to craft a new twist on old recipes.

Please share with us your best tips for creating make-ahead meals that are healthy, tasty and budget-conscious.

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Updated: April 8, 2020

Meal Planning & Diets->"Plan, Shop, Prep, and Cook"
Apr 8, 2020
Martha M. Henze
Martha M. Henze, MPH, MS, RDN - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Global Public Health Epidemiologist

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