13 Make Ahead Family Meal Tips

It’s late afternoon or maybe you’re driving home from work, picking up kids from daycare or a practice, regardless, it’s been a long day and you don’t have anything planned for dinner, supper…your evening meal. Mac and Cheese, frozen pizza, take out if you have it near you…unlike us, are easy to do options. But…a family meal to sit down to would be ideal. I’ve learned to make ahead meals and have them available in our deep freeze. In upcoming days and weeks, I’ll share recipes I’ve been using and experimenting with but first here are the basic tips I work off of every few weekends when I make meals ahead of time. In no particular order or fashion…because I am not that organized:

1. Have a few recipes organized and shop for ingredients for those recipes.

2. Utilize recipes with ingredients you might already have on hand. I had ground frozen beef and frozen chicken breasts on hand. I found recipes using those meats.

3. Cook up “mass amounts” at once. Literally, I baked 15 chicken breasts at once and currently have a ham in the oven, a beef roast in the oven and corned beef in the slow cooker. Then I’ll organize them into meals to freeze. I’ll also cook up potatoes, whole wheat pasta, brown rice to mix up with the meats. I have a few different veggies to mix in also.

 4. Don’t be afraid to modify. I had extra cheeses from the holidays I added to lasagna. I was out of pimentos and added green olives to another recipe. My family liked both recipes more than the originals.

5. Invest in disposable pans with covers. I buy them at Sam’s Club with covers. 30 at a time. They stack easily in a deep freeze and make for easy clean up which is essential on a busy night.

6. Make multiple pans of the same recipe. It doesn’t mean you need to eat lasagna every week night but having them on hand means you can eat it once a week or once a month or…share one with a friend or neighbor. I just gave a frozen lasagna to my friend who had a baby this week. Home cooked family food make great gifts!

7. Cook with cans. Cans of beans. Cans of vegetables. Cans of cooked wild rice. Cans of food can be bought in bulk and purchased on sale. Most important when making ahead meals, cans save time!

8. Label the pans with simple directions for reheating or baking. Then your spouse, child or someone else other than you are capable of getting the meal into the oven if you aren’t home to do it. Feel a great sense of pride as your pans start to stack up knowing that your life is about to become a lot easier on wild weeknights. You won’t have to be constantly running to get take out or eating frozen pizza.

9. Don’t be fancy. My family is happy with meat, potatoes and I require vegetables and fruit. We drink milk every meal. Fancy recipes are fun. I do make them when time allows but the basics meet requirements. The core requirement is my family is fed. My other requirements are that we sat down together for a family meal and everyone is seemingly happy with what is served, minus Miss E vocally complaining about me “sneaking” vegetables into casseroles. She’ll learn her dad and brother just quietly pick them out. Thankfully Miss A eats them.

10. Buy what is on sale. The 7.5 lb. ham that is currently in the oven was a post holiday sale item. I’ll be finding numerous ham recipes to use this sale item ham with tonight.

11. Season heavily and add liquid. I add apple juice, beef or chicken broth, Coke or water into meats and most dishes to prevent meals from getting dried out when they are reheated. Seasonings add flavor and avoid foods from tasting…boring or…too healthy as my kids would say.

12. Buy spices in bulk and related back to number 11, season heavily and number 4, don’t be afraid to modify, use spices that you maybe haven’t tried before and be willing to spice it up for flavor. Spices are fat-free and cut back on a lot of calories in my cooking. 
13. Spend a few hours in the kitchen on Saturday afternoon or evening and you’ll reap the benefits for weeks to come. In late December I quadrupled Pioneer Woman’s Chicken Spaghetti recipe…with modifications. I used chickens in a bag which make for an easy meal by themselves. Today for lunch we ate a pan of Chicken Spaghetti. 
What are your make ahead meal tips and tricks? Recipes? I’d love to get some new ideas.

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  1. Look forward to seeing the recipes. Thanks for all these tips!

  2. You rock, KP! I will eagerly await the next installment. 🙂

  3. I love freezer cooking! I have been using menus from onceamonthmom.com for a while. They have several menu types, grocery lists, recipes, directions, etc. I need to check out the pans at Sam’s – has to be cheaper than the grocery store. Will check out the recipes too! Thanks for the tips!

  4. Use your grill to cook up a bunch of seasoned steaks, chicken breasts, hamburger patties etc. at one time. (Here in the Pacific Northwest, we grill rain or shine, because if we were to wait for the sun to shine, we’d never get to grill. ;-)) Freeze them in food saver bags either individually or in a family meal size bag and you will have your choice of how you want to defrost them. Just having the meat pre-cooked is a huge time saver.

  5. Great post! I often just double whatever I’m cooking – one batch for us to eat and one for freezing. The other thing I do a lot of is sticking an entire chicken in the crockpot and then dividing it up into 2 cup servings (perfect for casseroles) and freezing it. So it makes for easy casserole assembly later.

  6. Great ideas! I need to get more organized and do this sort of thing for when planting and harvest seasons start kicking my butt!

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