Busy Week Ahead? Here Are 5 Meal Prep Tips You Need

If you've got a busy weeknight schedule, chances are you try to do some make ahead food prep. Batch cooking on a weekend can give you ready-made meals where all you need to do is pull a serving, or a whole dish, out of the freezer and you're ready to go.

If you're looking for make ahead recipes, we've got you covered with recipes for healthy freezer meals, make ahead lunches, and even freezer-friendly recipes for breakfast.

But regardless of what food you're making, there are five make ahead meal tips that will make your advance work easier, both in the cooking and when you're ready to eat. Here are the five tips you need to know for make ahead meal prep.

1. Cook in big batches with a friend.

make ahead meal tips

Shared hands make the work lighter, so if you're planning on a big make-ahead meal prep day, call a friend or two and turn it into a big batch party. For example, you might each bring a recipe and the ingredients for a dish that can be doubled and then you each go home for two batches of meals, one of each kind.

You can shop also together for large quantities of ingredients at a place like Costco or Sam's Club, then divide the food up into prepackaged ingredients (this strategy is great if you want to make your own bags of stir fry to go in the freezer).

Or you might try a more involved project like making your own ravioli. You can set up an assembly line and then divide up the pasta pockets at the end of the day. And at the same time, you can cook up a giant batch of tomato sauce to divide up as well.

2. Don't make of all the same dishes.

I love pasta as much as the next cheese and carb-obsessed person, but even I have to admit that eating mac and cheese for lunch followed by a baked ziti for dinner is a bit much, especially if you're planning on having leftovers for lunch the next day.

Mix it up some when you're batch cooking. Pasta isn't the only thing that's easy to freeze, so make sure you've got some different types of meals like chicken enchiladas, other non-pasta grain-based dishes, or something that can be added to different pasta, brown rice, or meat bases.

3. Freeze different-sized portions.

make ahead meal tips

Depending on how many people you're trying to feed on any given night, you think about freezing different sized meal portions. Of course, to feed the whole family,  putting a whole casserole in the freezer is a given, but you may also want to freeze smaller portions, too.

If you're making lunch, freezing it in single serving glass containers means you or anyone else in the family can simply pull one portion out of the freezer, stick it in a lunch bag, and then it can go directly in the microwave when you're ready to eat. (Just remember to put it in an insulated bag or in the fridge at work so that it doesn't completely thaw before you're ready for it - food poisoning is no fun).

You might also think about freezing meals in two servings, one for dinner and one for lunch the next day. If you're having a super busy week, that simple bit of prep could save you some time.

4. Freeze components, not just complete meals.

make ahead meal tips

Making casseroles and freezing them, whether in individual or family-sized portions is helpful, but so is batch prepping a variety of meal components.

Having a variety of different components lets you stay flexible for those nights that you just don't want the chicken casserole you made for that week. For example, if you have white beans and swiss chard in the freezer, Parmesan cheese in the fridge, and pasta in the cabinet, you've got the makings a filling, healthy meal that won't take you any longer than it does to cook the pasta.

To be honest, having the components there for you makes it easier to find a bit of inspiration on a busy weeknight. You might not think to combine roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, and corn for an easy, healthy salad or wrap if you didn't see all those things hanging out in your freezer.

Different ingredients for a meal also helps if you've got picky eaters in the house because you can customize based on individual preferences. Taco Tuesday becomes even easier!

5. Label everything.

I'm convinced every time I stick something in the freezer that there's no way I could possibly forget what's in the foil wrapped packages. Every single time, I'm wrong. (Also, I have no idea when those painstakingly-measured discs of frozen milk, just right for making homemade hamburger buns, actually went into the freezer, which is not a best practice for home cooking.)

Get a sharpie that stays in your kitchen—on your fridge, in your junk drawer, on a hook inside a cabinet door—and use it to label everything with the name and date it went in the freezer.

You can also label things with recipes, instructions, or meal ideas. For bags of stir fry, you can note that it needs whatever amount of sauce and feeds so many people. For a pasta casserole that's assembled but not baked yet, write the time it needs to bake and at what temperature the oven needs to be at.

It may sound a bit silly to think you won't remember all that in the moment, but when you're busy and stressed, having the thinking already done for you can be a lifesaver.

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