If you've got the freezer space, consider making meals ahead. Plan a few meals, or even a month's worth of food. You won't have to wonder what to make for dinner, and you'll have some meals handy to take to someone else, if necessary. Once you've mastered the basics of make-ahead meals, consider starting a club. Cooking with friends reduces the work load and makes the time go by quickly.
Plan the Menu
Many cookbooks offer ideas for make-ahead meals, but your best bets are simple casseroles and other dishes that freeze well. Lasagna, chicken enchiladas, sloppy joe mix, beef stew, lentil soup and chicken pot pie are just a few of the possibilities. Try to plan meals that have similar ingredients. For example, lasagna, sloppy joes and enchiladas all utilize hamburger and tomato sauce. Speed up your cooking by using dry dressing and seasoning mix as a single ingredient to flavor your dishes. Avoid dishes with sour cream or eggs that may separate during the reheating process.
Once you've chosen a menu, break the tasks down into several days' worth of work. On day one, shop for the ingredients. On day two, brown the meat and cut up any vegetables. On day three, assemble the meals, package and label them and put them in the freezer. Making a month's worth of meals can be overwhelming, but doing a few tasks each day makes it more manageable.
Safe Storage Tips
Decide ahead of time on storage containers for your make-ahead meals. Aluminum foil pans work well for casseroles that will be reheated directly in the oven. Heavy-duty freezer bags or plastic containers are suitable for items such as sloppy joe mix that will be thawed and then reheated on the stove or in the microwave. Allow foods to cool before storing them in the freezer. Storing items while they are hot raises the temperature of the freezer and may cause uneven freezing. Cover the containers with freezer wrap or heavy aluminum foil. Use frozen foods within two to three months for best quality.
Most moms initially try make-ahead meals to save time, but you'll save money, as well. Take advantage of the lower prices of products that are on sale or on bulk items, such as a 10 lb. can of spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce. Hamburger and chicken often come in bulk sizes, as well. You'll reduce your dependency on take-out and fast-food dinners for busy weeknights by making meals ahead of time. Simply pull a meal out of the freezer in the morning and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator. Bake it at dinnertime and prepare a simple salad with creamy dressing, vegetable dish and rolls from the deli.