Summer is on its way out, which means schedules are about to ramp up as Fall comes around. A little advance preparation will keep you right on schedule even on your busiest days, and may even give you some extra time that you will greatly appreciate. Mealtime is one part of the day that you can make more enjoyable. Prep some versatile ingredients and make-ahead meals over the weekend to have a fuss-free kitchen the rest of the week!
Make a “base” salad that you can customize for fast lunches and dinner salads.
Either wash and tear 1-2 heads of lettuce, or buy pre-washed bags of salad greens and place in a large bowl. Add any vegetables you typically eat in a salad. My favorite base-additions are cherry tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and red bell peppers. Toss your base salad together, cover and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat.
When you’re ready (or preparing) to eat, take a portion and put on a plate or in a food storage container. Spruce up your base salad with additional ingredients to make a unique salad for each meal. Try adding veggies like chopped celery, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, squash, onions, avocado, or (pre-) shredded cabbage. Black beans, pre-cooked quinoa, olives, and nuts are all ingredients that can change up your regular salad while adding extra flavor, texture and nutrition. Fresh herbs like cilantro and mint, or dried fruits like raisins and cranberries, can also freshen up your salad to keep you from getting bored. Top with a protein like tofu, roasted chicken or turkey. Add salad dressing or, if your salad is to go, put a small portion of salad dressing in a plastic snack container or glass jar to add later.
Roast Chicken Breasts
Roast 2-3 chicken breasts at once and use as a base for a variety of meals.
Start by preheating your oven to 425 degrees. Place 2-3 (1-1½ lb) chicken breasts, skin side up, in a foil-lined baking pan, then cover in 2 tbsp of olive oil and salt and pepper. Place pan in the oven and let cook for 20 – 30 minutes. Remove the skin when the chicken has cooled enough to handle it. Use this chicken as a starting point for soft tacos, BBQ chicken, sandwiches, pasta or zucchini noodle dishes, salads, pita pizzas, or enchiladas (check out our Quick and Easy Enchiladas here!). Roasted chicken can be the main star of your meal, too–either by itself or with a simple saute of your favorite veggies or even fruits (think tomatoes, mushrooms and olives; or sweet potato and apple). By having a week’s worth of chicken ready to heat and serve, you can plan on making a variety of recipes that will keep tummies full and tastebuds tantalized.
Make one big batch of your favorite sauce or dressing that you can use throughout the week.
One sauce that is especially versatile is pesto, a simple combination of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan cheese. With various recipes out there, it’s easy to swap ingredients to cater to dietary (and financial – pine nuts can be pricey!) needs. Use pesto as a marinade, a salad dressing, on a pizza, as a dip, or in a sandwich. Apply this logic to any of your favorite sauces. In addition to easily prepping multiple dishes at once, a versatile sauce made with high quality ingredients guarantees you’ll have delicious meals to look forward to eating all week.
Some other make-ahead items you could have prepped and stocked in your fridge are hard boiled eggs, oatmeal, brown rice or quinoa, and meatballs.
When it comes to planning out your meals for the week, it doesn’t have to be difficult or too time consuming. Take advantage of pre-washed veggies to use in your salads or as side dishes. Vegetables in microwave steam bags cook in only a few minutes and are ready to serve with a dash of salt and pepper or a squeeze of lemon. Pair two convenience item such as a frozen entrée with your pre-made salad for a quick and healthy lunch. Freeze or refrigerate the extra portions of a meal (such as our Enchiladas) to eat later in the week as a family dinner or as a quick lunch. By having a fridge full of ready-to-use ingredients and ready-to-eat meals, you can cut your daily time (and stress) in the kitchen. We know you won’t complain about the extra time you’ll gain, thanks to a little prep work!