8 easy make-ahead food ideas to save time in the kitchen
18 Feb 2015 Posted by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, FAND
Prepare these eight foods on the weekend for healthy eating all week. Let me show you how an hour or two of food preparation ahead of time can help you put together healthier meals throughout the week.
Make-ahead food ideas help me stay organized, save time and always have something healthy and delicious on hand when I’m hungry.
I’ve found that it really pays off to invest a little time in the kitchen on the weekend to get ready for the week ahead. When I spend just a couple of hours on a Sunday to prepare some foods ahead of time, the benefit comes in the form of quick, healthy meals and snacks for the week.
I admire those who have all their meals for the week planned and prepped in advance – but I’ve never been able to make that work for me. I enjoy the creative aspect of cooking, and I prefer a little spontaneity – often waiting until the end of the day to think about what I might want to cook for dinner or pack for my lunch the next day.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t plan ahead. Rather than planning out each meal, though, I like to prepare some staple foods and ingredients on the weekend – items that I can use in a variety of ways to prepare my lunches and dinners for the week. Take a look at my top 8 make-ahead food ideas.
Eight Healthy Foods to Prepare on the Weekend
I set aside a little time on Sundays (honestly – it usually takes me less than two hours) to prepare a variety of items for the week. And if you were to look in my refrigerator on a Monday morning, here are eight make-ahead food items you’d be very likely to see inside.
Salad greens. Pre-washed salad greens are convenient, but they can be pricey. Instead, I buy a variety of lettuces and greens, break them into bite-sized pieces for salads, then wash and spin them in my salad spinner. Then (don’t laugh) I put them in a pillowcase and store them in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. The salad spinner gets the greens really dry, and the pillowcase works better than plastic bags to keep them fresh and crisp. The greens don’t get soggy this way, and they stay fresh for a full week.
Pre-cut vegetables. I pack a salad nearly every day for lunch and I make a salad almost every night for dinner, too. To make it easy, I prepare a lot of different veggies and store them in individual containers in the refrigerator. My stand-bys are thinly sliced cucumbers, red onion and bell pepper, grated carrots and chopped parsley; but to prep my food ahead of time, I often blanch some broccoli or cauliflower florets or roast some zucchini slices or asparagus spears in a hot oven and chill those, too. When it’s time to pack my lunch, it takes less than five minutes to choose the veggies I want, top it off with some protein and some salad dressing. But it doesn’t stop there – these veggies get worked into a lot of meals throughout the week, too.
Pan-seared chicken pieces. Cooking some chicken in advance is a real lifesaver for me. Starting with about two pounds (1kg) of chicken tenders (goujons), I sprinkle them with a little salt, pepper and paprika, then brown them on one side in a little bit of olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Then, I flip them over, add a few tablespoons of liquid to the skillet (white wine, broth, water, or lemon juice), cover the skillet and let them cook for 5-6 minutes until they’re done. I often add these to my salad for lunch or I’ll stuff some into a whole grain pita pocket with some of my pre-cut veggies and a drizzle of hummus for my husband’s lunch. Or, if I make a quick soup or pasta for dinner, it’s nice to have some cooked chicken to toss in at the last minute.
Beans or lentils. Slow cookers are great for making beans or lentils, and the fantastic flavor and texture of the homemade version is, to me, worth the effort of a few minutes spent in the kitchen. Black beans are a particular favorite of mine, and I slow cook them with onions, garlic and bay leaves and maybe a little cumin or oregano. Once they’re cooked, I keep them in the refrigerator to mix into my salad for lunch. Or, I might use them as the base for a soup or chili. If I’ve made lentils, I’ll toss them with some of my chopped vegetables (again, the veggies!) for a main dish salad, or turn them into a curry for dinner.
Hard boiled eggs. Eggs are one of the best protein sources around, and it only takes a few minutes to hard boil them. Here’s my method for perfect hard-boiled eggs. I use hard boiled eggs as a protein source in my salads, and I often grab one for a quick snack – I like to spread a rice cake with some grainy mustard, then top it with a sliced egg and some of my sliced vegetables.
Tuna salad. When I have tuna salad in the refrigerator, it makes it a lot easier for me to work more fish into my diet. I mix flaked tuna with either mashed avocado or some hummus, a little mustard, and a lot of chopped vegetables (again, those pre-cut vegetables!) It serves as a protein source for my salad at lunch, or I’ll use a little scoop for a high-protein snack on some whole-grain crackers.
Hummus. Hummus takes only a few minutes to make and will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a week. It’s also very inexpensive to make compared with the price of store-bought versions. Start with a can of beans (garbanzos/chickpeas are traditional, but other beans work just as well (try my black bean hummus recipe). Drain the beans, rinse and drain again, then whirl in the blender with a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper until smooth. Hummus with raw veggies makes a great snack, but I also use it in place of mayonnaise in tuna or egg salad, or I’ll thin it down with a little vinegar and water for a delicious salad dressing or sauce on steamed vegetables. I also like to add a spoonful into soups or curries for a protein and flavor boost.
Salad dressing. When you consider the cost of the ingredients, bottled dressings are relatively expensive, and they’re often high in salt, sugar and preservatives. Making your own dressing is simple, and allows you to control the ingredients. I mix two parts olive oil to one part acid (citrus juice, vinegar), then add salt and pepper to taste. I vary the acid and often will use a blend – like lime juice and rice vinegar, or lemon juice and sherry vinegar. You can experiment with adding dried herbs, mustard, garlic powder or onion powder, too. Or, try these salad dressing recipe ideas. In addition to using on salads, I might drizzle one of these flavorful dressings over steamed veggies, or use as a marinade for fish or poultry.
So, those are eight make-ahead foods you’re bound to find in my fridge. What make-ahead food ideas do you and your family enjoy? Is there something obvious that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below.
Susan Bowerman is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.
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