Planning healthy meals for your week doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Incorporate some of these ideas for make-ahead meals that will help you put nutritious food on the table despite a busy schedule.
Pot of Beans
If you use a slow cooker, there are few meals simpler than a pot of beans. Soak 1 pound of black beans in water overnight. Then add the beans, 6 cups of water, 3 cloves of minced garlic, and a small diced onion to your slow cooker. Cook the beans on high for 5-6 hours or low for about 8 hours. Add seasonings such as cumin, basil, chili powder, and salt to taste.
Fully cooked beans can get mushy after being frozen so remove any you plan to freeze about 1 hour before the beans are done cooking. Beans can be served over brown rice, as a filling for tacos, or topped with an egg for breakfast. Puree the beans and add your favorite spices for a vegetable dip, or use the puree to thicken and flavor soups and pasta sauces.
Roasted and Sauteed Vegetables
Broccoli and cauliflower florets can be roasted on a baking sheet for 20 minutes in a 425 degrees Fahrenheit oven. Use them as a side dish, or serve them with quinoa for a full meal. Leftovers make a healthy pizza topping, or reheat the broccoli and cauliflower with vegetable stock and puree for a filling soup. Bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms can be sauteed to make vegetable fajitas. Use leftovers as a filling for calzones or omelets, or in a pasta salad.
Lean Ground Meats
Save money by purchasing lean ground beef, chicken, or turkey in bulk. Use a portion for a meatloaf on the weekend. At the same time, make some into patties or meatballs to freeze for easy burgers or pasta on a busy night. Cook the rest in a skillet and refrigerate for 2-3 days or freeze portions for up to 2 months to use in tacos or for chili.
Whole chickens can be roasted in the oven, grilled, or for much less hassle, use the slow cooker. Rub the skin of a 3 ½ to 4 pound whole chicken with your favorite spices. Arrange 2 quartered onions and 2-3 peeled cloves of garlic in the bottom of the slow cooker. Place the chicken (breast side up) on top, cover with the lid and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours, or until the meat begins to fall off the bone. Once the chicken has cooled, shred the meat using two forks (and clean hands). Divide the meat into portions that you can refrigerate or freeze. Shredded chicken is great to have on hand for quick chicken salad sandwiches, wraps, pot pies, fried rice, soups and stews, and Mexican dishes like nachos, tacos, or quesadillas.
When stored in a glass baking dish or disposable baking pan, casseroles can go from freezer, to oven, to table for an easy weeknight meal. The tricky part is making healthier versions without high-calorie and high-fat cream sauces, cheeses, and meats. (Our Sweet Potato Lentil Shepherd’s Pie is a great option for a healthy casserole.)
Keep in mind foods such as eggs, cooked white potatoes, lettuces, cooked pasta and rice, and milk or cream based sauces do not freeze well. When you are ready to use your casserole, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator or take it straight from freezer to oven. You will need to increase the baking time by 1/3 to 1/2 the time called for in the recipe. Test the internal temperature with a meat thermometer to ensure it reaches at least 165 degrees.
Oatmeal for Breakfast
Oatmeal is a healthy breakfast that can be made ahead for the family to enjoy all week. For 8 servings, combine 2 cups of steel cut oats with 8 cups of water in the slow cooker and cook on low for 4 hours. Divide the oats into single-serve storage containers for the refrigerator or freezer. Nuts and dried fruits can be added during the cooking process, or you can leave the oats unflavored and add fresh berries, nuts, seeds, honey, or maple syrup when you reheat them. Add about 1 tablespoon of water or milk before reheating to give the oats a smoother, just-cooked consistency. (Try our Almond Cherry Steel-cut Oatmeal.)