Make-Ahead Meals

Make Ahead Meals |

Often I receive questions about crock pot cooking, meal planning, and cooking in bulk. Most of these questions come from friends and readers who love to cook but can’t find the time most evenings to pull off a big dinner.

Although I don’t dust off my crock pot nearly as often as I should, I do have plenty of ideas on planning and making meals in advance.

The key to great “make head meals” is to find family favorites that freeze well. Cooking in bulk and freezing can create a very efficient kitchen!


Think about it, if you’re taking the time to make homemade marinara and meatballs, why not make a GIANT pot of marinara and a quadruple batch of meatballs? It would only take you a few more minutes of prep time and save hours of cook time on other nights.

I do this frequently with my kids’ favorite meals: lasagna, pasta sauces, chili, hearty soups, even baked goods. On nights I’m preparing these things, I’ll cook up a double or triple batch. That way, if I’m out on the town one night, Daddy needs only to pull a hearty home-cooked meal out of the freezer and reheat it.

Try spending one full day of cooking to prepare all your meals for the next several weeks.

  • Plan out a menu of 7 favorite dishes.
  • Make an extensive grocery list of all the items you’ll need X3.
  • Plan one full day of chopping, simmering, and baking.
  • Then packages each batch in thirds, for 21 family meals.
  • Make sure to wrap and label carefully.

When freezing wet items like soup, homemade stock, chili, and sauces, allow them to cool, pour them in GOOD-QUALITY freezer bags, zip tightly, and label. I try to place them in the freezer flat so they freeze in a nice, stackable shape. Sometimes I use airtight plastic containers, but have found the thick freezer bags work just fine.

When freezing individual items like muffins, mini-meatloaves, stuffed chicken breasts, unbaked cookies, etc. I use a technique called flash freezing.

First, lay the individual items out a baking sheet that will fit flat in your freezer.

Next place the sheet in the freezer uncovered for at least 30 minutes, so that the exterior of each item is frozen hard, then place all the items in a freezer bag together. The frozen exterior will protect the items so they don’t get ugly!

How to Make Stromboli ~

Flash freezing also works well with garlic bread loaves and whole cakes. The key with items to large for a freezer bag is to wrap them well in plastic after they’ve been flash-frozen, then wrap them again in foil. The extra lining guards against freezer burn.

Cooking large quantities and freezing the excess saves money, time, and sanity, and insures that your family eats well when you are too busy to cook.

Other dishes that freeze well…

Stuffed Poblano Peppers


Ethiopian Mesir Wat Stew

Stuffed Ricotta Shells

Beef Bourguignon

Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese

Stuffed Flank Steak

Thai Fried Rice Malabar Chicken Curry

Vegetable Lasagna

Slow Cooker Beef Enchiladas

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24 comments on “Make-Ahead Meals

  1. Shainaposted September 6, 2012 at 10:31 am Reply

    I love all of these ideas. They definitely make those busy weeknights easier.

  2. claire @ the realistic nutritionistposted September 6, 2012 at 10:38 am Reply

    great round up!!! With this year as crazy as it has been, this is definitely necessary!

  3. Liz @ The Lemon Bowlposted September 6, 2012 at 10:41 am Reply

    What a great post and so helpful during this crazy time of year!! Will definitely be spreading this around.

  4. Angieposted September 6, 2012 at 10:54 am Reply

    I just did a ton of freezer meals last week. They take a little work but are so convenient!

  5. Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppersposted September 6, 2012 at 1:03 pm Reply

    Awesome post! I didn’t know about all the wrapping for bread!!

  6. Elizabeth @Food Ramblingsposted September 6, 2012 at 1:06 pm Reply

    Thanks for all the suggestions!!

  7. Meganposted September 6, 2012 at 1:19 pm Reply

    I LOVE this post! I don’t have a choice, I have to do this kind of cooking. Otherwise it would be PB&J all of the time! TY!

  8. Aldy @ Al Dente Gourmetposted September 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm Reply

    Wonderful Ideas, Sommer. Great round up!

    Hugs <3

  9. Laura (Tutti Dolci)posted September 6, 2012 at 6:31 pm Reply

    Great tips, thanks Sommer!

  10. Shawn @ I Wash...You Dryposted September 6, 2012 at 9:19 pm Reply

    Awesome ideas! Love it all!

  11. Belinda @zomppaposted September 7, 2012 at 4:14 am Reply

    I definitely like making a big batch on Sundays and having meals rest of week – great list!!

  12. Rachel @ Baked by Rachelposted September 7, 2012 at 4:14 am Reply

    Great post! I have to say, if you hadn’t said those were mini meatloaf muffins I’d have dove head first into them thinking they were stuffing because I looove stuffing lol. I agree, a few more minutes to prep a larger batch and thus save time in the future! :)

  13. shelly (cookies and cups)posted September 7, 2012 at 5:06 am Reply

    Great post! With the kids back to school now I am trying harder to be better about planning ahead :)

  14. Jeanetteposted September 7, 2012 at 6:24 am Reply

    Always looking for make ahead meal ideas – thanks for the inspiration!

  15. Kiersten @ Oh My Veggiesposted September 7, 2012 at 10:24 am Reply

    I’m trying to do more make-ahead meals too–I love your ideas! And that homemade marinara looks amazing.

  16. Cassieposted September 7, 2012 at 7:15 pm Reply

    Nothing like a make-ahead meals. My husband loves these kinds of meals too. Great post!

  17. MIss @ Miss in the Kitchenposted September 8, 2012 at 9:18 am Reply

    I need to do this so badly. Thanks for all of the inspiration!

  18. Chrisposted September 8, 2012 at 2:00 pm Reply

    Good tips. One of the things Chris Lilly preached at Kingsford U last year was “cook once, eat twice”. using coal to roast one chicken? Takes the same amount of coal to roast 3 so cook three! Then use up the extras for chicken enchiladas, chicken alfredo, etc

    Great post, Sommer!

  19. BusyWorkingMamaposted September 9, 2012 at 7:39 am Reply

    I make a big old batch of meatballs, too. We even make meatball quesadillas :)

  20. Alyposted September 10, 2012 at 12:41 am Reply

    Some great tips on freezing! I will have to try them. Thanks!

  21. Russell at Chasing Deliciousposted September 10, 2012 at 7:33 pm Reply

    Is there a make ahead for the make ahead? Because I can get awfully lazy sometimes ; ). I am loving how simple and easy all these tricks and tips are!

  22. Christina @ Sweet Pea's Kitchenposted September 11, 2012 at 9:02 am Reply

    What a great roundup Sommer! I love being able to pull out make ahead meals for lazy weeknights! :)

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