Five Delicious and Healthy Meals You Can Make in Advance
When you have some extra time on your hands and you happen to be in the mood for cooking, make the most of the opportunity by preparing some healthy make-ahead meals. This might mean putting together various dishes that keep well in the fridge for a few days and just need to be reheated for a weeknight dinner in minutes, or full meals to put in the freezer for future evenings when you have no time or inclination to cook. If your kids are old enough, it might even mean preparing dishes that they can heat up and serve to themselves with minimal assistance. Here are five make-ahead meal ideas that fit the bill, and are healthy to boot.
1. Summer Succotash With Grilled Chicken
On a summer day when you're already grilling, cook extra chicken breasts along with fresh corn on the cob and thick slices of zucchini. Cover the cooked chicken, and keep it in the refrigerator ready to eat cold, sliced over a plate of salad or heated in the microwave.
Cut the grilled corn from the cob, dice the grilled zucchini, and combine both with a thawed bag of frozen, shelled edamame and halved cherry tomatoes. Mix it all together with a lemony dressing to make summer succotash, a flavorful cold salad that keeps well in the fridge and is a perfect side dish for the chicken.
2. Leaner Freezer Breakfast Burritos
Recipes for breakfast burritos designed to be frozen and reheated in the microwave abound, but are not necessarily healthy. For healthy versions, fill whole wheat tortillas with fat-free refried beans or drained black beans from a can—both are filling and packed with fiber—and a veggie scramble made using protein-rich eggs, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and bell peppers. Also add a few slices of avocado, which is is full of good fats and freezes surprisingly well. Skip the cheese and meats found in typical breakfast burritos, or substitute turkey sausage or diced Canadian bacon if you wish.
3. Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups
Lasagna, and most make-ahead lasagna roll-ups, are full of rich cheese and meat sauces as well as carb-heavy pasta. These versions, made with spinach, fresh tomatoes and whole-grain lasagna sheets, are healthy and vegetarian. Cook the lasagna sheets until they're al dente. Meanwhile, combine thawed frozen spinach with ricotta, shredded Parmesan and a little Italian seasoning. Spread each lasagna sheet with the spinach mixture; add a thick slice of fresh tomato, and roll the sheet into a bundle. Cover the rolls in tomato sauce from a jar, and freeze them in foil trays in appropriate portion sizes, whether it's a whole family-size tray or individual trays with one or two rolls each.
4. Baked Turkey-Kale Meatballs
Make a large batch of meatballs using low-fat, high-protein ground turkey and finely chopped, cooked kale, which is packed with vitamins. Also include a diced onion, minced garlic, and herbs and spices of your choice. Add a beaten egg for the binder, and a handful of quick-cooking oats for bulk. Form spoonfuls of the mixture into balls and bake them on a cookie sheet in the oven. You can either freeze the meatballs individually (freeze them on a cookie sheet, then transfer to a food storage bag) to reheat with sauce, or combine them with tomato sauce from a jar and freeze portions of the combination. Serve reheated meatballs with pasta or quinoa, or inside a wheat roll.
5. Chicken Tortilla Soup
Use a slow cooker or large saucepan on the stove to prepare a big batch of chicken tortilla soup. Simply simmer low-fat chicken breasts and diced vegetables, such as onion, bell peppers, zucchini and corn, in a combination of chicken stock, diced tomatoes from a can and a little tomato paste. A can of mild green chilies is a nice addition too. Season the soup with cumin, dried oregano and chili powder. Freeze the soup in individual portions, and after reheating in a saucepan or the microwave, add fresh toppings such as avocado, tortilla strips and a squeeze of lime. For a healthier version of tortilla strips, bake your own using whole wheat tortillas brushed with a little olive oil.
Joanne Thomas has worked as a writer and editor for print and online publications since 2004. As a specialist in all things food and drink, she has penned pieces for Livestrong, Robert Mondavi and Modern Mom, among other names. She found her first jobs in a series of kitchens before moving on to celebrate food via the written word. Thomas resides in California and holds a bachelor’s degree in politics from the University of Bristol, U.K.