Make-Ahead Meals For Easy Family Dinners

The key to making weeknight dinners a breeze is finding recipes that allow you to prep components in advance. Taking an hour on Sunday to tackle some preliminary chopping and cooking will save you precious time during the week.

Everything in this slideshow

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Alloy Photography/Veer

It's 5:45 and you've just walked in the door. The kids are starving and you've got 20 minutes to get a nutritious meal on the table before a serious toddler meltdown occurs. If this sounds like your typical weeknight, spending a little time on the weekend to prep some key ingredients will make tackling the weeknight dinner rush simple. We'll point out which components you should make-ahead to simplify your weekday mealtime.

The Menu
Monday: Honey-Hoisin Chicken With Rice
Tuesday: Pasta with Broccoli and Chicken Sausage
Wednesday: Veggie Fried Rice
Thursday: Panko-Topped Fish with Easy Greek Salad
Friday: Asian Burgers with Pineapple-Mango Salad

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Kritsada Panichgul

Week 1: Sunday Prep (About 1 hour active prep time)

Spending an hour of your time prepping the following ingredients will allow you to make every recipe in this meal plan in under 20 minutes.

•Make 6 cups of brown rice according to package instructions. Store half of the rice in an airtight container in the refrigerator for dinner Monday. Freeze the remaining rice in a freezer-safe bag for Wednesday's dinner. (5 minutes prep, 45 minutes cook)

While Rice Cooks
• Prepare Panko-Topped Fish for Thursday's dinner. Freeze fish on the parchment paper for 1 hour, or until firm, then place in a single layer in an airtight freezer container. (15 minutes prep, 15 minutes cook)
• Mix together the Honey Hoisin Glaze for Monday's chicken dish. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator. (5 minutes)
• Chop the ginger, scallions, and garlic used in Wednesday's rice dish. Store in zip-top bags in the produce drawer. (10 minutes)
• Prepare the Asian Burgers for Friday's dinner. To freeze, layer the uncooked patties between sheets of parchment paper in an airtight freezer container; move to the refrigerator to defrost on Thursday. (15 minutes)

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Jonny Valiant

Monday: Honey-Hoisin Chicken With Rice

Since you're using the glaze and rice you made on Sunday, this meal comes together in under 20 minutes. A green salad with raw carrot coins makes for a crunchy, healthy side dish.

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Jonny Valiant

Tuesday: Pasta with Broccoli and Chicken Sausage

Pre-cooked chicken sausage keeps dinner prep down to the time is takes you to cook your pasta. Don't even worry about prepping anything ahead of time for this super speedy recipe.

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Jonny Valiant

Wednesday: Veggie Fried Rice

With your rice already cooked and the aromatics chopped and ready, getting dinner on the table couldn't be quicker. Choosing fast-cook veggies like asparagus and peas ups the nutrition quotient without adding a lot of cooking time. This tasty meal is ready in about 15 minutes!

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Jonny Valian

Thursday: Panko-Topped Fish with Easy Greek Salad

Think of this dish as a healthier homemade version of a frozen fish stick. Prepping and cooking the fish on Sunday leaves you with a free 15 minutes to prepare a simple Greek salad side while it reheats. To warm the fish, transfer fillets to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake in a 350?F oven for 15 to 18 minutes.

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Friday: Asian Burgers with Pineapple-Mango Salad

These Asian-style patties pack a huge flavor punch with only a few ingredients. Look for precut fruit in your grocery store to make the salad preparation even faster, and you'll have dinner on the table in just 15 minutes.

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Jonny Valiant

2: Sunday Prep (about 1 hour active prep time)

• Make the dough for the Wednesday's Chicken Mole Empanadas. (5 Minutes Prep, 1 hr. chill)

While the dough chills:
• Mince five cloves garlic. Place the minced garlic in a small zip-top bag in the produce drawer for use in Monday's Chinese Beef & Broccoli and Tuesday's Shrimp Scampi Pasta. (5 minutes)
• Make the marinade for Monday's dinner. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. (5 minutes)
• Cut the broccoli, slice the pepper and grate the ginger for Monday's Chinese Beef and Broccoli. Store each item in a separate zip-top bag in the produce drawer. (10 Minutes)
• Prepare the southwestern burger patties for Thursday's dinner. To freeze, layer the uncooked patties between sheets of parchment paper in an airtight freezer container; make a note to move to the refrigerator to defrost on Wednesday night. (10 minutes)
Take a 30 minute break while the dough you made finishes chilling. You deserve it!
• Cook the filling for Friday's Chicken Mole Empanada's, then assemble the empanadas using the chilled dough. Freeze uncooked empanadas in a single layer in an airtight freezer container. (30 minutes)

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Alison Miksch

Monday: Chinese Beef & Broccoli

With your marinade prepped and the broccoli, pepper, ginger and garlic ready and waiting, this meal will come together in just minutes.

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Alison Miksch

Tuesday: Shrimp Scampi Pasta

Fast cooking protein such as shrimp is a great way to get dinner on the table in a hurry. The shrimp and sauce can be made while your pasta cooks. That means you'll be eating a delicious meal in less than 20 minutes!

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Peter Ardito

Wednesday: Broiled Fish with Cherry Tomatoes

This fast fish recipe is so quick and simple, you don't need to prep anything ahead of time. While the fish cooks, throw together a simple green salad to serve on the side.

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Thursday: Southwestern Burgers

The whole family will love these tasty burgers, and you'll have them on the table in less time than it would take to go pick them up at the local fast food joint. Serve with baked tortilla chips and store-bought salsa to round out the meal.

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James Baigrie

Friday: Chicken Mole Empanadas

This make-ahead and freeze recipe gives you the convenience of buying packaged frozen foods without the worry of feeding your family dinner loaded with preservatives and unknown ingredients.

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Blaine Moats

Your Complete Grocery List

Want to try out the menu-plan? Get your complete grocery lists here!

Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Parents magazine.

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