Make-ahead meals, I can almost certainly guarantee, are better than you think and that’s for a variety of reasons. If you’re still running around after work or after organising kids in a frantic mess, worrying about what rabbit you can pull out of the hat for dinner, let me tell you, it is time to bring in the big guns. Weeknight meals and fantastic lunches do not have to be a palava.
Why make ahead
But first, let’s look at the pros of making ahead. Firstly, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think. I specifically do not use the term plan ahead, because I think spontaneity is vital. We’re not robots and some of us are not good with lists. Some of us would rather run around in a mad flat at 6pm trying to shop for chicken pieces than write a freaking list.
My plan for make-ahead meals minimises lists and well, plans.
All it does is focus on making hay while the sun shines. And by that I mean, it is Sunday morning and you have an hour to spare. So let’s cook some stuff and stash it and repeat that process over a period of weeks and soon you will have a stockpile and from there it is all smooth sailing. No, really. It really is.
Slow-cooked or pressure cooked meals store very well. They’re perfect for the winter months and they can be exceptionally tasty and nutritious. Another benefit of this type of cooking is that you can very easily use up what you have in the fridge or pantry. All you need to prep for is the purchase of some protein if you eat meat. If you are vegetarian, you don’t need to plan ahead for your protein because you very likely have it in the cupboard.
Let’s get started
So, you’ve found that spare hour or so. Now it’s time to maximise it. Whether you have chicken, or beef or beans or legumes, it does not matter. There area few things you need to make great store ahead weeknight meals and once you grasp the concept you can basically work with anything.
In a nutshell, you need the equipment. I can not recommend more highly the Instant Pot. If you’re serious about meal prep or you have a big family, the bigger model is the go-to. If bench space is tight, stick to the slightly smaller version.
The reason I love Instant Pot for make-ahead meals is that it is so versatile.
You don’t have to pull out a million pieces of equipment to make different meals and that means you can do more with your time.
When you get good at this, you can even multitask. So you can cook say rice for two dishes at once, or you can sauté onions for two dishes at the same time.
And the best thing about Instant Pot for people who are time-poor is that it’s a pressure cooker. If you grew up in the 70s or even 80s you will know the power of a pressure cooker. Basically, it means you can make meals that would otherwise take hours, in just a matter of minutes.
But if you don’t have an Instant Pot, any multicooker or even slow cooker will do.
Gather your ingredients
So, as I previously mentioned you’ll probably need some protein. I say probably because die-hard vegetarians or vegans will happily make meals from just veggies.
You’ll also need a selection of vegetables and some stock or liquid in the form of crushed tomatoes or passata.
You can make good stews out of virtually anything you have on hand, provided you have some stock, some herbs and spices and some vegetables or rice or pulses or legumes.
Browse cookbooks to get a feel for the things you like and the process for making them but don’t get stuck on ingredients lists. It’s the mechanism of creating something that counts. You can often substitute ingredients for whatever you have in the cupboard. If you don’t feel comfortable with that process, then, by all means, stick to a recipe.
Otherwise, just start with the basic premise that you usually need to braise or sear meats first and this is because browning adds flavour. If you have an onion, brown that too. If you like garlic, finely chop a clove and throw that in at this stage. If your protein has a lot of natural fat, you won’t need olive oil. If it doesn’t add a little.
Chop whatever vegetables you have and throw them in the mix. Add your liquid, almost make sure there is enough to cover what is already in the pan. Then set and leave. If you’re working with rice, pulses, grains and legumes, read up and what is needed and adapt. Rice can be cooked in stews and soups and risotto-like dishes using the basic absorption method. That means, you can throw it in the pot with the rest of the stuff and it will cook.
The key to this plan is making sure you cook at least double the quantity you would need to feed your family.
Serve and store
So once it’s done, serve it up for that night. And then pack away the rest. Pack it into portions depending on what works best for you. Get it into good containers, mark what it is on the side and freeze. Ideally, you’ve made some for lunches as well. Pack them into single serves and store either in the freezer or in something like a Thermos for the following day.
Now make a routine
The next time you have an hour or so to spare, repeat the process. Even if you only have time to make soup. Simple but delicious soups like pumpkin, for example, can be made very quickly with limited ingredients. And if you have a pressure cooker, you will make them even faster. Store and repeat…
Having food stockpiled in your freezer is a brilliant idea and once you get into a rhythm you will find that eventually, you have something in the freezer to tackle just about any craving. No more running around the meat aisle at 8pm. We’ve got a fantastic selection of recipes on our blog if you need more inspiration.