Sometimes the secret to quick but satisfying weeknight meals isn't finding ways to cut corners, but spreading out the work. We try to do a little extra prep work when we have the time so that meals come together more quickly when we don't! Here are a few tips we've picked up over time.
We don't usually set aside time just to make these things ahead. Rather, it gets worked into whatever we're already doing. If we're having stuffed chicken breasts for dinner one night, it's easy enough to grill a few extra for later in the week. If we're cooking vegetables for a soup, we chop up double what we need and then scoop out the extra before continuing with the recipe.
1. Pre-Made Salad Mixes - Most raw, chopped vegetables will keep fairly well in the refrigerator for about a week. They can be tossed with fresh greens and a simple vinaigrette (which can also be made ahead!) just before you want to eat. Also, check out our template for Make-Ahead Pasta Salad with Veggies, Cheese, and Greens.
2. Cooked Veggies - Our standard mix of chopped vegetables includes onions, peppers, and mushrooms. You probably have something similar! This mix gets used in almost every hot dish we make: frittatas, tomato sauces, soups, and even on weeknight pizzas. Having a big batch of these vegetables cut and cooked ahead of time means less time for individual meal prep.
3. Cooked Meat - As with the vegetables, we find it handy to have some kind of pre-cooked meat in our fridge that can be thrown into dishes as another ingredient. Chicken breasts or a roast cooked on the weekend can cut thinly for sandwiches and paninis, shredded for soups and pastas, or cut into salads.
4. Pre-Made Bread Dough - Any bread dough can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. Just make the bread through the first rise and instead of shaping it into loaves, stick it in a large container or plastic bag and refrigerate. Just let the dough warm for about 20-30 minutes before shaping and using it. Basic bread dough can be used to make sandwich loaves, pizza, or stove-top flatbreads.
5. Pre-Made Cookie Dough - For those nights when we're craving a little sweet to end the meal but don't have anything already made, we keep a bag of pre-mixed and pre-portioned cookie dough in the freezer, just like you find in the freezer aisle at the store. To bake, we just set the cookies on a sheet pan on the counter to thaw while the oven pre-heats!
What other make-ahead tips do you have for making weeknight meals easier?
Related: Basic Technique: Mise en Place
(Image: Flickr member numb3r licensed under Creative Commons)