I'm a Dietitian and I Swear By These 5 Make-Ahead Meals for Busy Weeks
Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where associate nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life
I think I can speak for many of us when I say this summer and early fall has been a bit of a blur. With full schedules, travel plans and about a million weddings to attend, there have been several nights when I just haven't had the time to cook a full meal from scratch. I have some recipes that I lean on when I don't have the energy to cook, but as the weather cools I crave warm, homemade meals. I like to make a big batch of these dishes and save the leftovers in my fridge or freezer for a rainy day. Plus, it helps me avoid takeout so I can save money and time.
Pictured Recipe: Mom's Chili
As soon as the leaves start changing, it's chili season in my book. I like to simmer a big batch while I'm watching football on Sunday. Packed with protein, fiber and nutrients, it's a super hearty and comforting main that will leave you feeling full and satisfied. Not to mention, it relies on budget-friendly ingredients like ground beef, beans and canned tomatoes so it doesn't break the bank to make it in bulk. While you could certainly eat your chili the same day you make it, I actually think it actually gets better as it sits. Whenever I make a big batch of chili, I'll throw some in a container in the freezer for a rainy day.
2. Freezer Burritos
Try the Recipe: Rice & Bean Freezer Burritos
Whether it's for breakfast, lunch or dinner, having some burritos prepped and in the freezer can come in handy when you're busy. These Rice & Bean Freezer Burritos showcase super delicious and affordable ingredients like canned beans, rice and whole-wheat tortillas so you can have all the flavor of takeout without spending extra money. They store for up to three months in the freezer and can be heated up quickly for any meal. I typically choose to keep these vegetarian, but you can add ground beef or chicken to up the protein even more. As an added perk, they are easy to eat on the go for your morning commute. Hot sauce recommended.
3. Egg Muffins
Pictured Recipe: Greek Muffin-Tin Omelets with Feta & Peppers
I love how filling and veggie-packed omelets can be, but I definitely don't have time to make one every single morning. Instead, I turn to egg muffins. Add whatever veggies, beans, proteins or cheese that you like, top with eggs and bake for about 25 minutes. In less than an hour, you can have a healthy breakfast ready for the whole week. Plus, they keep well in the freezer. Just pop them in the microwave when you're ready to enjoy.
4. Whole Roasted Chicken
Pictured Recipe: Basic Whole Roast Chicken
This one might take a little more time, but trust me it's well worth it to roast a whole chicken for the delicious leftovers you will get. Even though it takes close to two hours to roast a whole bird, there is very little active time. I will typically throw on the oven while I work from home and set a timer so I don't have to pay much attention at all. If you are cooking for one or two, you can easily get three meals out of one four- or five-pound whole chicken. Trust me, the time and money savings add up compared to buying different cuts of chicken to make throughout the week. And don't toss the bones! Instead, use them to make delicious and nutritious homemade chicken stock.
5. Grain Bowls
Pictured Recipe: Chickpea & Veggies Grain Bowl
For me, making a grain bowl is more of a formula than a specific recipe. I'll make a big pot of whole grains (usually brown rice). Then, I roast whatever veggies I have on hand or need to use up. Onions, beets and carrots are standbys for me. Then I top it all off with some cheese, herbs and a homemade vinaigrette for a complete meal.
For lunch, I will add some beans and serve it over greens. For breakfast, I will top it with an egg or use the leftover rice to make fried rice. To make it feel more substantial for dinner, I will add a protein like salmon or chicken (yet another reason why having leftover roast chicken in the fridge is a good idea). So long as you prep the building blocks, the world is your oyster for filling, nutritious and cozy meals all week long.
We all have some weeks that are busier than others, but that doesn't mean you can't eat well during them. These cozy, flavorful meals help me stay full and feeling my best even when my schedule gets a little crazy. With a little planning, you can use these make-ahead recipes to set you up for quick and nutritious meals all week long.