Get-ahead Sundays: Cook for an afternoon, take care of a week of dinners

I love fall. The autumn leaves changing. A crisp feel to the air. And fall food. Soups. Sauces. Casseroles. Apple Pie. Cookies. I am getting hungry. Of course summer is great but now that the weather has changed I am ready to turn off the grill and turn on the oven.

Fall is the perfect time to take a Sunday afternoon and make some meals ahead to use later in the week or better yet, make a double or triple batch and freeze some dinners for the upcoming months. Good make-aheads for the week are one soup (for soup and sandwich night), one casserole (that is an easy one or 2 meals) and a roast turkey breast – perfect for Sunday dinner with all the fixings and great for sandwiches or to throw in pasta and salads later in the week. An hour or 2 in the kitchen on Sunday and you are set for at least a few dinners and some lunches for the week – and not scrambling at dinner time or reaching for the take out menu drawer.

If you are motivated, make enough meals to freeze. After doing this once, you will want to do it again because it will save you so much time and energy for busy weeknights. If you want to save the day for a friend about to have a baby or who needs an extra hand with their family, deliver a basket of meals – to be frozen or eaten later in the week. Make sure to have everything ready to be frozen and labeled with re-heating instructions. My friends and I refer to this batch cooking as a “cook off” and we have in the past set aside an afternoon where we will cook double or triple batches of 3 or 4 items and freeze into family size meals. When my daughter was born, my husband and I managed to eat out of the freezer for two months. It was a lifesaver. Some go-tos for cook offs are pounded, breaded chicken cutlets that can be eaten on their own, in sandwiches, or on top of salads. Double wrap in plastic wrap and throw in freezer bags. We always pick one soup and then two dinners – with 4 meals of each. It is also nice to freeze a breakfast bread (pumpkin, banana) or muffins.

Soups and chilis freeze well in freezer bags – just portion out into 4 portions or however many suits your family (do not freeze cream-based soups or stews however – dairy desn’t seem to do well after freezing in my experience). I usually use 2 1/2 ladles per serving. Be sure to write the name of the soup or chili on the bag and the date – it’s amazing how chili can look like pasta sauce and I’ve learned the hard way – I am psyched for some soup and end up with sauce with no pasta in the house.

I always try to have some foil square casserole containers in the house for lasagnas and baked pastas which also freeze well. Again, be sure to label the meal and write reheating instructions. These types of dishes take longer than you think – from the frozen state, think 2 hours sometimes, so you probably don’t want to eat at 10 o’clock!

Here are some good make ahead dishes from the site, all good candidates for freezing: 

Soups and Chilis (be sure to cool completely before putting in freezer bags. Thaw and reheat on stove):

Veg-Head Three Bean Chili

Buffalo Chicken Chili

Chili Con Carne

Chicken Noodle Soup

B, L, T & P (Bacon, Leek, Tomato & Potato) Soup

Mini Chicken Meatball and Orzo Soup

Casseroles/Main Dishes (again, let cool before freezing. Use a disposable foil pan, wrap in saran wrap, then foil. Defrost before reheating at 375 degrees with foil on (take off saran) for 30 minutes or so, take off foil and continue for another 30 minutes or until heated throughout.):

Tomato, Basil and Cheese Baked Pasta

Ravioli Lasagna

Lasagna Casserole

Sausage, Mushroom and Polenta Lasagna

Chicken in a Pot, No Pie

Crispy Chicken Cutlets (just make the chicken, not the sauce)

 Do you have any favorite make ahead meals?

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