Alison and I were chatting about how some awesome easy healthy dinners we’d had lately just came together from what we’d had on hand. It prompted me to tease apart the “what we had on hand” to ID especially helpful make-ahead dishes that can be prepped over the weekend or early in the week and put to work for the next several days (or, even better, doubled from a recipe you’re making anyway). Here are my five make-ahead favorites to make part of your meal planning:
- Chicken – On Monday nights in my house, we either go meatless or we do chicken. Why Mondays for chicken? Because then I can use the rest of it throughout the week to pull together simple meals. Here’s what my week o’ chicken looked like last week. Monday: Cook Simplest Roast Chicken (just ate the thighs/leg for dinner). Tuesday: Gave Noe a leg for lunch. Thursday: Greek Chicken Salad (then made stock with the carcass); Friday: Pork posole with fresh chicken stock. That’s four meals out of one chicken … which only took 5 minutes of hands-on prep time and 50 minutes of cooking time to begin with.
- Roasted (or Grilled) Veggies – In winter, it's these Roasted Root Veggies. In spring, these asparagus virtually live in our fridge. In summer, it’s some sort of variation on this ratatouille. Whatever the form, roasted veggies are a HUGE help in a busy kitchen. Need a quick nibble before dinner? Pile some on toasted baguette slices. Want to pull together a quick dinner? Toss some with cooked pasta and a paste of mashed garlic and olive oil. Looking for an easy lunch? Mix them with some Chickpea Couscous, with or without the pesto.
- Lentils – I call All-Purpose Lentils the “little black dress” of legumes, because they go with just about anything: as a side dish or an addition to a salad, or quickly pureed into a spread or a soup. Nutritionally, they a great source of protein. I love dotting a bowl of whole grains with them, or tossing a cup or two into a salad with a nice, tart vinaigrette.
- Vinaigrette – My friend Honore turned me on to making vinaigrette in a jar long ago and I’ve never looked back. I shake together a big batch in the beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge to have on-hand.
- Bulgur – Bulgur is my go-to grain at the moment. I love how it cooks up super quick and has both a toothsomeness to make you take notice and a neutrality quality that makes it ridiculously versatile. I’ll cook up a ginormous batch and use some as a side dish with, say, lamb. Then I’ll use it as a base for throw-together lunch salads all week made up, you guessed it, of the other four make-ahead musts I have in my fridge. And if I have any left over, I'll treat myself to dessert at the end of the week.
“Make-ahead” can sound so daunting. But it’s not. It’s more about smart meal planning and thinking all the way through a week so that what you cook does double, even triple duty. And that is food worth thought.