Make Aheads Make for Easy Meals

One of the smartest things to do to have dinner on the table at a reasonable time is to plan your menus a few days in advance. Well, in all honesty, I don't make menu plans regularly. I'm often deciding what our evening meal will be when I'm getting ready for work in the morning. That doesn't mean I'm racing home after work to defrost some pork chops or stopping at the grocery store to pick up a roasted chicken and fries. What enables me to do my 'last minute meal planning' is having some basic make-ahead items in the freezer that I can pull out in the morning and use (along with stock items in the fridge and cupboard) to put together a meal in 30-40 minutes when I get home.
All I do is what some people refer to as 'big batch' cooking -- making 2, 3 or 4 batches of a recipe -- and freezing it in one meal portions. For example, on the weekend I made a big pot of minnestrone. We ate some of it the day I made it. I froze the rest in a couple of containers that hold enough for 4 servings and a few in single portions that I'll take to work with me.

In addition to soup, my standard make-aheads for
the freezer include

pasta sauce


marinated chicken pieces

and, my favourite item to have in the freezer, a ground meat and vegetable mixture. The recipe and how I use it are below.   

Other items I often have 'ready to go' in the freezer include

grated cheese;
(I buy big bars of cheese when they're on sale, grate the cheese right into the freezer bag and freeze it);

 leftover cooked rice
(yes, cooked rice can be frozen so always make more than you'll need for a meal - doubling the recipe won't take longer to cook it - and freeze the leftovers. I find it's best used for fried rice);

pizza dough; and crisp topping (forgot to take pictures for these last two!)

Tonight's dinner: meatballs in garlic black bean sauce, fried rice with peas, and onions and peppers stir-fried in sesame oil. I put the  meatballs and sauce in a pot in the fridge this morning so they'll be thawed when I get home. While they're heating, I'll make the fried rice and the stir fried onions and peppers.
Voila - dinner in 30 minutes!

Now the recipe for the ground meat and vegetable mixture. This comes from one of my well-used cookbooks, Suppertime Survival, by Lynn Roblin and Bev Callaghan. I've adapted it slightly.
 I use this mixture for tacos, baked egg rolls, spaghetti sauce with meat and a one-pot beef 'n' cheese pasta.


4 lb/2 kg  lean or extra lean ground beef (you might also try ground chicken, turkey or pork)
4 medium cooking onions, chopped
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3 or 4 large carrots, grated

What to do

Brown the meat in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until no longer pink, about 8-10 min.

Drain the fat. I put it in a big colander and rinse it under cold water for a bit. Notice the difference in colour between the pictures. The meat in the colander is what it looks like when cooked. When the meat is rinsed and drained, return it to the pot.

Now work on the vegetables:    

Chop/mince the onions and garlic.
I use the food processor because the pieces don't need to be all the same size and it's faster than chopping by hand.

Chop the celery.
I use the food processor for the celery, as well, but separate from the onion and garlic because I find the onion gets too minced and too watery by the time the celery is chopped enough.

Grate the carrots.
I like to use the smaller side of the grater to get smaller pieces of carrot.


Put the vegetables in the pot with the meat. Simmer, uncovered, for about 12 to 15 minutes until vegetables are tender.

Cool the mixture.
I spread it out in a large shallow pan so it cools quickly.

Divide the mixture into 1 cup or 2 cup portions.
Label with date and portion size. This can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Check next week's post where I'll be sharing the recipes I use with this mixture.

Michele, RD