I mentioned a few weeks ago that I finally got into meal planning after Cameron came along. It’s just entirely impossible to come up with a dish on the fly at 4:30pm when you’ve got a sweet toddler asking you to “watch this!” every 15 seconds and an infant with a will he/won’t he late afternoon nap schedule. Truly, taking a little bit of time to plan out what we’re going to have each night of the week, even it it’s just to pencil in “leftovers!”, has done wonders for this family.
Also, not to get all 50s housewife on you, but there’s definitely something satisfying about having a hot meal ready to go when Ben walks in the door. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t happen every night, but when the stars align, I totally feel like a domestic goddess.
In addition to meal planning, I’ve come to rely on meal prepping over the past several months to not only make the dishes on our weekly menu come together even faster each night, but stock the fridge with healthy snacks, breakfasts, and lunches, too.
I’m sure many of you can relate to the fact that there’s nothing worse than opening the refrigerator door and seeing a bunch of “ingredients” vs ready to eat snacks or meals. That’s when I turn to not so great choices like chips or other useless carbs that keep me coming back to make SURE I didn’t miss anything in the refrigerator over and over again.
News flash, K: YOU DIDN’T. Keep walking.
With a little prep work on Saturday or Sunday (or truly any day of the week,) you can make sure the fridge is always stocked with healthy grab and go items, and prepped ingredients to get dinner on the table faster. So, pick one, two, or 10 of these 30+ make ahead meals and snacks then carve out some time this weekend to get after it. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later!
What are some of your favorite make ahead meals and snacks?
Breakfast can be the most challenging meal of the day to find time to eat, but thankfully it’s one of the easiest to prep for in advance. Here are my favorite healthy, make-ahead breakfast recipes.
- Blueberry Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
- Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bars
- Maple Cinnamon Oatmeal Breakfast Bars
- Baked bacon – eat cold or wrap in a paper towel and reheat for 10-15 seconds.
- Make-Ahead Breakfast Bowls
- Raspberry-Peach Breakfast Parfaits
- Fruit & Yogurt Breakfast Parfaits
- Homemade Breakfast Sausage
- Mini Ham and Cheese Quinoa Cups
- Roasted Poblano and Sausage Breakfast Casserole – portion into containers then reheat.
- Crock Pot Breakfast Casserole – portion into containers then reheat.
I love pre-assembling salads in mason jars (or whatever container you have available) for easy, healthy lunches. Be sure to layer in the following order to ensure your salads stay fresh and crisp – dressing/vinaigrette, crunchy vegetables, protein, fruit, dried fruit and nuts, greens. Leftovers also make the best lunches, too!
- Chicken Power Bowls with Crispy Baked Garbanzo Beans – layer in 16oz mason jars
- Thai Crunch Salad – layer in 16oz mason jars
- Apple, Cranberry, Almond Mason Jar Salads
- BLT Egg Salad Jars
- Mediterranean Tuna Salad
- Honey, Pomegranate, Pecan Chicken Salad
- Mini Pizza Quinoa Bites
- Roasted Shrimp – these are so good cold and added to salads or eaten as a snack!
- Mediterranean Turkey Wraps – eat within 2 days
- Turkey, Avocado and Hummus Wraps – eat within 2 days
There are so many ways to get dinner on the table faster during a hectic work week. I often make a big crock pot meal or pot of chili or soup on Sunday then reheat or repurpose the leftovers all week long – tacos, salads, stir fries, fried rice, quesadillas, and soups are all great ways to use up leftover crock pot meat.
Another trick of mine is to make fridge or freezer packs out of crock pot meals. For example, for my Crock Pot Chicken and Wild Rice Soup, I add all the ingredients except the broth into a Ziplock freezer bag then freeze (thaw before cooking,) or just refrigerate if I’m going to make a few days later. Don’t forget to pre-chop or spiralize vegetables to save time later in the week!
- Spiralized vegetable noodles (zucchini, parsnip, and sweet potatoes will keep fresh in a Ziplock bag in the fridge for 3-5 days)
- Crock pot meat
- Chili (Taco Chili is my current favorite!)
- Taco meat – reheat with a splash of broth
- Spaghetti sauce
- Soups and Stews
- Italian Meatballs
Make-ahead snacks are my saving grace in life. Like I said, if I can’t find something healthy and ready to go almost immediately, I’m probably reaching for easy empty carbs. I try to always keep a batch of hard boiled eggs and my No-Bake Energy Bites in the fridge, but feel even more prepared when I’ve got a few more of these snacks assembled and on hand.
- Cranberry, Chocolate, Almond No-Bake Energy Bites
- Hard boiled eggs
- Guacamole – mash ripe avocados with salt, minced garlic, and lime juice. Store with a piece of plastic wrap placed right on top of the guacamole to prevent browning.
- Best-Ever Southwestern Black Bean Dip
- Easiest Fruit Salad
- Smoothie packs
- Vegetable box
- Fruit cups – fill 8oz mason jars or containers with washed and dried berries and cut fruit.
- Trail Mix – I like the combo of raw nuts, dried cranberries, and chocolate chips.
I don’t like making rice and pasta ahead of time because the texture is always off once reheated – especially with gluten-free pasta – but vegetables are perfect to chop and roast ahead of time. Cold roasted vegetables are great to toss into salads, or just reheat and serve with dinner.
- Marinated Vegetable Salad
- Roasted vegetables – toss with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper then roast at 425 degrees stirring halfway through. I like broccoli (10-15 minutes,) green beans (15 minutes,) halved brussels sprouts (20 minutes,) butternut squash (20-30 minutes,) sweet potatoes (25-30 minutes,) potatoes (30-40 minutes.)
Hi Kristin! I’ve just found this wonderful post! Thank you for all these great meal prep ideas! I just put together the yogurt/fruit things for breakfast and stuck in frig!
It’s the Little Things #63 – Clean Mama 10.25.2019
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Anna N 03.06.2017
Thank you so much for this post! My husband and I have a toddler and we also work full-time, so needless to say we are always looking for ways to make our lives easier at dinnertime…heck, anytime! :)
You bet, Anna! I’m so glad you found it to be helpful!
Kristin, I am so happy right now I could cry!! I have been stressing about gluten free meals to make and I only have Sunday afternoon available to get my meal prepping done. You made my WEEK!!!! THANK YOU!!!
Absolutely Cara!! I’m so glad you found the post helpful! :)
Carrie (This Fit Chick) 03.03.2017
Definitely bookmarking this– lot’s of recipes to sift through! I hate having to cook elaborate dinners after work, so I’m all about prepping!
Sara @ Last Night's Feast 03.03.2017
I love all these tips!
I finally have jumped on the meal planning train and it really does make your life much easier. My husband and I are empty nesters but work long hours and it is so nice not to have to stress everyday about what to fix for dinner. It helps cut down on trips to the grocery store too which saves time and money. Thanks for all the good ideas!
You’re right, Nancy – so much easier to shop once or twice a week when you know what you’re cooking versus having to stop by the store on your way home every night!
Terri G 03.03.2017
These are great ideas even for those of us who eat gluten! Thank you!
I want to take a moment and say thank you. I’ve been following and making your recipes for years (my very first was your “I’m not a vampire Stuffed Shells”). I finished a Whole30 in January and found that my psoriasis does not like gluten. In fact my whole body itches when I eat it now.
I got over my sadness pretty quickly knowing that your recipes are a staple in our household. In fact, we’re having potsticker noodle bowls tonight. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Absolutely, Kari! It is so crazy how food can make us sick or well – I’m glad you’ve gotten some answers to your health problems! <3
Heather @Lunging Through Life 03.03.2017
Wow thank you so much for this! I have been in a meal drought ha Nothing has sounded good to me. I can’t wait to look through these later this weekend.
K. Harkins 03.03.2017
Thank you so much for posting this! My daughter just turned one, and my husband just went back on shift work – 7 to 7. I also work full-time. Cooking was the thing that was the hardest to get back to after my daughter was born especially because I developed hypothyroidism. I’ve read a lot about how eliminating gluten can help improve hyperthyroidism, and I’ve been searching your blog for some of those make ahead recipes and now they’re all in one place! Thank you again. I’m looking forward to prepping some of these this weekend!
Oh my goodness, I really hope this post can help! I can only imagine how hard it must be to get dinner on the table every night!