Food

Make Your Life Easier With Make-ahead Meals

Easy tricks and tools can help you reduce mealtime stress and save time

We’ve all been there. You come home from work, tired, with dinnertime just around the corner. You’re all out of leftovers, and the chicken you bought last week is in the freezer, rock hard. It’s a familiar scenario that can often lead us to have cereal for dinner or ordering takeout.

Denise Bustard, creator of the food blog Sweet Peas and Saffron, knows exactly what that’s like.

“When I went back to work after having a baby, it was really stressful. Cooking nutritious meals seemed to come at the expense of spending time with my family,” says the 33-year-old mom, based in Calgary.

“Before I started meal planning, I would come home from work at 5 o’clock and have no plan for dinner,” says Bustard. 

To tackle this struggle she decided to rethink the way she cooked and discovered meal planning, and in 2012 launched Sweet Peas and Saffron, where she shares tips, recipes, and mouth-watering photos of make-ahead meals.

“Having a game plan reduces so much stress and makes dinner much more enjoyable,” she says.

Becoming a meal prepper might feel difficult if you’ve never done it before. “Trying to prep all of your meals right away is going to be overwhelming and might set you up for disaster,” she says. Bustard recommends picking just one meal to start with. Breakfasts, snacks, and lunches are good, easy places to begin. _

Once you’ve prepared your make-ahead meal, the next step is pre-portioning it into containers for each day so you can simply grab one and go.

“Convenience is definitely key for busy work days,” she says.

As for reheating your meals effectively, Bustard finds food heats more evenly and tastes better in glass containers rather than in plastic, plus you don’t have to worry about chemicals such as BPA in glass. She recommends reheating food at a gentle setting in a microwave, and if reheating food from the freezer, be sure to thaw it completely before reheating. She also suggests freezing uncooked meal components, such as stir fry sauce and cut-up meat and vegetables, so you can cook a fresh meal quickly. This will result in better flavour than reheating an entire frozen precooked dish.

But perhaps her most important piece of advice is this: “You don’t have to prep 30 freezer meals in one day, like you see a lot of meal preppers doing. Just spending one hour a week prepping your breakfasts, or your work lunches can make a huge impact on your life, and spending just 15 minutes planning out your meals for the week can also have a huge effect.”

Invest in these must-have make-ahead tools

  • Slow cooker – Great for making big batches of chicken, sweet potatoes or chili ahead of time.
     
  • Rice cooker – A hands-off way to make rice, quinoa or barley.
     
  • Glass storage containers – A triple-threat, these are freezer, oven and microwave-safe, plus they’re transparent, so you can always tell what’s in them.