10 Easy Make-Ahead Dinners for Back to School!

Monday, July 31, 2017
If you are anything like me, the looming, overwhelming, impending BACK TO SCHOOL is starting to freak you out. It is everywhere right now. Heck, even my Target has put out back to school stuff, discounted it, and cleared out the area for something new!

SLOW YOUR ROLL, TARGET! ahem

Anyhoo, since it is "that time", I have started to think about preparing for "it". One of the biggest things I have done to make the school year easier is to prepare dinners ahead of time. Yep, totally non-school related, and yet, so helpful! It takes a huge load off my mind, and one more decision off my plate. (pun intended!) By making dinners ahead of time, it forestalls the inevitable "what's for dinner?" question, saves us from nightly fast food and keeps our grocery bill (and portion sizes!) in check.


In the past, my husband and I would spend Saturday or Sunday entirely on making our pre-made meals for the next 2-3 months. Now, with two little "helpers", we don't have an entire day to spend on it. Usually, we will make one or two pre-made dinners every weekend- one serving to eat that night, the rest to freeze. We will do this over a couple weekends, and fill our freezer that way, and then be good to go for a few months!

Our weekly meal plan normally looks a little like this-
Monday- baked chicken and a vegetable
Tuesday- Pre-made dinner
Wednesday- Baked pork chops and a vegetable
Thursday- Pasta night
Friday- Pizza Night
Saturday- Takeout or pre-made
Sunday- Takeout or pre-made

Obviously, this menu is not the same all the time, but those are our basic go-to meals. For the girls, we also always have on hand chicken nuggets and fish sticks, frozen pasta, and box mac and cheese, for the nights when they are not feeling what daddy and I are cooking.

I have linked the recipes that we use the most for pre-made, along with my tips and tricks-Enjoy!

A little note about preparation- in general, we use the 1 lb foil loaf pans for most of these recipes; for the soups we use the quart sized plastic containers. They are the perfect 2 person serving size (or 2 adults + 2 littles under the age of 4)- add on a side of vegetables, and it's a meal! Sometimes the girls surprise us and devour our portions, sometimes not.

When you are ready to eat a meal, you can pull them out of the freezer either the night before (you early planner, you!) or the morning of (whoops!) and they are ready to cook that evening. Pretty much everything will cook in under 30 minutes-pop it in the oven as soon as you get home, and hey-presto! dinner!

1) Cajun Meatloaf by Paul Prudhome -This meatloaf is beyond just a baked loaf of meat! Delicious as-written, but I only ever use about 1/4 of the seasoning mix. Prepare the recipe up until the final bake. Cover with foil; when ready to eat, put in fridge to thaw for about 8-12 hours and follow cooking instructions. This makes about 4 to 5 one-pound foil loaf tins.
The great chef, Paul Prudhome! 
2) Shepard's Pie by Paul Prudhome -Yes, this recipe is different from the meatloaf. I love this one because the veggies come with it! Again, I cut WAAAYYY back on the spices, and I up the amount of veggies and potatoes. You will cook the meat first, and I usually drain it before adding the veggies and potatoes. Prepare these up until the final bake as well. Cover with foil; when ready to eat, put in fridge to thaw for about 12 hours, then follow cooking instructions. Depending on how much extra veggies you add, this can stretch from 4 to 6 one-pound foil loaf pans.
https://www.melskitchencafe.com/baked-pasta-with-chicken-sausage-2/
Mel's Kitchen Cafe Baked Pasta
3) Baked Ziti by Mel's Kitchen Cafe -This one we make pretty much every time we prep. Beloved by both girls, we usually up the amount of veggie sides we make with it, and serve bread. I always add extra cheese on top and use chicken spinach-parmesian sausage. Boil the pasta for less time than you think- it cooks more during the final bake; boil too much and it gets mushy. I also like to use fresh spinach, although frozen does work. Prepare these up until the final bake. Cover with foil; when ready to eat, put in fridge to thaw for about 12 hours, then follow cooking instructions. Makes about 4 to 5 one pound foil loaf pans.

4) Stuffed Shells -Another good pasta recipe, although a little more time consuming. Boil more shells than it says you need (they always rip). You will want the flatter trays for this. The foil loaf pans work, but it is a pain to serve (they are all stacked on each other). You can dress these basic shells up a number of ways- I usually add chopped up chicken spinach-parmesian sausage and spinach. It's a thing... Prepare these up until the final bake. Cover with foil; when ready to eat, put in fridge to thaw for about 12 hours, then follow cooking instructions. Makes about 5-6 one pound foil flat pans.

5) Pastry Wrapped Salmon or Chicken -This one is a bonus meal! You can prepare it with salmon fillets or chicken breasts-delicious either way! This is a fancy recipe, but it doesn't have to be. We sub out the prosciutto for deli sliced ham, and the __________ cheese for pre-sliced Swiss. Is this as delicious as the original recipe? Meh... Is it still darn good, devoured by small children and a fraction of the price? You betcha! We use about 1.5 lb of salmon or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (pounded flat-ish) and cut the puff pastry sheets into 2 pieces (for 4 total) after rolling out. Prepare up until the final bake; wrap in foil. You get about 4 servings.
https://happymoneysaver.com/homemade-easy-lasagna-recipe/
Karrie Truman's Lasagna
6) Lasagna by Karrie Truman But, of course! I really like this recipe- it is not too fancy, but not too processed. She also has really good instructions. Again, cook extra sheets. Cut them to fit perfectly into the 1 lb foil loaf pans. Prepare these up until the final bake. Cover with foil; when ready to eat, put in fridge to thaw for about 12 hours, then follow cooking instructions. Makes about 4 to 5 one pound foil loaf pans.

7) Bean soup- I like to use the dry bean mixes (don't forget to soak overnight and rinse well!), and cook with a ham hock. Feel free to add veggies (onion, celery, carrots) to make this soup even a little more hearty. Makes about 3 to 5 servings.

8) Cheese broccoli soup by Ree Drummond- I use this recipe, with very few changes. I don't toast the broccoli (ain't nobody got time for that!) I use an immersion blender to make it a bit more creamy, but I don't blend it all. I like the broccoli chunks! This is really good with some crusty bread. Save some shredded cheese for topping fresh! Makes about 4 to 5 servings.
http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/corn-cheese-chowder/
Corn Chowder by Ree Drummond
9) Corn cheese chowder also by Ree Drummond (can you tell I am a fan!) I also like to use an immersion blender for this one as well. I have added salmon chunks to this, and it was a huge hit (sort of a mash up of corn-cheese-seafood chowder). Again, nice, fresh crusty bread! (bonus points for bread bowls!!) Save some shredded cheese for topping fresh. Makes about 4 to 5 servings.
http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/macaroni-cheese/
The Pioneer Woman's Mac and Cheese!
10) Mac and cheese again by Ree Drummond (like, seriously, a big fan!) This linked recipe is for when you are feeling extra fancy to make a sauce from scratch. In her post, it links to a non-sauce from scratch recipe. I have done both- I like this one better, but the other one is just as delicious. Depends on your skills and time frame! You can make this a meal, or you can use it as a side. We eat them as meals with a vegetable side. Makes about 4 to 5 1 lb foil loaf pan servings. I have also seen where people freeze them in muffin tins, and then put all the individual servings into a freezer bag and freeze that way for individual servings- seems like a good idea!

So there you have it- 10 easy recipes to make ahead for the school year! I hope they are helpful for your family and sanity as they have been for mine!


1 comment

  1. Oh, great suggestion. I try to do that, too. I saves a lot of time. I google +.

    ReplyDelete