Make Ahead Meals

Make ahead meals can save you time, especially if you come in late in the evening, ravenous and don't want to wait for hours before eating!

I know its simple enough to pop a ready meal in the microwave but did you know that with careful planning, a home cooked meal need not take much longer to prepare and cook?

Read on for more information, or check out the following pages on the site that will help...

Advance preparation

Preparing your ingredients in advance will help you to put dinner on the table more quickly. This preparation can take place the evening before or in the morning, depending on when you can fit it in.

Some recipes will call for the ingredients to be marinated in a liquid for a while before cooking them. For example my coq-au-vin recipe requires that the chicken pieces are left for 24 hours in red wine before cooking the meal. Doing this the night before doesn't take much effort but will certainly produce a dish with more flavour.

After peeling your potatoes put them in a pan of cold water. Place a saucer or tea plate, upside down, on top to help keep the vegetables submerged, and stop them discoloring.

Something else you can do in the morning is prepare your vegetables. Peeling and cutting root vegetables, such as potatoes, takes time and it is nice to come home in the evening and have them all ready and waiting for you. If you have leftover mashed potatoes from the night before, that will save you time also.

If the meal you are going to cook requires grated cheese, this is also something that you can get ready in the morning. Covered with cling film (saran wrap) and placed in the 'fridge it will keep fresh until you come to use it later.

If you are cooking a pie for supper you could make the pastry ahead of time and leave it in a covered bowl, ready to roll out and use.

These advance preparations can be the first steps to your make ahead meals. But what if you want the meal already cooked when you arrive home at the end of the day?

Use your Crock Pot/Slow Cooker

In my younger days this meant putting food in the oven and setting it to start it cooking at a certain time. As long as I arrived home when I had expected to it was fine, but if I was late the dinner was often ruined!

Nowadays, we have a much better solution. A small crock pot which, in my mind, is an essential piece of kitchen equipment.

You can fill it with your prepared ingredients in the morning, turn it on, and it will slowly cook your meal while you are out of the house. 

If you are a little late home it won't spoil. Oh, and the smell of a ready cooked meal hitting you as you open the front door is wonderful!

So what sorts of things can you cook in your crockpot? You might be surprised!

There are, of course, stews and casseroles, hot-pots, pot roasts and soups. You can also cook desserts such as rice pudding in your slow cooker (another name for the same pot).

If the idea of a crock pot appeals to you, I will be creating a whole section on this site of recipes you can cook in one. If you can't wait, you won't do much better than buying yourself a copy of Fix-It And Forget-It Big Cookbook: 1400 Best Slow Cooker Recipes.

One rule of thumb when using recipes that were not specifically designed for cooking in this manner is to add more liquid than the recipe states. About half a pint is normally adequate. That liquid can be plain water, stock, red wine, tinned soup or milk, depending on the dish you are cooking.

If you feel that once cooked the "gravy" or sauce is too thin you can thicken it up by using one of the following options...

  • Gravy powder - which will thicken, but also flavor the liquid which may not be what you require
  • Cornflour (cornstarch) - here you need to mix a spoonful of cornflour with cold water before adding to the hot liquid, otherwise you can end up with a lumpy mess
  • Arrowroot - a flavorless thickener which again needs mixing with cold water before being added to the dish

Using leftovers

If you find that you have cooked too much food you can always put it into the refrigerator and use it up the following day, or freeze it for later use.

Be sure to cool leftovers down quickly and then reheat them thoroughly, to ensure they are safe to eat.

In our house we often have leftover roast beef or lamb from our Sunday lunch, which can be used to make a Shepherds Pie for Monday's supper.

Sometimes you will only have leftover vegetables, such as potatoes, which you can then use as part of your make ahead meals, instead of the whole thing. Using them up will help if you are cooking on a budget.

As this site grows I will be adding many ways of using leftovers.

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