Cooking simple meals ahead of time and mega cooking doesn’t have to conjure up visions of reheated meals that weren’t especially tasty the first time around. While casseroles are a popular method of cooking ahead, rest assured that that’s not the only option you have. Over the next few weeks, we’ll go over some of my family’s favorite cook-ahead meal strategies and recipes in a back-to-school menu series. I hope you’ll be able to find something you and your family enjoy.
Cooking meals ahead and storing them in the freezer or refrigerator can be, and is, a tasty alternative to the phenomenon of a frenzied family schedule that doesn’t allow enough time to prepare and serve healthy meals at every sitting. Cooking ahead is also friendly to the family calendar and budget, since a little planning and preparation goes a long way in helping you save time and money.
Cooking ahead versus mega cooking
There are basically two strategies to cooking meals ahead of time: regular, non-intimidating cooking ahead and mega cooking. (Wow, just the name mega cooking sounds intimidating, doesn’t it?)
Cooking ahead in larger quantities
Cooking ahead can be easily accomplished by doubling or tripling a favorite recipe’s basic ingredients. You would serve only enough for the first meal; the remaining portions would get packaged up in plastic food storage containers or zipped-top plastic storage bags and stored in the refrigerator or freezer for future meals.
Think taco dinner: you would brown, drain, and season the taco meat in a large quantity. Portion out and enjoy your taco dinner with all the fixings that first evening after you’ve set aside and stored the remaining portions of cooked and seasoned meat in the refrigerator or freezer (properly packaged and labeled) for future meals. Then, at a future meal, you would pull out the package of pre-cooked and seasoned taco meat, reheat it, and then serve it with fresh accompaniments (staples that are usually already on-hand) like chips or tortillas, lettuce, cheese, salsa and sour cream.
When cooking ahead a one-pot meal like chili, you’d only need to add fresh rice or pasta (assuming you even combine your chili with those sides) and toppings like cheese, onion and sour cream.
Mega cooking (typically once-a-week or once-a-month)
Mega cooking, on the other hand and as you might have already guessed, is cooking ahead on a much larger scale. In this case and when using ground meat, for example, you might brown up several pounds of ground meat at one time, divide the cooked meat into one-pound-size portions, season — or not — for different meals and tastes, and label and store for future use.
To use, you would defrost and then continue cooking the meat, whether pre-seasoned or not, for, say, an Italian spaghetti sauce, a Mexican dish, or a Cuban Picadillo. Too, recipes such as these can be completely cooked ahead of time and frozen for a quick, reheating-only or minimal-cooking meal.
With mega cooking, the biggest difference is that the planning and cooking ahead allows you to cook only once or twice in any given time period, and then you just pull dinner, or a portion thereof, out of the freezer.
Mega cooking requires mega planning and mega shopping before hand, and mega clean up afterward. This is usually a joint effort between friends, neighbors, or family members. A few helpful resources for mega cooking strategies and recipes are cookbooks like Dinner’s in the Freezer and Mega Cooking, both by Jill Bond. A quick Web search will yield many results for mega cooking and also crockpot cooking with tasty recipes.
So, the next time your schedule has you rushed and you don’t have a clue about what to fix for meal time, refer yourself back to this series to find a helpful strategy and a tasty recipe.
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