Plan Ahead and Have Meals Ready To Go!

We all have times in life that are just BUSY. Who couldn’t use a hand in getting the menu planned and the food prepared? I am about to enter one of those stages as I look ahead to a new baby in the next few weeks. One way to alleviate the pressure of coming up with something to feed my family each day during those weeks after baby arrives is to make some meals now that can be frozen and popped in the oven the day my hungry savages are in need of nourishment. I just love this kind of thing. So much so, that I intend to do a followup post in the near future containing make ahead freezer meals just for the slow cooker, but I’m still in the research stage of that project.
For now, I’d like to share 5 recipes with you that you can prepare in one day and freeze. If you make a double batch of each, and account for the likelihood of leftovers and the occasional out to eat or Little Caesar’s Hot N Ready, this plan can give you 3-4 weeks worth of dinners.
This is a lot of fun, especially if you ask a friend to join you. Find someone in your circle who could use a break from daily meal planning and food prep in the near future as well and go grocery shopping together. Then meet up at one of your homes on a Saturday morning and start chopping and assembling!

Each of these recipes contains meat, but I am including instructions to make them each a vegetarian meal, which is how my family will be enjoying them this time around. Let’s get started!

1 Tbsp. oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
½ tsp garlic powder
2 cups water
14 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 ½ cooked chicken breasts, cubed
15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion, green bell pepper, celery, and garlic powder in hot oil until tender, about 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add water, tomatoes, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes.
Bring to a boil and add rice. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until rice is tender, stirring frequently.
Add beans and chicken and cover. Simmer 5-10 minutes longer or until well heated, stirring frequently. To freeze, cool casserole in refrigerator and ladle into plastic freezer containers. Seal and freeze up to 3 months. To reheat, place frozen jambalaya in saucepan and heat over very low heat, breaking up and stirring frequently, until hot.
Vegetarian Note: omit chicken and replace with one 15 oz can rinsed drained kidney beans.

3 cups cooked white rice
1 cooked chicken breast, cubed
1-1/2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
4 oz. can chopped green chiles, undrained
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix rice, chicken, sour cream, milk, eggs, chiles, 1-1/2 cups cheese, and salt and pepper to taste in large bowl. Pour into greased 2 quart glass casserole dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40-45 minutes until set.
To make and freeze, undercook rice by about 5 minutes. Combine all ingredients, using all of the cheese, and stir in 2 tablespoons cornstarch, then cool in refrigerator until cold. Wrap thoroughly, label, and freeze up to 3 months. To thaw and reheat, thaw casserole overnight in refrigerator, stir well and bake at 350 degrees F for 55-65 minutes until set and top is golden brown.
Vegetarian Note: omit chicken and replace with one 15 oz can rinsed and drained cannellini beans.

1 (20 oz) pkg. refrigerated or frozen cheese tortellini, uncooked
½ lb. Ground beef, browned and drained
28 oz. jar spaghetti sauce
1 cup water
12 oz. jar Alfredo four cheese sauce
1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
In 3 quart glass baking dish, mix tortellini, beef, spaghetti sauce, and water. Make sure all tortellini is coated with sauce. Drop Alfredo cheese sauce by spoonfuls over casserole. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
To freeze, cover tightly with foil and store in freezer up to 3 months. Thaw in fridge overnight and bake, covered at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Uncover and bake 10 minutes longer, until tortellini is tender.
Vegetarian Note: omit ground beef.

1 onion, chopped
½ tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 ½ cooked chicken breasts, cubed
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
24 oz. jar thick and chunky salsa
2 cups taco sauce
12 (6 in) corn tortillas
1 ½ cups sour cream
2 cups shredded Cojack cheese
In medium microwave safe bowl, cook onion and garlic in olive oil on HIGH for 2-3 minutes until tender. Stir in chicken, black beans and salsa. In 9 x 13 glass baking dish, pour taco sauce. Lay 6 corn tortillas over sauce. Top with half of chicken mixture. Spoon on half of sour cream in small dollops. Sprinkle with half of cheese. Top with remaining tortillas, chicken mixture, sour cream and cheese. Cover with foil. At this point, you can wrap the casserole well and freeze up to 3 months.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes until bubbly. Uncover and bake 5-10 minutes longer until cheese is melted. If frozen, thaw casserole overnight in refrigerator, then bake covered at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes until bubbly; uncover and bake 5-10 minutes longer until cheese melts.
Vegetarian Note: omit chicken and replace with 1 1/2 cups frozen corn (heated in microwave.)

14 manicotti pasta shells
1 onion, chopped
½ tsp garlic powder
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1-2 cups cooked cubed ham
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 Tbsp. butter or margarine
6 Tbsp. flour
3 cups milk
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook manicotti as directed on package. Drain, rinse in cool water and set aside. Meanwhile, cook onion, garlic, and green bell pepper in 4 Tbsp. butter. Add ham and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Stir in 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese.
In another heavy saucepan, cook 6 Tbsp. Butter on medium low heat until foamy. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture bubbles, about 3 minutes. Add milk, and cook, whisking constantly, until sauce thickens. Stir in cheese. Remove from heat. Mix 1/4 of cheese sauce with ham mixture.
Fill manicotti shells with ham mixture (your fingers work best for this; it’s messy, but most efficient). Spread about 1/2 cup cheese sauce in greased 13×9″ glass baking dish and arrange filled shells over sauce. If there is any leftover stuffing, just sprinkle it over the filled shells. Pour remaining cheese sauce over filled manicotti. At this point the casserole can be cooled in the refrigerator, then wrapped and frozen up to 3 months. To thaw and reheat, thaw casserole overnight in refrigerator, then uncover, sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and bake at 350 degrees F for 40-50 minutes. If not freezing casserole, sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes until bubbly.
Vegetarian Note: omit ham and replace with 2 large zucchinis cut lengthwise and sliced into 1/4 in slices, sauteed with onions and peppers.

Everyone has their personal preferences, so sit down and write out your shopping list according to who eats onions in you household, figure out what containers you will need to freeze 2 batches of each of these, and get going! Then sit back and put your feet up. Enjoy a few weeks of not having to think about dinner. You deserve a break!

If you live alone, cut the recipes in half and plan to get dinner and 2 lunches out of each recipe. Don’t let cooking for one keep you from trying this out!

Categories: Family, Food, Time Management, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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