My current work schedule is a four day work week.
This means my work days are a little longer, but in exchange I get Fridays off to spend with my children plus an extended weekend. It’s pretty great! The only slight hitch I’ve run into so far with my new schedule relates to weeknight meals. Because my work day is longer than it used to be, I end up arriving home with the kids later than usual and have a very short amount of time to prepare dinner.
Upon arriving home, I would immediately plunk the kids down at the dining room table with a snack or activity to keep them busy so I could rush into the kitchen to start dinner. Instead of spending these moments with my kids, who I’d been missing all day, I was monitoring a boiling pot of water and chopping vegetables. I decided a change was in order and thus began my experiment with make ahead meals.
My plan was to set aside time on Sunday (ideally during nap time) to prep meals for the coming week. I would only need to make ahead four meals for Monday through Thursday which seemed completely manageable. I sourced Pinterest for ideas, consulted my family for requests, and made a list of everything I’d need.
Here are the meals I prepared for the week:
- Baked Ziti – I prepared the baked ziti as I normally would, but rather than bake it immediately, I stored it in the refrigerator with a plan to bake it the next night. Monday night I was able to chuck it in the oven with garlic bread and quickly steam broccoli.
- Baked Chicken Taquitos – I assembled the taquitos, lined them in a freezer safe container, and stored them in our freezer. Tuesday night I heated them up in the oven and served them with salsa and plain greek yogurt (which we use as a substitute for sour cream).
- Chicken Pie – I whipped together a super shortcut version of chicken pie filling (a jar of premade gravy, cooked and cubed chicken, and frozen peas and carrots) with the intention of storing it in the freezer. However, I ended up using it that same night as our Sunday meal! I poured the filling into a pre made pie crust and baked until the crust began to brown.
- Turkey Sloppy Joes – I assembled the sloppy joe filling, let it cool down a bit, and stored it in a freezer bag. To serve I’ll let it thaw in the fridge, warm it up in a saucepan and serve atop buns.
My plan wasn’t perfect and I took away a few lessons for the future.
- I learned to give myself a little extra time to prepare the meals. I thought I could whip everything together in an hour on Sunday afternoon, and that wasn’t the case! It took more like two hours plus thirty minutes of clean up.
- I realized heating up meals takes more than 15 minutes, especially if they are refrigerated or frozen. The chicken pie in particular took much longer to cook than I anticipated.
- I learned that unsweetened applesauce is the perfect go to quick side.
Overall I’d rate this experiment as successful. It felt great to know dinner was already decided on and prepared, and it was refreshing not to have to rush around as soon as we got home. One bonus perk was that some nights I was able to sneak in extra chores (e.g. a load of laundry, clean out a backpack, pack a lunch for the next day). I’ll definitely continue to prepare make ahead meals in the future.