Make-Ahead Food: 10 Things to Cook on a Sunday
Making food ahead of time so you can eat well and save money during busy workweeks is a great idea. But often when I read articles about make-ahead food, the focus is on ways to stock your freezer with heat-and-eat casseroles, soups, and other meals. This is wonderful, but sometimes, the most useful, frugal, and healthy make-ahead foods aren't frozen dinners, but ready-to-go meal components sitting in your fridge or pantry. The following 10 items are all easy to make on a Sunday (or whenever you have a day off during the week), and last for about five days (or more) in the pantry or fridge. (See also: The Five-Day Freeze: Batch Cooking for the Rest of Us)
While the merits of canned versus dried beans are hotly debated, there's no doubt that pound-for-pound, dried beans are both cheaper and lower in sodium. The problem with dried beans, though, is that they can take an hour on the stovetop to soften up. Cook a pot of beans on Sunday, and use them throughout the week in salads, Mexican dishes like tacos or burritos, soups, and so on.
With mixing, kneading, rising, and finally baking, most yeast breads require at least three hours to make (although most of that time is hands-off). What better day than Sunday to bake a loaf of bread while you attend to other projects around the house?
Store-bought granola is often expensive and can be surprisingly calorie-packed. Instead, I make a batch of granola every weekend by mixing old-fashioned oats, cinnamon, chopped nuts, and maple syrup, and toasting it at 400°F in the oven until it just starts to brown. Then I eat it with fruit and yogurt for breakfast throughout the week. This stuff will keep for even longer than a week in a sealed container, and granola also makes a great gift.
4. Pancake Batter
Pancakes don't just have to be a weekend breakfast. A batch of pancake batter keeps well in the fridge, and all you have to do in the morning is drop it on the griddle. When I was still working in an office, I took this one step further and brought my just-cooked pumpkin-buckwheat pancakes into work. Enjoying pancakes at my desk while reading my morning emails definitely made the start of the work day much more awesome.
5. Chopped Vegetables
Whether you're using them for snacks or salads, pre-chopping your vegetables is a great way to make sure you have healthy things to eat when you want them. You can even separate them into serving-size-portioned Tupperware so you can just throw them into your lunch bag.
6. Hummus and Dips
Great with pita and vegetables or as a sandwich spread, hummus is super easy to make (this hummus recipe from Zahav in Philadelphia is one of my favorites). Have it on hand — or other dips and spreads such as fresh salsa, olive tapenade, pesto, or balsamic bean dip — to liven up otherwise mediocre snacks and meals.
A great grab-and-go food, muffins are awesome for a quick breakfast or as afternoon snacks. You can bake a batch on Sunday for the week, or make fridge muffin batter. This stuff keeps in the fridge for around a month, and when you want a muffin, all you need to do spoon a little bit of the batter into a muffin cup and toss it in the oven.
If you're packing lunches for young ones (or, really, for yourself), it's always nice to include a sweet treat. One of the reasons I love making my own sweets is that I can use ingredients like whole-wheat white flour, lower the sugar content (I find that using 3/4 of the sugar a recipe calls for is rarely noticeable), and make other alterations to provide myself with healthier, but still satisfying desserts.
9. Multi-Purpose Protein
Everybody who's lived in a house where the Sunday pot roast becomes Monday's beef stew, Tuesday's chop suey, and so on knows that having ready-to-go protein makes for quick-and-easy meals. You can marinate and cook some chicken or tofu on Sunday that can be easily tossed in a salad or paired with sides, or follow the classic model and cook a roast, turkey, ham, or seitan dish that will leave you lots of leftovers.
10. Side Salads
Having already prepared side salads can make lunch and dinner oh-so-easy. Whether it's bean salad, pasta salad, potato salad, cole slaw, or just a nice mix of vegetables, pairing a side salad with a bit of quick protein makes for a super-fast and satisfying meal.
Do you prepare food on Sunday for the rest of the week? If so, what? Share your thoughts in the comments.