When you are short on time, having pre-made meals at the ready can reduce stress. The usual convenience foods, fast food and frozen dinners usually contain high amounts of sodium, sugar and saturated or trans fats. Creating healthy make-ahead meals that you can heat and eat will help you adhere to your goals of weight management and good nutrition.
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The best make-ahead meals contain hearty ingredients that stand up to being reheated. Soups, stews and braises are options because they usually have been cooked for a long time and a little extra heating will not destroy delicate flavors. Serve them with a crusty piece of whole-grain bread and a salad made from pre-washed greens and olive oil dressing for a complete, healthy meal. In the summer months, you can make a complete meal from cold grain salads that do not need reheating. Serve these alone, on a bed of pre-washed greens or with a portion of chicken breast that you grilled in advance.
Soup is easy to make in large quantities and takes well to freezing and rewarming. You can combine any number of ingredients to make a hearty, meal-in-a-bowl soup that includes multiple nutrients and fiber, without a lot of added fat. Start by sautéing a chopped onion in 2 tsp. of olive oil, add a base of 1 quart of low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth and a can of no-salt-added diced tomatoes; toss in 1 lb. of chopped vegetables and a starch of choice. Drop in 10 oz. of quick cooking or pre-cooked protein and season with spices, salt and pepper. Simmer the mixture until the vegetables are cooked through and the starch is fully cooked. Try chili powder and dried oregano, shredded chicken, zucchini and carrots, frozen corn and black beans topped with chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime. You could also combine chopped ham, caraway seeds, carrots, celery, cabbage, white beans and Worcestershire sauce.
A stew utilizes tougher pieces of meat, but through long cooking times these pieces become tender. You can place a stew in a Crock-Pot so it is ready fresh when you arrive home from your day, or make it in advance to refrigerate or freeze. A simple pork stew uses pork tenderloin, the leanest cut of pork. On the stove, sauté a chopped onion and a minced garlic clove in olive oil. Chop 8 oz. of pork tenderloin into cubes, dust in flour and season with salt and pepper. Add it to the pan to brown on all sides. Transfer it to a Crock-Pot and add 1 tbsp. of freshly grated ginger, 1 tbsp. of brown sugar, ¼ cup of red wine vinegar, 1 tsp. of dried thyme, 1 ½ cups of low-sodium chicken broth and 1 cup of water. Add 1/4 cup each of chopped dried apricots and dried prunes. Allow it to simmer on low for eight hours or on high for four hours.
Salads made with leafy greens wilt when left in the refrigerator. Grain salads can last several days and may even develop more flavor. Create a quinoa salad by stirring together cooked quinoa, drained black beans, chopped tomatoes, minced jalapeno, diced red onion, lime juice and a bit of olive oil. Stir in chopped cilantro if you like. You can also make a hearty meal salad with cooked wheat berries, steamed carrot coins and golden raisins. Toss it in a dressing made from lemon juice, cumin, paprika, minced garlic, olive oil and fresh parsley.