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Make-Ahead Meals

6 tips for making dinner easier, all week long

Busy lives filled with work and family obligations can leave little time for preparing healthful meals. And when hunger pangs hit at 6 p.m., the decisions one makes about what to eat may be based on what’s quickest, not what’s diabetes-friendlier.

If you find yourself in this predicament on most weeknights, consider a dinnertime makeover by making meals ahead. Investing a little time on the weekend to implement a make-ahead strategy can make meals during the week a matter of reaching into the refrigerator or freezer for nutritious ready-made meals that only need heating up.

Try these six tips for making easy and delicious dinnertime options for the whole family. (Be sure to check with your diabetes care team before making changes to your meal plan.)

1. Make a detailed plan – or extra batches. Approach the make-ahead concept with specific menus for each day of the week. On the weekend, do the shopping, prep and cooking, then during the week, follow menus to effortlessly reheat and eat.

If meticulous planning is not your style, take a weekend to make double or triple batches of three or four healthful main dishes. Portion them into single meals and freeze for nights when you are too tired to cook. Time and storage constraints are the only limits to how much one can prepare ahead with this strategy.

If you’re grilling steak or shrimp on Saturday night, make extra to use in salads, sandwiches or pasta dishes throughout the week. If you’re roasting chicken for Sunday dinner, roast two chickens or roast a pork loin at the same time for midweek meals.

2. Make it saucy. Not everything tastes great when it’s reheated. Choose saucy entrees or foods that have a generous amount of liquid as part of the recipe. Soups, stews, chilies, meatballs in sauce, meat sauce for pasta (made with ground turkey or extra-lean ground beef), or lean meat or poultry braised in a sauce (like pot roast, beef brisket or stewed chicken) will be tasty and satisfying when reheated.

Avoid stir-fries, dishes with pasta or potatoes, and seafood, as these dishes may lose their texture and flavor when reheated.

3. Put the slow cooker to work. As a general rule, anything that cooks well in a slow cooker will reheat with wonderful results. Invest in a large slow cooker to make double batches of soups and stews, lentil and dried bean dishes, and braised meats and poultry. Enjoy the first of the batch on the weekend, then freeze the leftovers for later.

4. Add flavor with freshness. To keep leftover soups or stews from tasting tired, stir in a quick-cooking fresh vegetable such as diced zucchini or yellow squash, or chopped spinach or Swiss chard when reheating. These delicate veggies will cook in the few minutes it takes to reheat the dish and will add a burst of freshness to your meal.

If you have fresh herbs on hand, add some zing by stirring one in that accentuates the ingredients of the dish. Even ordinary chopped parsley can add bright, fresh taste to a soup or stew. A squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice or a teaspoon or two of white wine vinegar can also brighten up a reheated dish.

And don’t forget to taste for salt and pepper. The flavor of these fade when food is stored, and you may need to sprinkle in a little more.

5. Remember the veggies. Always keep a stash of bagged salads and plain frozen microwavable vegetables on hand to round out your ready-made main dishes. Broccoli or cauliflower florets, summer squash and spinach can be sautéed or cooked in the microwave in less than five minutes.

6. Safety first. Package and store cooked foods in the refrigerator or freezer within two hours of cooking. Cooked foods may be safe to refrigerate for up to four days. Frozen cooked foods can be stored for up to six months, but for best taste, try to use them within three months. When reheating frozen foods, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator or use the defrost setting on your microwave. Make sure all foods reach at least 165°F using an instant-read thermometer.

Jackie Mills is a registered dietitian who develops recipes for such national magazines as Cooking Light and Family Circle, as well as for books such as the American Medical Association Type 2 Diabetes Cookbook. She was formerly the food editor at Redbook magazine. Mills is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2015 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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