Simplify the Season With Make-Ahead Meals

Here we go again! It’s that special time of year that manages to be tons of fun and incredibly stressful at the same time. From white elephant parties at work to cookie exchanges with friends and more travel than you can shake a stick at, late November through early January can have you struggling to catch your breath.

In all the hubbub, it can be easy to let the little things slide. Getting enough sleep, taking time to exercise, and eating healthfully are crucial not only to physical well-being, but emotional and mental health as well. Don’t short change yourself. Taking a little extra time for self-care can make all the difference between a fun holiday season and a frightful one.

Perhaps the most sincere way to promote health and happiness in times of stress is to devote a little more attention to what you eat. Cooking can be time-consuming, but a bit of forethought goes a long way toward getting your family fed so you can get back to enjoying all the fun the season has to offer.

Here are some easy ways to stay healthy during the most wonderful time of the year.

#1: Stockpile Salad
Maybe the term “make-ahead meal” has you thinking about frozen casseroles. Perish the thought! You can actually make a week’s worth of salads in one sitting so no matter what you happen to be eating for dinner, you know you always have something fresh and green to look forward to.

Quick Tips:
– Choose heartier greens like kale, radicchio, cabbage, romaine, and endive. They stay crisp and fresh longer than more perishable greens like baby spinach.
– Mix salad greens together and store them in an airtight container or large resealable bag with a paper towel in the bottom to absorb excess moisture.
– Keep other salad ingredients like sliced radish, shaved fennel, and grated carrots in smaller individual containers filled with cool water. The water helps the vegetables retain their crispness.
– Make it a meal by keeping some protein staples on hand. Beans are cheap and delicious, but also have on hand some tasty readymade items, such as Hilary’s Hemp and Greens Burgers or Spicy Mesquite Bites to liven things up a bit.

#2: Make Breakfast Matter
Eating a good breakfast may not turn you into a superhero, but it’s still tops in our book! Prioritizing your morning meal can help prevent low blood sugar, stimulate the metabolism, and enable you to cross at least one thing off your checklist for health.

Quick Tips:
– Chia pudding is the greatest thing to happen to breakfast since sliced gluten free bread. It’s practically dessert but healthy and sustaining. Make a big batch on the weekend and divide it between jars, adding different toppings for each day to keep things interesting.
– If you prefer simple savory breakfasts, buy a few avocados in varying stages of ripeness. Every morning grab half an avocado, cut it into cubes still in its skin, and pour some salad dressing over it. Eat with a spoon. It’s not exactly make-ahead, but it’s so easy that it might as well be.
– Make smoothie packs. Cut up fresh fruit and divide it between zip-top bags. Freeze your preferred non-dairy milk or yogurt in ice cube trays, and divide those between the bags too. Add a spoonful of hemp or chia seeds. Just throw the contents of a bag into the blender every morning, and you own breakfast!

#3: Dinner’s Already Ready
According to the food data company Food Genius, most Americans have no idea what they’re going to cook for dinner at 4 p.m, leading to stressful last-minute list making, shopping, and cooking. Don’t let that be you! Have a game plan, even if it’s simple. Be familiar with the contents of your pantry. And remember: if you took our advice under #1, you’ll already have a salad prepped and ready to go, so the battle is half won.

Quick Tips:
– Don’t discount the humble bean. There’s a reason so many cultures have bean dishes. They’re easy, affordable, and delicious. If you have a big container of cooked beans in the fridge, you can easily turn them into dinner. Add vegetable stock, onion, garlic, and greens to make a hearty soup, saute with onion and spices to serve over rice or other grains, or toss beans with chopped vegetables like fennel or celery, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic to make a bean salad. (P.S. don’t forget about lentils!)
– Same goes for rice. Make a big pot of it (or just cook enough for 2 meals every time you make it), and use it all week long. It’s the perfect foundation for a bowl, topped with raw or cooked veggies and tasty sauce. Stir fry cooked rice with vegetables, a protein, and liquid aminos for healthier fried rice. If you don’t think rice is so nice, this same rule applies to millet, quinoa, or any other grain that you love.
– Try making soup a staple. There is almost no other food that is so easy to make in vast quantities that is filling and healthy. And most soups freeze and reheat really well. Make a hearty chili with plenty of beans, tomatoes, spices, onion, and garlic. Or cook a boatload of carrots and some ginger and aromatics in vegetable stock and puree with a can of white beans for a creamy, vibrant soup. Freeze, then set a container in the fridge to thaw the night before you need it. Brighten it up by serving with fresh herbs.

Hopefully, our quick tips this made you feel a little better. There are always simple, proactive things you can do to stay healthy and positive during stressful times. Thankfully for us, some of those things can be very delicious indeed.