Don’t let after-school activities, homework, and hectic work schedules prevent you from having sit-down dinners with your family. Eating together encourages family members to reconnect after a busy day, and according to a report released by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, it also plays a role in healthy living. Shared family meals may improve your diet quality and nutrient intake, and to a lesser extent, could potentially help with weight maintenance. It also provides you with the perfect opportunity to teach your kids healthy eating habits through example. You don’t need to spend hours cooking each night in order to make sit-down meals a reality. By preparing dishes in advance and storing them in the freezer, you can quickly serve your family a healthy dinner any night of the week. These six make-ahead healthy dinner recipes take the stress out of sit-down suppers.
1. Mushroom and Root Vegetable Pot Pie
Nutritional needs are satisfied with Cooking Light’s mushroom and root vegetable pot pie. Fat-free ingredients, whole-wheat flour, and veggies create a dish that has 351 calories and 10.5 grams of fat per serving. If you’re planning to freeze the pot pies, follow the recipe’s instructions but wait to bake them until you are ready to eat.
- 2 cups sliced carrots, ½-inch-thick
- 2 cups sliced rutabaga, ½-inch-thick
- 2 cup sliced parsnips, ½-inch-thick
- 3 cups organic vegetable broth
- 2 cups fat-free milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon butter, divided
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, divided
- 3 (4-ounce) packages presliced exotic mushroom blend
- ⅔ cup finely chopped shallots
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1.5 ounces (about ⅓ cup) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon dry sherry
- Cooking spray
- 3.2 ounces (about ⅔ cup) whole-wheat flour
- 3 ounces (about ⅔ cup) all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
- 3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
- ⅔ cup plus 2 tablespoons fat-free buttermilk, divided
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place first 6 ingredients in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Remove the carrot mixture from pan with a slotted spoon, and set aside. Reserve the cooking liquid, and set aside. Discard bay leaf. Heat 1½ teaspoons butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1½ teaspoons thyme and mushrooms; cook for 12 minutes or until mushrooms are tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Melt remaining 1½ teaspoons butter in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add ⅔ cup chopped shallots and garlic; cook for 3 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently.
Pour ½ cup reserved cooking liquid into a bowl. Weigh or lightly spoon 1.5 ounces all-purpose flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Add 1.5 ounces all-purpose flour to ½ cup reserved cooking liquid in bowl; stir with a whisk. Add remaining reserved cooking liquid, remaining thyme, cream, and sherry to pan with shallots; bring to a boil. Add flour mixture; stir with a whisk. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer until mixture thickens and is reduced to 3 cups, stirring frequently. Place the reserved carrot mixture, mushrooms, and shallot mixture in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Spoon 1⅓ cups mixture into each of six ramekins coated with cooking spray.
Weigh or lightly spoon whole-wheat flour and 3 ounces all-purpose flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife. Combine whole-wheat flour, 3 ounces all-purpose flour, baking powder, and parsley in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cut in 3 tablespoons chilled butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ⅔ cup buttermilk to whole-wheat flour mixture, stirring just until moist. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto vegetable mixture, dividing evenly among ramekins. Brush the remaining 2 tablespoons buttermilk over topping. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
2. Ragù alla Bolognese
Eating Well’s meat sauce is traditionally served with tagliatelle or pappardelle, but it tastes just as good with rigatoni or shells. You can keep ragù alla bolognese refrigerated in an airtight container for up to five days, or it can be frozen for up to three months. This recipe was adapted from Giuliano Hazan’s How to Cook Italian.
- 2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
- 4 small or 2 large carrots, cut into ¼-inch dice
- 4 stalks celery, cut into ¼-inch dice
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 pounds lean ground beef (90% or leaner)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups dry white wine
- 2 cups low-fat milk
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 (28-ounce) cans plus 1 (14-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
Directions: Put onions, carrots, celery, butter, and oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven and place over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are lightly browned, 8 to 15 minutes. Add ground beef and break it up with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and continue stirring until the meat has lost its red color, about 4 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until it has almost completely evaporated, 18 to 25 minutes. Add milk and nutmeg and cook, stirring occasionally, until the milk has mostly evaporated, 12 to 18 minutes.
Coarsely chop tomatoes and add them and their juice to the pot. Once the tomatoes have started bubbling, reduce the heat to low so that the sauce is barely simmering. Cook uncovered for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. If all the liquid evaporates before the cooking time is up, add water ½ cup at a time as needed. After 4 hours, make sure all the liquid has evaporated before you remove the sauce from the heat. Blot or skim any fat from the surface before serving.
3. Veggie Lasagna
Prepare Fitness’s veggie lasagna when you have some free time, cut it into individual pieces, and freeze until you’re ready to reheat and serve. Filled with whole grains and vegetables, this is a low-fat, nutritious dish to have at sit-down suppers.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- ⅓ cup chopped onion
- 2½ cups zucchini, sliced
- 2 cups sliced fresh portobello mushrooms
- 1 cup fat-free ricotta
- 3 tablespoons finely shredded Parmesan
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 6 whole-wheat no-boil lasagna noodles
- 2 cups prepared pasta sauce
- 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
- ½ cup chopped, seeded tomato
Directions: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, zucchini and mushrooms; heat 5 minutes or until tender, stirring. Remove from heat; set aside. In a small bowl, mix the ricotta, Parmesan, and pepper. To assemble, place 3 lasagna noodles in the bottom of a 2-quart rectangular baking dish. Spoon half the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Top with half the veggie mixture, half the pasta sauce and half the mozzarella. Layer with remaining noodles, ricotta mixture, veggie mixture and sauce. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with tomato and remaining mozzarella. Bake 5 minutes more or until heated through. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
4. Black Bean Enchilada Casserole
Replacing ground beef with black beans and tofu creates a protein-packed dinner dish that is low in fat and calories. Prevention’s recipe yields 6 servings. For an easy make-ahead meal, bake the black bean enchilada casserole, allow it to cool, and then cover it with plastic wrap followed by tin foil before freezing. Before serving, thaw the casserole in the fridge overnight, remove the foil, and microwave on high for about five minutes.
- 2 cups frozen cooked black beans, thawed
- 4 ounces reduced-fat extra-firm tofu
- ½ cup salsa
- ⅓ cup shredded low-fat Monterey Jack cheese
- ¼ cup canned diced green chili peppers
- 2 scallions, minced
- 1½ cups reduced-sodium tomato purée
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- 10 frozen corn tortillas, thawed
- ¼ cup shredded nonfat mozzarella cheese
- ¼ cup nonfat sour cream
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Directions: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with no-stick spray. In a medium bowl, combine the beans, tofu, and salsa. Mash together with a fork. Add the Monterey Jack, chili peppers, and scallions. In a small bowl, combine the tomato purée, chili powder, and cumin. Mix well.
Spoon half of the bean mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top with 5 of the tortillas. Spoon half of the tomato mixture over the tortillas. Repeat to use the remaining bean mixture, tortillas, and tomato mixture. Top with the mozzarella, sour cream, and cilantro. Cover and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes, or until bubbly. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
5. Lemony Chicken Noodle Soup
Real Simple’s hearty, kid-friendly soup is perfect for busy weeknight dinners. The soup can be frozen for up to three months and has 247 calories, six grams of fat, and 27 grams of protein per serving.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 carrots and/or parsnips, cut into bite-size pieces
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 2 pounds bone-in chicken breasts, skin removed
- 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup small pasta
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Directions: Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the carrots and/or parsnips, celery, onion, thyme, 1½ teaspoons salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the chicken, broth, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the chicken and place on a cutting board. When it is cool enough to handle, shred the meat with 2 forks; discard the bones. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the soup and simmer until al dente, 6 to 10 minutes. Add the chicken, lemon juice, and parsley and stir to combine.
6. Mini-Chicken Burgers with Herbs
Introduce your kids to a healthier burger with these mini-chicken burgers with herbs from Thriving Home. If freezing, form the chicken mixture into patties, coat in bread crumbs, place them on a parchment- or wax paper-lined baking sheet, and set in the freezer for about one hour. Once they are frozen, transfer them to a large resealable bag and store in the freezer for up to three months. Before cooking, allow the patties to thaw overnight.
- 2 pounds ground chicken or turkey
- 1½ teaspoons finely chopped garlic
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup dried breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Directions: Combine ground chicken, garlic parsley, oregano, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Season well with salt and pepper, then use your hands or a fork to mix just until combined. For mixture into 16 patties.
Place breadcrumbs in a shallow dish, then press both sides of each patty gently in the breadcrumbs, pressing lightly to adhere. Set aside, then heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Once hot, cook patties in batches, turning once, until both sides are browned and meat is cooked through. Each batch will take about 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Serve.