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10 Great Make-Ahead Foods to Cook Over the Weekend

Wise Bread

Cooking your own food can save you a lot of money, but it can also take up a lot of time. And when you're rushing around before or after work, you probably don't want to set aside two hours to make a big ol' meal.

If you take some time over the weekend, however, you can stock your fridge full of fresh, delicious, healthy food that's quick to prepare and serve throughout the week. Here are 10 of my favorite foods to make on a weekend.

1. Bread

While making bread from scratch might seem intimidating, it's actually very easy once you get used to working with yeast dough. Moreover, it's not as time intensive as you might think--most of the time it takes to make bread is just for the rising, which means bread is a perfect thing to throw together while doing other chores around the house. You can use your bread for sandwiches or breakfast toast, or turn it into croutons, panzella, or bread pudding if it starts getting stale late in the week.

2. Bean Salads

Bean (or lentil) salads are one of my favorite grab-and-go lunches. There are hundreds of recipes out there, but almost all of them combine beans, vegetables, and dressing to make a healthy, filling meal. I'll often serve bean salads with a slice of bread or some tortilla chips.

3. Dips

Dips like homemade hummus, spicy peanut sauce, and salsa are great to make ahead. They're easy to construct--just throw the ingredients in the blender--and they can be used for everything from dipping vegetables to pulling together quick meals like a Greek plate, stir-fry, or burritos. I would recommend avoiding guacamole as a make-ahead dip, however--even if you store the avocado pit in the guac, it still browns fairly quickly.

4. Casseroles

Once cooked, casseroles like lasagna, oven-baked ratatouille, and macaroni and cheese make awesome, microwave-friendly leftovers for the rest of the week. Or you can always prepare the casserole and put it in the fridge or freezer before cooking, pulling it out when you need an entire meal to toss in the oven.

5. Meat

"Meat" sounds kind of generic, I know. But if you cook up some inexpensive meat on a Sunday--such as a pot roast or a whole chicken--you can use it throughout the week for dishes ranging from salads to pasta dishes to enchilada filling and more. Try refrigerating one portion and freezing the other, so you don't get bored eating only one meat for the week.

6. Granola

The granola you buy at the store is delicious, yes, but it's also usually pretty expensive and surprisingly high in fat and sugar. But making your own granola is simple. It primarily consists of toasting together oats, nuts, a sweetener, and a bit of oil in the oven, and then adding dried fruit. If you have a favorite kind of granola, do a quick Google search for the recipe. You'll probably be able to discover one you'll love.

7. Muffins

If you want something for breakfast that's even more grab-and-go, a batch of muffins will serve you well. And they'll be much healthier (and more reasonably portioned) than what you find in coffee shops.

8. Chopped Vegetables

Whether they're for snacks, salads, or side dishes, pre-chopping your vegetables ensures that you have healthy food ready to eat when you want it. You can even pre-pack them with little Tupperware containers of one of the aforementioned dips for a ready-to-go snack.

9. Popcorn

Whether you air-pop it, make it in a paper bag in the microwave, or heat it up on the stovetop, almost any option you have for homemade popcorn is healthier than the store-bought microwave bags. Popcorn won't stay fresh for the entire week, but it will stay good for at least a couple of days, giving you a light-and-tasty snack.

10. Soup

It refrigerates and freezes well, it can be served as a side dish or main course, and it's darn delicious. Want to avoid hot soup in the summer? Try cool soups like chilled cucumber, gazpacho, or fruit soup.

Meg Favreau is the author of Little Old Lady Recipes: Comfort Food and Kitchen Table Wisdom and the Senior Editor of frugal living blog Wise Bread.

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