Make Ahead Meals Simplify Weekly Dinner Planning

Wayne shares make ahead recipes that can be portioned out during the week

One of our talented producers, Jenel Nels, is a working mom like so many others.  We chatted recently about waye to simplify weekly meal planning for her family.  A great solution is to make a large volume of meals on the weekend that can be frozen and then simply heated up for dinner. 

Based on one of Jenel’s mother’s recipes, noodle casserole, I was inspired to create my own version.  In doing so, I also created a turkey and beef ragu as a key ingredient.  The ragu can be used in a variety of different dishes.  By making a big batch of the ragu and then portioning it out for a pasta sauce or using it in other dishes and then freezing them, you’ll be able to stretch one day’s worth of cooking into thee or four meals for the family.  The ragu recipe below will make 2 quarts.  But, try doubling or tripling it so that you have plenty on hand for more than just one week.

Noodle Casserole
4-6 Servings


8 oz Elbow Pasta (uncooked)
3 cu Turkey Beef Ragu (recipe below)
1 cu Grated Parmeggiano Reggiano
1/2 cu Panko Breadcrumbs
2 tbl Butter, melted
1/4 cu Flat Leaf Parsley, roughly chopped


Prepare pasta according to package directions.  Combine cooked pasta with ragu and 1/2 cup of the cheese and turn into a buttered 2-quart, oven safe, casserole dish.  This can be covered and frozen at this point.  Remove from freezer and place in the refrigerator in the morning on the day you plan to serve it for dinner.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Sprinkle remaining cheese over casserole.  Mix breadcrumbs together with the melted butter.  Spread over casserole.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until heated through, cheese is melted and breadcrumbs are golden brown.  Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.  Garnish with parsley.  If you want a meatier version, add an additional cup af ragu when preparing the dish.

Pasta Bolognaise


2 cu Turkey Beef Ragu
8 oz Pasta (choose your favorite, fettuccini, spaghetti, etc).
Grated Parmiggiano Reggiano
1/4 cu Flat Leaf Parsley, for garnish


Heat ragu in a large saucepan over medium low heat.  Prepare pasta according to package directions.  Drain and add to saucepan with ragu.  Toss to coat.  Serve with grated cheese and garnish with parsley.

Turkey Beef Ragu
makes 2 quarts


1/4 cu Olive Oil
2 tbl Unsalted Butter
1 med Yellow Onion, finely chopped
2 Carrots, skin on, finely chopped
2 Celery Stalks, finely chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, smashed and minced
2 tsp Fresh Oregano Leaves, finely chopped
1 tbl Fresh Basil Leaves, finely chopped
1 1/4 lb Ground Turkey
1 1/4 lb Ground Chuck
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
1 Bouillon Cube, dissolved in 1 cup hot water
1 can Tomato Paste (12 oz size)
1 1/2 cu Whole Milk
1 Bay Leaf


Put olive oil and butter in a large saucepan or stockpot over medium heat.  Add onions, carrots, celery and cloves and stir to coat.  Reduce heat to a medium low and sauté vegetables for 10-12 minutes until tender, stirring often.  Add oregano and basil and stir to combine.  Increase heat to medium high and add ground turkey and ground chuck.  Stir to break apart and brown for about 5 minutes.  Add salt, pepper, bouillon cube and water and tomato paste (rinse it with one can of water and add that in, too).  Add milk and bay leaf and stir to combine.  Reduce heat to a medium low and let mixture simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Remove bay leaf and discard.

At this point, you can divide the ragu into smaller 1-2 cup potions in freezer bags and freeze until needed or use immediately it in one of the dishes above.

Thanks to Jenel for the inspiration for this segment.  My freezer is now stocked with a few nights’ meals!  If you have any questions or comments, please send me an email at or follow me on facebook.

Also, I will be the emcee of this year’s “A Taste Of Chicago’s Culinary Schools” on Friday, March 5, 6PM at Eli’s Cheesecake Factory, 6701 W. Forest Preserve Drive in Chicago.  The proceeds from the evening benefit The Greater Chicago Food Depository and scholarships for the 8 participating culinary schools.  For more information, call 630.561.8371.

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