Make Ahead

25 (Actually Easy) Ways to Prep for Dinner Before You Leave for Work

April 18, 2017

After the flush of first love or the relief of realizing that you set the alarm for an hour early, the best feeling is remembering that you had the smarts to complete a task ahead of time that will make your life easier right now.

Because even if you're willing to go the grocery store, to chop and stir and—golly!—to do the dishes, you can always use help on some of the pain-points: soaking the chickpeas, letting the fish marinate for an hour-plus, even whisking together a vinaigrette.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Here are 25 tasks—big and small, sweet and savory—you can complete quickly (some take 30 minutes, though most take only 5!) in the morning that will make it easier when dinner (or dessert) comes to shove. We even added in some tools and supplies to help get you started.

(And if you're a morning person, like me, and looking to spend more time in your cocoon home before venturing out in the scary world outside, like me, these little to-dos will give your mornings purpose.)

Photo by Mark Weinberg

1. Press tofu.

2. Soak beans (if you are a bean soaker); soak chickpeas for hummus (even Russ Parsons, no-soaking-renegade, still soaks his chickpeas).

3. Measure the ingredients for a vinaigrette into a jar. Cover, refrigerate, and shake when you're ready to salad-dress.

4. Infuse heavy whipping cream with herbs, rose petals, coffee beans... (Okay, that may seem like a luxury—but when you have mint-infused cream at the ready, all you need for dessert is a whisk and some strawberries.)

5. Similarly, mix together a cookie dough that normally has to sit "overnight."

6. Marinate something!: cooked shrimp, feta cheese, tempeh, steak, roasted squash (summer or otherwise), olives...

7. Boil (or steam) eggs. Soft boil them, hard boil them, or turn them soy sauce-y.

8. Pat your chicken (whole or wings or what have you!) dry, then let it sit in the fridge, uncovered, until you're ready to prepare it: Less moisture in the skin = a drier, more crackly crust.

9. Wash your greens, then store them in the fridge. Kristen likes to wash and spin her lettuces, then stick the whole spinner in the refrigerator, lid and all.

10. Defrost your meat or fish by moving it from the freezer to the fridge. You will be so happy later.

11. Start a pot of grains before you get in the shower. If that grain is rice, you're setting yourself up for fried rice later.

12. And also defrost puff pastry. Turn half of it into a savory tart—and half into palmiers for dessert!

13. Quick-pickle! Jalapeños, raisins, carrots.

14. Cube your aging bread and leave it out to grow stale. You're on your way to panzanella, croutons, and breadcrumbs. And on chilly days, ribollita and bread pudding.

15. Squeeze a bunch of lemons. That juice will come in handy.

16. Prepare dashi with cold water and leave it, covered, in the refrigerator to steep while you're at work.

17. Soak polenta! Whisk boiling water into your polenta in the morning and it will only take 10 (or 12) minutes to turn it into something rich and creamy and ready for red sauce later that evening.

18. Soak cashews in the morning and you'll have cashew cream in no time (make extra, and use it in your overnight oats for the next morning).

19. Toast nuts and store them in an airtight container. One less thing to do when you're assembling a salad later!

20. Make brownies even richer by giving the batter a several-hour rest in the fridge.

21. Whisk together pancake mix and have breakfast for dinner (just add buttermilk—or milk plus lemon juice—and an egg).

22. It will take you about 10 minutes to blitz all the ingredients for strawberry sorbet in a food processor and only 20 more to churn it in an ice cream machine. Let it freeze while you're at work.

23. Your slow cooker is calling your name. Devote 5 minutes to it this morning and it will feed you poached chicken, chicken Parmesan soup, and/or choucroute when you get home.

24. Chop an onion, a couple stalks of celery, and a few carrots now and you won't have to do much prep for soffritto later. (Or, commit yourself to slicing only onions—then caramelize them when you get home.)

25. Make some yogurt for tomorrow! Boil the milk, let it cool to bath temperature, then add the dollops of culture. Swaddle your pot and let it hang out during the day. Strain the yogurt that night in the fridge for tomorrow morning's breakfast.

We know you have ideas about using morning prep to the greatest advantage! Share with us in the comments below!

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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10 Comments

Pam January 6, 2017
As a type 2 diabetic, who is now also on the blood thinner, warfarin, I'm having trouble incorporating veggies into my daily diet. As you may know, green leafy veggies need to be limited when on warfarin. I could use help finding healthy recipes using other types of veggies that I can eat a lot of.
 
Lazyretirementgirl January 17, 2018
Pam, I hope you get this. I cook for a beloved blood thinner using diabetic and have a couple of thoughts for you that have worked well at our house. First, non leafy green veggies like asparagus work well, along with colored veggies like carrots, squash, tomatoes, beets, etc. Roasted or in soups are a popular choice. Second, what the docs have told us is leafy greens are fine, but be consistent in your intake — we eat a green salad every night with no problems. You might want to talk that over with your doctor. Good luck!
 
Pam January 6, 2017
As a type 2 diabetic who is now also on warfarin, I find it really hard now to incorporate as many veggies as I'd like into my daily menu. I could use some help!
 
Monica June 27, 2016
I make dough for no knead bread, so when I get home it's ready to go in the oven!
 
fatenak May 23, 2016
I cut baking paper to the size of my baking pan and line it in the morning to use when i am ready to bake<br /><br />i boil potatoes and eggs in the morning and here we go quick potatoes salad for dinner<br />
 
AntoniaJames May 17, 2016
I apply general project management principles to everything I do in the kitchen, and in life generally, for that matter. Specifically, I look at every menu plan as a complex project consisting of many subtasks. Those smaller tasks I group together to make the most efficient use of my time and efforts while doing prep activities; identifying 1 - 5 minute tasks allows me to take advantage of small pockets of time. This morning during my warm up and cool down during interval training on a spinning bike (walking the project management talk again), I thought of about 40 quick “cheat codes” that I often do early in the morning, or when I can grab a few minutes at lunchtime or otherwise during the day on weekends, but also in the evening while making that night’s dinner. (I dictated them into a Notes file on my phone.)<br />I’ve been the subject of cruel snark - did you know that’s a portmanteau for “snide remark” - here when posting detailed responses on editorial pieces, innocently intended to be helpful. Anyone interested in that “off the top of my head” list should feel free to contact me via my profile. <br />You can also click on #cheatcode on some of my recent (Not)Recipes in the new Food52 app to see a few real life examples of how I use these basic time management principles. <br />(As I tell my sons, if you can manage a jury trial in another state or a $100MM+ deal that takes 9 months to negotiate, planning 7-10 days of menus, breaking each item into subtasks to put dinner on the table in 30 minutes, so you can eat a great meal every night, is just not that hard.) ;o) <br />P.S. Another illustration of how I put these basic ideas to work can be found here: https://food52.com/blog/8826-how-to-hike-a-mountain-and-serve-thanksgiving-dinner-on-the-same-day <br />(I realize that this is another long answers. My apologies.)
 
creamtea January 6, 2017
Antonia I just saw this comment for the first time. I always try to read your smart comments (but could never be as organized as I know you to be) and always learn something. Have been the subject of some snark myself (one user "attacked" a recipe--my "baby"!! just as my daughter and I had arrived at our destination for a dream trip abroad--little did the commentator know!!!). You are a great asset here and your observations are much appreciated by all--I hope you know that!
 
Lazyretirementgirl January 17, 2018
AJ + 1 to creamtea’s comment. You are my very favorite contributor on Food52. Plus, as a retired lawyer, I wholeheartedly agree with your central thesis: if you can manage a nationwide practice or try a seven week case out of town, meal planning is a cakewalk. 😉
 
Amy May 17, 2016
Love cooking up some kale with eggs for breakfast - so #9 really is a big time saver! :)
 
Marian B. May 16, 2016
this is amazing, thank you, you're brilliant<br />