Talk about a brilliant meal-prep move. 

By Darcy Lenz
August 01, 2019

 

I’ll be the first to admit it: planning ahead is hard. Committing to meals in the future when there is so much going on in the present… I mean, come on, it’s not as breezy as the Insta-fluencers would have you believe.

That said, there is an answer: strategic partial commitment. You actually don’t have to be all-in when it comes to successful meal prep

You may not know exactly what you’ll want for dinner in the days to come, but knowing that you will in fact want dinner (and knowing the types of dinners your family typically gets down with) is more than enough to inform a commitment to saving your future self time and your current self money. 

According to our resident test kitchen mom, Nicole McLaughlin, bulk packages of ground beef present us with one such opportunity. Rather than buying individual, 16-ounce packages of ground beef on an as-needed basis, Nicole opts for the mega package (usually around five pounds) whenever she hits a big box store like Costco. These tend to go for around $3 per pound, which is more cost efficient, but who’s really eating five pounds of ground beef in a week?  

That’s where this plan becomes even better. Rather than leaning into a week’s worth of ground beef-based dinners, or even divvying up the raw meat into freezable portions (as is often advised when buying in bulk), Nicole makes her future dinner prep life all the easier by browning off the entire package of beef upon returning home from the store. After draining and allowing it to cool, she puts the cooked beef into quart-size freezer bags—about two cups meat per bag—and lays them completely flat to freeze. 

You should press each meat bag into an even, flat layer for freezing. Try laying the bags out on a sheet pan and transferring the whole pan to the freezer until the beef is frozen through. This will make the portions stackable, keeps them from taking up too much space in the freezer, and ultimately makes them quicker to thaw. 

And voila, from a budget-savvy bulk package of meat, you have multiple ready-to-go, blank-canvas, meal-sized packages of beef at your disposal. A few minutes of partially committal meal prep on the front end will save you time on multiple TBD meals to come. As far as what those TBD meals might be, you’re the captain, and basically any recipe that would require one of your first steps to involve browning ground meat is fair game. To get you started, here are 10 of Nicole’s favorite ways to put her ready-beef packs to use. 

1. Quick and Easy Chili

Photography: Greg DuPree Food Styling: Rishon Hanners Prop Styling: Thom Driver

Once you’ve got all of your other chili ingredients simmering away, stir in your ground beef and allow it a few minutes to soak up the flavors. Boom, dinner.

Recipes to Try: Easy Chili, 30-Minute Chili, Classic Beef Chili

2. Tacos or Taco Salads

Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Prop Styling: Christina Daley; Food Styling: Marianne Williams

Just stir in your favorite taco seasonings as you gently reheat the beef and enjoy a fast and easy taco night. 

Recipes to Try: Easy Taco Salad, Family-Style Taco Night, Spiced Beef Tostadas with Cilantro-Lime Rice

3. Shepherd’s Pie

Jen Causey; Prop Styling: Kay Clark; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners 

Got leftover mashed potatoes? Shepherd’s Pie is calling your name. 

Recipes to Try: Speedy Shepherd’s Pie, Easy Tex-Mex Shepherd’s Pie, Classic Shepherd’s Pie

4. Sloppy Joe’s 

Photo: Aaron Kirk; Prop Styling: Christina Daley; Food Styling: Robby Melvin

And you thought Sloppy Joe’s couldn’t get any easier.

Recipes to Try: Best Homemade Sloppy Joes, Slow-Cooker Sloppy Joes

5. Chili Mac

It’s meaty, it’s cheesy, what’s not to love? 

Recipes to Try: Chili-Cheese Mac, Chili Mac

6. Baked Ziti

Photo: Greg Dupree; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Having one step already knocked out for your favorite baked ziti means your more likely to make a pan… which is nothing but good news. 

Recipes to Try: Greek Baked Ziti, Baked Ziti Casserole, Lasagna Style Baked Ziti

7. Veggie Beef Soup

Jen Causey; Prop Styling: Kay Clark; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners 

Clean out the crisper drawers and create a hearty, comforting meal all in one move.

Recipes to Try: Vegetable Soup with Basil Pesto, Instant Pot Two-Minute Taco Soup, Savory Sausage, Veggie, and Gnocchi Soup

8. Stuffed Peppers

Oxmoor House

They’re a tried and true standby for a reason, folks. 

Recipes to Try: Beef-and-Rice Stuffed Peppers, Slow Cooker Stuffed Peppers, Stuffed Poblano Peppers

9. Cheeseburger Pizza

Emily Nabors Hall's Cheeseburger Pizza image

Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez; Food Styling: Torie Cox; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke

Kid-friendly? Yep. Totally delicious? Absolutely.

Recipes to Try: Cheeseburger Pizza, Emily's Cheeseburger Pizza

10. Thai Beef Lettuce Cups or Salad

Photography: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Anna Hampton; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine

They’re light, they’re refreshing, and they’re the kind of quick-fix meal you need by the time Thursday rolls around. 

Recipes to Try: Thai Beef Cabbage Cups, Thai Beef Cabbage SaladAsian Lettuce Cups, Asian Lettuce Wraps

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