7 Favorite Do-Ahead Dinners for Winter (recipe: Chocolate Chip Chili)

A little blogging conference called Blissdom is happening in a few weeks in Nashville and I’m skipping the country to attend. I’ll also be skipping out on four days of laundry, lunch-packing and cooking. Woo-hoo!

Hmm, the last time I traveled internationally on my own? It was over a decade ago and included sights such as the alluring Tuscan countryside, Thailand’s best beaches, and the most memorable spice market in Istanbul, Turkey. This trip isn’t going to be quite as exotic, and I’ll be inside a sprawling hotel most of the time, but it provides the opportunity to meet some very dear food blogging friends, not to mention, the whole Simple Living Media team. I’m so excited!

Freezer Cooking

To make up for this mom-bloggers’ absence, I’ve been slowly stocking the freezer with meals for Danny to heat and serve to the kids for the five dinners I’ll be gone. Sure he knows his way about the kitchen, but we’ve agreed it is best for him to focus on our little ones as much as possible. I’m also stashing a few extra meals, because I know I’m going to need a couple days when I get back to connect with Blissdom alumni on Twitter get back on my feet.

We’ve talked about warm weather batch cooking, practical do-ahead ideas to help jump start dinner, but I haven’t shared some of our cold weather favorites. Like most families, we enjoy classics such as lasagna, stew, and –my boys current favorite– spaghetti & meatballs, but they do tend to get rather old though, wouldn’t you agree?

Today I’m giving suggestions for recipes that are suitable for freezing, adapt well to big batches, and provide a fresh take on family favorites. Macaroni & Cheese with vitamin-A rich butternut squash? Slow-cooker chili with a handful of chocolate chips? Homemade chicken fingers kept moist with buttermilk? It all sounds so good, I almost wish I was staying home to dine with the family. Almost.

Seven Do-Ahead Dinners for Winter

Photo by Guilty Kitchen

1. Buttermilk Chicken Strips

Chicken strips are a fast, healthy meal if done correctly, and this family-friendly version is a snap to bake up. If there are any left, freeze them for another meal or for topping a Caesar salad.

To reheat, simply preheat oven to 400°F, place frozen chicken strips on a baking rack set on a baking tray, and bake until heated through and crispy on the outside. Don’t forget the Honey Mustard Dip and a platter of chopped vegetables for the best finger food around.

2. Layered Taco Bake

This Mexican-inspired casserole contains all ingredients that my children currently love: beans, tortillas, cheese, and taco beef. The recipe is simple to expand so you can make one for dinner and one for the freezer. It bakes from frozen.

Serve the Layered Taco Bake with shredded lettuce, a few diced avocados or tomatoes, and sour cream, of course.

3. Tourtière (Québec Meat Pie)

Although it’s our Christmas Eve fare, this traditional Québec pork pie is enjoyed all winter long. With its lightly spiced ground pork layered between flaky pastry, tourtière is total comfort food, and needs nothing save a tossed salad or bowl of roasted vegetables to make a complete meal.

It can be frozen either before or after baking, and is reheated in the oven.

4. Roasted Carrot & Cilantro Soup with Whole Wheat Buttermilk Rolls

Not every meal needs to feature meat. During the winter, our weeknight suppers often consist of soup and bread. A favorite of ours is this vibrant roasted carrot soup, which also freezes quite well in small batches and can last up to three months in a deep freeze.

Warm buttermilk rolls (baked any old way) and a wedge of firm cheese round out the meal.

5. Cider Braised Pork Shoulder with Tangy Barbecue Sauce

It’s hard to remember that this is a frugal meal, especially when your piling the tender, shredded pork on a bun and topping it with a dark, homemade barbecue sauce.

  • To freeze: toss pulled pork with a light coasting of BBQ sauce to help keep it moist and then freeze.
  • To serve: thaw meat overnight in the refrigerator, then warm gently in a saucepan, adding more BBQ sauce if it seems dry. Do not boil.

Serve Cider Braised Pork Shoulder on a bun with a tart Roasted Beet and Pickled Golden Raisin Salad on the side to help balance out the rich pork.

6. Butternut Squash Whole-Wheat Mac & Cheese

This recipe is surprisingly healthy for mac & cheese, as it incorporates nearly an entire squash and uses whole-wheat egg-white pasta for a substantial yet low-cholesterol meal. I love this dish because it feels like a hearty main dish even though it is meatless, plus the kids get a serving of vegetables in their favorite meal!

To Freeze:

  • Prepare the butternut squash mac & cheese recipe in full, but stopping just before baking.
  • Wrap entire pans tightly in plastic wrap, mark with the date, and flash freeze.
  • To reheat, remove wrapping and place in a 350°F oven. Bake until heated through and bubbly around the edges.

7. Chocolate Chip Chili with Cheddar Skillet Cornbread

This hearty one-pot wonder comes together looking like a bit of a mess, but after 4-5 hours in a low oven or 6-7 hours in a slowcooker, the final result is remarkably presentable! If you are a fan of batch cooking, this chili freezes beautifully and I might even go as far as to say it improves with age.

This recipe offers everything we love about chili, but is a welcoming change from the usual Super Bowl sludge. It has plenty of textures, thanks to the sausage as well as ground beef, and is completely satisfying in the most substantial way.

And for the chocolate-chips? They added another dimension of flavor and complement the chilies superbly. Plus, they make a great sell to the kiddos, who often request ‘Chocolate Chip Chili’.

Note: Sometime I like to add frozen sweet corn to the chili, for an extra bite of sweetness. The chili in the photos contains corn.

Chocolate Chip Chili with Sausage

Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Dishes
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 7 hours
Total Time: 7 hours 30 minutes
Servings: 3 quarts
Calories: 625kcal
Author: Aimee


  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausages
  • 2 lbskg lean ground beef
  • 2 medium onions peeled and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic peeled and minced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed chillies or less, if your children are very young
  • 1 medium can tomato purée
  • 3 cans red kidney beans (400g cans) drained
  • 3 cans chopped tomatoes (400g cans)
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 2 cups water
  • salt & pepper to taste


  • Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F or prepare a crock pot.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof pan (with lid) and add ground beef. Remove sausages from their casings and add to the pot also. Brown both meats on medium heat, using a sturdy wooden spoon to break them up.
  • Add onion and garlic, cook for a few minutes until soft, then add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon and dried chillies. Stir well to combine.
  • Stir in the tomato purée and chopped tomatoes. Add the water and bring the chili to a boil.
  • Once it's started bubbling, sprinkle the chocolate chips and the kidney beans over the chili, and give it a good stir.
  • At this point you can transfer it to a crock pot or slow cooker for up to 7 hours or put on a lid and transfer to the oven for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Season with salt & pepper before serving.


Serve with your favourite toppings which may include any combination of the following: green onion, cheddar cheese, avocado, sour cream, or tortilla chips.


Calories: 625kcal | Carbohydrates: 56g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 33g | Saturated Fat: 15g | Cholesterol: 81mg | Sodium: 2055mg | Potassium: 1687mg | Fiber: 10g | Sugar: 31g | Vitamin A: 1440IU | Vitamin C: 97.4mg | Calcium: 308mg | Iron: 21.1mg

 What is simmering on the back of your stove during this chilly month?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. I had some chili made with cocoa powder a couple of months back, which was divine. I’ll have to try your choc chip chili for comparison purposes 🙂

  2. I’m always looking for more ideas for frozen meals! Love these!

  3. Steve @ HPD says

    Concur on the chili. Ages well in the freezer. If it’s heavy on the green chilies, I prefer it fresh, but my wife nearly always prefers it the next week.

    We’ve been using the freezer Mason jars for Ball with excellent results. They don’t seem to be 100% air tight, so they work best for dishes that you’re going to keep for a couple of weeks, not months. Also, you’re limited to defrosting and then microwaving the contents, since you’re saving them in jars and not a baking dish. But they work. And, you don’t have to thaw out the entire meal. You can just pull out one jar or so, if you’re only feeding one or two.

    Definitely going to try #5 and #6 in the immediate future.


    • Sounds like you’ve got the do-ahead dinner down pat, Steve. I’ve got plenty of jar, will be freezing some chili in glass for a change.

  4. We found a great Chipotle Beef Chili that cooks completly in the crock pot. Hard to set some aside to keep in the freezer!

    We also just tried Bobby Flay’s Sweet Potato-Coconut Soup, which was wonderful and perfect to deliver to friends with the new baby. Rich flavors even subsituting water for the Chicken Stock to make it vegan.

  5. We are having a bit of a snow/ice storm in Georgia (you northerners laugh at us, I know!) so I am getting ready to make a big pot of chili to eat over the next 2 days! May have to see if I have ingredients to try this recipe!
    And the chicken tenders look great!

  6. such great tips Aimee – have a terrific time at Blissdom!!!

  7. Steph (The Cheapskate Cook) says

    You’ll be right in my backyard for Blissdom! Have a fabulous time! Opryland is a FANTASTIC hotel (like you needed me to tell you that, ha).
    I’ve had my eye on your chocolate chip chili for a awhile, and I think I’ll give it a shot next time I head to the grocey store!
    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • No way! I didn’t know I’d be so close to you. Oh, and I’m planning on having some fun!
      You’re sure to enjoy the chili, and I’m not kidding when I say it is better the next day.

  8. SOOOOOO many fantastic recipes here… just one of them is enough to impress me… but Seven?? You are amazing!! Beautiful pics as always!

  9. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says

    Oooh oooh ooh that pork shoulder has my name all over it. Thank for such a slew of great make ahead recipes, Aimee!

  10. Great dinner ideas, that chocolate chip chili sounds like a dish that I must try!

  11. I have been wanting to try that carrot soup and the taco bake sounds like a comforting meal. I’ve added cocoa to chili before, but chocolate chips! That’s what I’m talking about! YUM.

    • I’ve heard good things about the cocoa, Katie, but it is such fun to see the boys eyeballs pop when I stir a handful of their favorite treat into the pot. 🙂

  12. That cheddar skillet cornbread with the chili, mmm… I can’t wait to try it!

  13. Such delicious ideas for quick weeknight meals!

  14. such great ideas- I love the idea of cooking once-eating twice

  15. StreuselMama says

    Question about the chili: if you were going to make it vegetarian, would you replace the sausage and beef with anything, or just omit them? It seems like they add layers of flavor, as well as the texture…but with a committed veggie in the family, I need to make some substitutions. Thanks for any advice you can offer – and thanks for the recipes!

    • Thanks for your question, it’s a good one. Fortunately we have a post coming tomorrow on how to vegetarian-ize a main dish! Stay tuned.

      They do add a lot to the dish, but I think fantastic flavor could be developed with caramelized onions or leeks, and the chili bulked up with extra beans and a handful of corn.

  16. My favorite is definitely the Butternut Squash Whole Wheat Mac and Cheese.

  17. I belong to a food swap group that trades freezer meals. The choc.chip chili has me excited but I have no clue how to translate metric. Help!

  18. I love the idea of topping chili with avocado instead of cheese! As an aside, I worked for Skyline Chili years ago in college and cocoa powder was one of the “secret” ingredients.

  19. Any suggestions for a vegetarian version of this ? Looks yum, I may make it anyway for the kiddies. 8)

  20. Kelly @ Mom's Kitchen Gadgets says

    Definitely going to give the chocolate chip chili a try – I think my kids would love this!

  21. I saved this so I could come back and try the chocolate chip chili, but the link is missing now! Can anyone help me out with the recipe?

  22. I was given this post for the chili recipe but I love your ideas and recipes for batch cooking! I have a baby due to arrive in 2 months and I’ve started to make my plans for batch cooking ahead of time so I’ll be set during my c-section (unfortunately!) recovery. I like that those recipes are different than the standard batch cooking recipes everyone uses. In the meantime, thanks for the chili recipe! I’ll make it next week, hubby’s been asking for chili.

  23. Cinnamon and chocolate in chili?! No thank you. About as bad as Cincinnati chili over spaghetti!

    • Granted not everyone likes the same foods, but in this case Native South Americans have been combining chilis and chocolate for centuries.
      I eat many different foods, prepared different ways, than what my Mom fed me while I was growing up. My Mom however needs a bulldozer to push her into trying a new dish once every decade.

      Wait a minute! Mom, is that you?

  24. Hello,
    My name Sybil Greene, and I would like to suggest a resource for your website. The resource http://www.famouschilirecipes.com is an informational website providing a range of information that may be useful to your readers ~ especially the Day Before chili recipe, since Fall is in full swing! It would be wonderful if you could review the site to determine if it may be relevant for your users. Thanks so much for your time!
    Please contact me if you have any questions about the site.
    Sybil Greene
    [email protected]

  25. Kristina says

    Hi! I was wondering if anyone has tried freezing this chili before cooking?

  26. Made this a few times last year and my kids loved it! They think that they are eating dessert for dinner. Reminds me of mole. I also finely dice some red and green peppers to add more veggies. Doesn’t change the taste in the least bit. Lost the recipe and found this link again. Thanks again 🙂

  27. Emma Bradley says

    I would never have picked chocolate and meat together, but its a must-try for me now, even though we’re moving into summer down here in Australia!

  28. I would like to know the conversions for your recipe – when it calls for K – kilograms and G – grams, at least I think that this is what they stand for. I shop at Giant Eagle – a major supermarket in the Cleveland, Ohio area and could use your assistance in converting your recipes, to make my shopping easier and it would add to the cooking experience also.

    Perhaps, you could add this to your current recipes and/or incorporate it into your next ones posted.

    Thanks for your response,


    PS: I’m really looking forward to your Chocolate Chip Chili…

  29. Chocolate chips and chilli is not something that i would have thought would go together and i trust your expertise but the only way to see if this combination works is to try it myself.

  30. Can anyone tell me what exactly a medium can of tomato puree is? I can’t find puree in the grocery stores near me. Can a normal sized can of tomato paste be substituted? or Crushed tomatoes? But how much – is the 28oz can considered “medium”?

  31. Wonderful post! We will be linking to this great post
    on our site. Keep up the great writing.

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