Batch cooking, for the uninitiated, is the process of making multiple meals or servings ahead of time for future consumption. The idea is to cook up a week’s worth of meals in one cooking session. Additionally, instead of cooking just for the week, batch cooking can help you to freeze meals for the weeks and months ahead.
My husband and I follow the Paleo and vegetarian diets, respectively. We also try to cook utilizing local whole foods and avoid processed foods as much as possible. In addition, we live pretty busy lives full of work and other commitments, and we like to have some downtime and to try to get some sleep too! While, it may seem impossible to make all this work, batch cooking helps. In our household, with our different diets and our commitment to using whole foods, our discovery of the batch cooking method was a life-saver.
At least once a week, I spend several hours in the kitchen prepping and preparing meals for the week ahead, as well as freezing prepped and prepared foods for further out. I can tell you there’s nothing better than knowing that dinner is already made and waiting for you after a long day at work.
And while you may think all that cooking sounds like a real pain, batch cooking can help you improve your eating habits, reduce your food costs, allow you to enjoy your evenings more, and can actually help your spend less time in the kitchen.
Batch Cooking Tips
- Menu Planning - Menu planning is necessary to make batch cooking work. Develop a roundup of regular batch cooking suitable recipes and rotate through that list.
- Shop Carefully - Careful shopping is the key to batch cooking. Since you will be doing less cooking during the week, you don’t want to purchase food not part of your plan for the week.
- Invest in a Slow Cooker - A slow cooker can help you double your effort in the kitchen. While you are cooking up one meal, you can have another in the works in the slow cooker.
- Soups & Stews - Soups and stews are easy batch cooking foods. They are mainly one-pot meals, and that means you can have several going on the stove at the same time. Last week, I cooked up some chicken soup with roasted fennel for the husband and lentil and Swiss chard soup for myself--at the same time.
- Cook Smart - Be organized and efficient with your batch cooking. For example, prepare your mirepoix (onions, carrots, and celery) for all the meals you plan on making that day at the same time.
- Containers on Hand - You will need to invest in freezer-safe storage containers. We prefer mason jars and have many in various sizes. When freezing in glass, do leave at least one-inch headroom in the jar to keep it from shattering.
- Always Double Recipes - Whenever possible, consider doubling whatever you make to get the most of your time. For example, last week I made two casseroles of macaroni and cheese--one to eat for the week, and the other to freeze in individual portions for later. Please note, doubling recipes isn’t a good idea for baking recipes.
- Label - I cannot stress the importance of labeling with the both the name of the dish and date. We use painters’ tape and a Sharpie--it is low-tech, but it works.
- Portions - Consider how you will be using the food you thaw out. We prefer to freeze in individual portions because that suits our habits best. If you have a larger family, who are all eating the same thing, it may make sense for you to freeze multiple servings together.
- Quick Weeknight Add-ons - We like to add a nice salad to our heartier batch-cooked foods. I will also often make up some rice, quinoa, or pasta to serve with my dishes.
- Read up on Food Storage Safety - It is imperative that you familiarize yourself with the food storage safety rules. The USDA is the best source for learning how long you should store prepared foods in the fridge and the freezer.
- Multitask - Multitasking is key with batch cooking. While you have some collard greens braising on the stove, and a whole chicken cooking in the slow cooker, you could also be prepping your vegetables for that split pea chowder. Make the most of your time in the kitchen, so you can spend more time living your life!
- Break the Routine - Batch cooking doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous in the kitchen. It’s meant to be a tool to make your life easier, not to take the joy out of cooking and eating.
Related on Organic Authority
Image: Preparing Food via Shutterstock