Does a demanding schedule prevent you from cooking healthy? Are you that overworked parent who's too tired to feed your family well? Busy lifestyles can send our eating habits down the drain, with our health and nutrition following right behind it. Many common health issues can arise as a result.
The solution? Batch cooking! Batch cooking is preparing multiple meals at once and storing them for later consumption. It's an organized system to plan, create, and utilize meals, saving you an incredible amount of time, energy and effort.
In two- to three-hour sessions twice a week, you can prepare an entire week's worth of meals for a family and simply pull them from the fridge or freezer. It takes some organization and planning, but the payoff is well worth it. People report reducing 20 to 30 hours of cooking and cleanup per week down to four or five!
When you come home from a busy day at work, or you just don't have the pizzazz to make a meal for hungry kids, batch cooking can be your saving grace and save your family's health and well being.
This set of simple guidelines will help you get started:
Planning your batch cooking menu
Pick simple, nutrient-dense recipes and save unfamiliar, complicated ones for their own special time, and follow these tips.
- Choose one-pot/skillet/casserole recipes, with a minimum of side dishes.
- If you're making a meal that uses protein such as a roast or chicken, make extra to use in simple meals later in the week, such as salads or soups. Plan for every meal of the week, not just dinners.
- Make a written menu (and grocery list) so that when you pull a meal from the freezer on Tuesday night, you know which side dish goes with it on Wednesday. Also, write down timing for when a meal needs to be pulled from the freezer.
- Write down all the parts that need preparing so you stay organized.
- If making all oven dishes, make sure they use the same oven temperature so you can do them all at once and save time.
- Another option: Choose a variety of meals that use either stove top or oven, so you don't over crowd either location.
Kitchen logistics for batch cooking
Know what kitchen tools you'll need and don't double up on recipes that need them. For example, if you need the food processor for three dishes in one session, it will take more time.
Do you have the amount and type of storage containers that you'll need? Plan your dishes with fridge/freezer space in mind. Look at which dishes can be frozen for later and which must go in the fridge and be consumed within two days. Coordinate the menu so you prepare some of both.
Putting your apron on
Choose one to two days a week for batch cooking, and dedicate two to three hours for each session. It may take you less time once you develop your own rhythm and familiar recipes. These tips will keep things running efficiently and quickly:
- If you have young children who demand a lot of attention, try to plan it for while they are out of the house.
- Start with a clean kitchen; you'll have what you need at your fingertips, and it's easier to keep a clear head.
- To save time, do all the prep work at the beginning, not between dishes.
- Use a timer; you're multi-tasking and could forget something.
- Clean as you go to save time.
- Package the food in serving-size portions that are easy to defrost or serve from the fridge.
- Always label each meal with masking tape and a Sharpie marker. You might not recognize a dish once it's covered in frost!
- Make sure you're well fed and hydrated before and during your batch-cook session to help keep your brain sharp and your energy level stable.
Special tips for batch cooking:
Always have a couple extra meals stashed away in the freezer as last-ditch emergency meals to use only when you truly need them – such as when you get back from vacation.
Enlist your kids' help – it's a great opportunity for them to learn about nutrition and food prep.
For people who feel overwhelmed in general, batch cooking can seem daunting. However, everyone who batch cooks develops their own rhythm and system with practice, and this set of simple guidelines will help you get started.
Remember, the time you dedicate to planning your menu and making the food for each week will be more than paid off in saving time and energy when you hit the fridge or freezer to rustle up a meal. Most of the effort is in the planning; once you put on that apron, it's easy to just keep rolling!
If you love the idea of batch cooking but want more information, check out this resource.