What is Batch Cooking?
The term "batch cooking" refers to preparing meals ahead of time by cooking in large batches just once or twice a week. That means instead of slapping a lunch together (well, if you can call throwing baby carrots in a bag and making a sandwich out of two strawberry PopTarts smeared with low-fat vanilla yogurt a "lunch") while you're running out the door for work in the morning, you can reach into the fridge and pull out a nutritious meal that's ready to go any time you want. What a life!
Look, if you're going to eat chicken and broccoli more than once a week, wouldn't it be way less of a hassle to spend 1-2hrs making several pounds of each on Sunday evening and parcel it out over the week, than to sauté just one or two chicken breasts every night? You can also take some more involved recipes (I have chili, beef shoulder, and soups/ stews in regular rotation-- see below) and make a 3-4x batch, so you only have to do all of the chopping, measuring, and stovetop stuff once.
Benefits of Batch Cooking
But wait, there's more! Batch cooking has several other benefits over traditional "make it as you need it" meal prep...
- It's easier than making meals one-by-one!
- It's cheaper (you can buy in bulk AND you'll eat out less frequently)
- It saves A LOT of time (spending 2 hours once a week versus spending an hour a day)
- It takes willpower to cook out of the healthy eating equation (it is easier to make good food choices when healthy options are already on hand-- especially because you wont be eating fast food or raiding the cupboard while starving)
- If you're tracking your meals, batch cooking makes it simpler to know what you're consuming since you'll have your food for the day/ week planned ahead of time
- Portion control is a snap!
- Less to worry about-- no mental burden of worrying about cooking dinner, or finding a healthy option for lunch while away from home
How to Batch Cook
First, determine how much food you need to make. How many meals do you want to prepare for each day of the week? You can certainly make all of your meals ahead of time, but that might be a bit overwhelming at first. If you are completely new this, try it out by prepping a week's work of just one meal ahead of time. For instance, you could make an extra large batch of chili and portion it out for all of your lunches that week. Don't forget to factor in how many people you're expecting to prepare food for. Side note: if you live with others, you might want to warn them that your carefully prepared and portioned meals are off limits, lest they look like leftovers.
Then, choose a few recipes, shop for your ingredients, cook, and store your food! You'll also want to set aside a few hours to cook, of course :) I like to do all of my shopping and cooking for the week on Sunday afternoons, when I know I have a few hours straight to devote to it.
- Plan your meals around protein. If you organize your recipes, shopping, and meal prep around your favorite proteins, everything else will fall into place.
- Don't forget to mix it up. You can and should eat a variety of foods each week, even if you repeat each meal several times. Choose at least 2-3 sources of protein and vary your vegetables from week to week. This not only prevents batching boredom and makes repeated plates more palatable, but it will help ensure that your diet includes a wide variety of nutrients.
- Buy in bulk, and don't freak out if it looks like a lot of food. You'll want to err on the side of over-preparing when you first start out. It's better to find out that you have a little too much (if that's the case, you can always freeze it!), than to run out mid-week when you have less time to do it all over again.
- Store in tupperware in individual portions, or bring a large tupperware container to work (etc) and portion out as you go.
And finally, here are a few ideas for each type of meal. I find that making a large batch of a crockpot dish, mains and sides, salads, and portable foods work well. Try some of these...
- Protein: roasted chicken, ground beef (crumbled, or as patties and meatballs), beans and lentils, turkey, fish and seafood.
- Consider one-pot meals and and things that can be made in a crockpot, such as stew, soup, chili, lentils, beans, quinoa and even steel cut oats. These are easy to make in bulk, and tend to freeze well too, in case you end up with too much.
- VEGGIES! Try tossing any of the following in olive or coconut oil and roasting at about 450 degrees: broccoli, cauliflower, romanescos, carrots, winter squashes, beats, asparagus, green beans, peppers, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, turnips and other root vegetables. Salads (undressed) work decently well in bulk, too. Be creative!
- Don't forget to make a few snacks. If you intend to snack on a regular basis (unintended snacking is a whole other story), then prepare for it! Pre-cut veggies, trail mix, green/ protein smoothies, hard-boiled eggs, mini-quiches, and fruit all make good snacking options, and are also very portable.
- Dessert: Don't batch prep dessert. If you're trying to improve your eating habits, making super-sized cinnamon buns and colossal coffee cakes is a road that doesn't lead to where you want to be. Avoid overindulging in sweets by taking the opposite approach: make single servings instead! That way, you wont have to worry about "accidentally" consuming the leftovers ;)
Is batch cooking already part of your arsenal? Please leave your own favorite recipes, tips, and observations in the comments below, so our community can learn from your experience!