One of the best and simplest ways to do Meal Prep is to batch cook. Almost anything you can think of can be cooked in double, triple, or even quadruple batches. Just make sure that you’re making things that you and your family will actually eat regularly, or your efforts will be wasted along with your food.
“So how do I batch cook?” you ask. You may have several recipes that your family requests often. Normally, you would buy the ingredients each time you make a dish, right? Think about this for a minute. You’re already at the store, you know you’re going to be making this dish at least a few times this month, and there’s a sale on a key ingredient. Stock up! Buy enough of that key ingredient to make two, three, or four batches at once, and increase the other ingredients you need accordingly to make sure you have enough to make the multiple batches when you actually get to work in the kitchen.
Sauces in particular are perfect for batch cooking, especially if you have a versatile sauce that you use in a variety of dishes with a few tweaks to the seasonings and other flavors. Make up a big batch of the sauce without most of the seasonings–salt, pepper, and a few aromatics are OK–to make it sort of a blank canvas for whatever you typically use the sauce for. Take tomato sauce, for instance. You can change the seasonings to make an Italian version, a Mexican version, and a Mediterranean version. You just need to start with the blank slate version, portion that out, and then use each batch to make your signature spaghetti sauce, taco meat sauce, or Mediterranean shrimp and pasta sauce when the time comes. Each batch of sauce should be portioned into amounts of about 1½-2 cups for a pound of pasta or a batch of rice. Most sauces can be frozen up to 6 months, but things like pesto might get a bit watery in the freezer. Also, Alfredo sauce and cheese sauce might do better within 3 months.
Does your grocery store have a super sale on ground meat? Get as much as you can afford. You can cook it all at once, just as you normally do to make something with a ground meat base, and then portion it into 2-cup servings for Recipe Components. Each 2-cup portion of any cooked meat is equivalent to one pound raw, so you have a jump on your meal when you stock up on meat when it’s on sale and cook it all at once. Just thaw it in the fridge a day or two before you plan to make your meal. Put the thawed meat into the pan and heat it up for a few minutes, then proceed with the rest of the recipe. You’ve just shaved a good 10-15 minutes off the time it takes to get food on the table. Meats can be frozen up to 6 months, cooked or raw.
Are you a rice or pasta eater, like me? Make a big pot of it, seasoned however you like, and portion it into the serving sizes you normally eat. Take one portion out, thaw it if you want, and microwave it. Frozen rice and pasta usually takes around 3-4 minutes in the microwave, with stirring halfway through. Thawed, it’s about 1-2 minutes with stirring halfway through. Rice and pasta can be frozen at least 6 months.
Soup is the ultimate batch cooking food. It’s inexpensive, versatile, and nourishing. If you have a recipe for soup that your family really likes, make a double or triple batch, whatever fits into your largest pot. Have some for dinner the night of, and then freeze the rest. You can freeze it in individual servings, quarts, or even gallons, depending on your family’s needs. I’d stick to containers with screw-top lids so that in the event your soup gets knocked over in the freezer or fridge, it won’t leak. Also, always leave at least ½” space at the top of the container to allow for expansion during freezing. Soup can be frozen at least 3-6 months.
A good idea when batch cooking is to plan ahead, and make a list of things you might need to make to stock up for the coming season (think: wintertime favorites, comfort foods, etc.). Take a look at what you and your family typically eat a lot of during each season, and make those foods so that everyone can just heat-and-eat. By planning to have seasonal favorites on hand, you can take advantage of season-specific sales such as summer produce, and you can preserve it for months to come.
Many baked goods do very well in the freezer. When you do your holiday baking, why not make a few extra batches of cookie dough? It can be frozen in a variety of ways. You can bake the cookies and freeze them, of course. You can freeze the dough in pre-portioned balls for baking. Simply freeze on a parchment lined baking sheet and then put about a dozen or so into labeled gallon or quart resealable bags. You can portion out the dough (by weight or volume) into freezer containers to make a dozen or two at a time. It’s really easy to scoop the thawed dough out with a cookie scoop. Finally, you can portion the dough into log shapes to be sliced and baked. The slice-and-bake cookie dough should be wrapped in plastic or waxed/parchment paper and then foil. Always include the baking instructions on the label, regardless of how you freeze the dough. Whichever way you choose, thaw the dough completely in the refrigerator and take it out about 30 minutes before baking (place the balls of dough onto the cookie sheet during this time). You may need to add a couple of minutes to the baking time.
Pies should be frozen unbaked, and that includes pot pies. Most pies can be frozen up to 3 months. Casseroles make really good foods for batch cooking. Remember that a whole casserole should always be frozen unbaked. Remove thawed casseroles or pies from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before baking, while the oven preheats. Remember to include the baking instructions.
I hope these ideas inspire you to do your own batch cooking one of these days. Leave a comment below if you have any other ideas for batch cooking!