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Tips & Tricks

 
 
 

Cook Now, Eat Later: How to Cook in Batches

It's 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. Your kids are starving and 20 minutes shy of a meltdown. You open your fridge and you smile. You pull out everything you need and a healthy, homemade meal is on the table in minutes.

family served by mother at lunchtime or dinner

What? This isn't how it works at your house? Ours either, but it can be.

Here's a game plan to help you put a delicious, home-cooked dinner on the table more often, with less time and less fuss. By preparing food in large quantities and freezing it, you'll be cooking less but eating homemade meals more.

Double or triple your quantity for meals to pull out in a pinch.

Big-batch cooking is precisely that: preparing and cooking big batches of food at one time to last for the week or even the month. You can double or triple a recipe, freeze it and reheat and eat when needed. This works well for dishes like soups, stews, casseroles, lasagna and meatloaf. Or you can prepare a big batch of protein and build several quick and easy meals around it; for example, browning seasoned ground beef for tacos and shepherd's pie.

Simply make a regular date with your kitchen—say, every Saturday or the first Sunday of the month—and putting dinner on the table the rest of the time will be a breeze. Expect to spend two to three hours prepping and cooking for five meals, or five to six hours for 20. Or, start small by doubling dinner a few times a week. Stash that extra meal in the freezer for another time. With little effort, you'll have built a reserve of home-cooked meals to buy you time on busy nights.

You'll save time and money by cooking in bulk, and eliminate any "What am I going to cook tonight?" stress. Plus, you'll rest easy knowing your family is eating healthy, home-cooked goodness.

Get organized with a master plan.

First, start planning your menu by making a list of your family's favorite recipes. It also helps to flip through magazines and visit online sites for inspiration. Consider putting the recipes in a three-ring binder to keep them organized (you can keep adding to it!) or making a Pinterest board specifically for big-batch cooking ideas. From this collection, choose several freezer-friendly recipes, plus a few recipes with common main ingredients.

Mix it up with casseroles, stews, stir-fries and easy-to-assemble meals like tacos or burritos. Different cooking methods such as slow cooking or oven-roasting add variety as well. Here are some ideas to start with:

  • Make a huge pot of tomato sauce, with or without meat, for lasagna, sloppy Joes and spaghetti.
  • Marinate meats for broiling or grilling later in the week.
  • Slice chicken, pork or beef for stir-fries or slow-cooking stews. Use in the next four days or freeze to cook later.
  • Roast a chicken and chop or shred for enchiladas or chicken tortilla soup.

Once you have your menu, go shopping: create a shopping list based on your recipes, doubling or tripling ingredients as needed. Before you head out, check your pantry to determine what you have and what you need to buy, and clear out your fridge to make room for perishables. 

Don't forget to plan for how you'll store your food. You can use freezer-safe plastic or glass containers, casserole dishes and/or zip-top bags. Have markers and masking tape on hand for labeling and dating.

Consider how you'll prep and cook multiple recipes.

Before you start cooking, organize the recipes according to similar ingredients, and map out the order in which you'll be cooking. Consider following this guide:

  • Chop, slice and dice the vegetables. Many recipes use similar aromatics like diced onions and minced garlic, so you can prep everything at the same time. You can also do this part a day ahead to divide the labor. Or, save time with precut or frozen veggies.
  • Slice, marinate and/or brown the meats. Now's the time to put a chicken or roast in the oven, too.
  • Set up an assembly line to make casseroles and group recipe components together.
  • Bag, pack, label and refrigerate or freeze as you go. Foods that will be eaten within three to four days can be refrigerated. Everything else should be frozen. Allow food to cool to room temperature before freezing, but make sure everything is refrigerated or frozen within two hours of cooking. Bear in mind that not all foods freeze well, including vegetables with high water content; cooked potatoes and fully cooked pastas (partially cooked is okay); and gravies and sauces thickened with cornstarch.

Clean up as you cook.

Get your kids to help with simple tasks, but only if it doesn't stress you out even more. Or, turn on some music, pour yourself a glass of wine and have fun!

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