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We made it. This is the final article of a 5-part series. My article series are typically not this long. However, creating this essential new healthy habit and making it a part of your lifestyle is so important, I wanted to be sure to really spell it out for you. As you work meal planning and batch cooking into your routine as part of a healthy lifestyle, you will discover even more ways to do things that work best for you.
The previous Fundamentals have been provided and we are now at the final one….”Batch Cooking.”
- Supplies and Accessories – click here for the details of this in Part 1 of this article series
- Recipes and “On-The-Go” Ideas – click here for the details of this in Part 2 of this article series
- Calendar With Weekly Menu – click here for the details of this in Part 3 of this article series
- Grocery List and Shopping – click here for the details of this in Part 4 of this article series
- Batch Cooking
Batch cooking is simply making recipes and food in bulk and setting aside specific time to do it. What I mean by “in bulk,” is you are making several recipes or food items in the same sitting and/or you are making extra servings of those recipes/food items so you have enough for future meals/snacks.
One of the most important things I want you to keep in mind is to pace yourself when creating this new habit of meal planning and batch cooking. I recommend not trying to make all your changes overnight and have the expectation that you have to go from ground zero (your current way of doing things) to having a meal planner filled with all new recipes and perfectly done. You may quickly get overwhelmed and throw in the towel, and that would not be good. Take it slow, start with easy recipes for only a few meals per week then go about your current business as usual. As time goes on, venture out more. Try a more complex recipe (not too much so though) and/or add in more meals and food your will prepare for batch cooking. Get creative and do things that work for you. You will begin to do more of that as you get into a routine of meal planning and batch cooking.
I have had clients who have been highly motivated to make changes and they tried to make changes too quickly, then ended up wasting money and throwing away food because they didn’t fulfill some of the fundamentals. I have also had some clients who work at such a snail pace, they make no progress. It’s important you find the balance and transition into it at a pace that is out of your comfort zone, but not too overwhelming.
Before we dive into batch cooking, here is a final reminder of the wonderful meal planning and batch cooking benefits:
- Results in eating healthier and sticking to your dietary plan
- Avoids decision paralysis (what do I make or what can I have?) & free up your brain space for other things
- Provides healthy “ready made” meals and snacks
- Saves money
- Reduces stress
- Improves dietary variety for greater nutrition consumption
- Reduces waste
- Aids in weight loss
Before we get into batch cooking, let’s look at the overall process. You have 3 key categories: 1) Identify recipes and creating your meal plan menu; 2) Creating your grocery list and going shopping; 3) Preparing all the food. Batch Cooking covers all of preparing all the food. Now, some like to take an entire day and to do all this. That is quite aggressive, but if that works for your schedule and capacity then do it. Some work on the recipes and meal plan a few days before doing the list and shopping. Then, they schedule in another time to do all the cooking. I like to break it up like I just mentioned. There is no perfect or “one-size-fits-all” way. Just doing it is the most important target.
So you have put a lot of effort into all those other fundamentals and planning, but that plan is not going to cook itself. So let’s get cookin’.
Batch cooking is the final execution of your plan. Everyone will not necessarily have the same flow or step-by-steps when batch cooking. That is ok. Get creative, resourceful, and like I’ve said before, do what works for you so you are most effective and efficient, and it doesn’t become a stressful activity.
Whatever you can do ahead of time is always going to save time and frustration. It helps you have what you need as much as possible at your fingertips. As mentioned, you can do everything all in a day or two or break the overall categories of activities up, like I do. It’s really up to you. This same concept applies to batch cooking. You can actually do quite a bit of prep work before the actual cooking of the food, which you will find very useful and reduce the stress when putting the recipes together and cooking. Here are some ideas and tips:
- Seasonings and Sauces/Dressings: For seasonings and flavors you frequently use together, create a blend of your own, label, and store. Having blends pre-made will save time overall. You can do this with dry seasonings (stored in cabinet or pantry) or with special wet flavors (stored in fridge).
- Produce: Pull all the recipes and foods you will be preparing and needing for your menu.
- Cut up veggies and fruit you will be using to pull out for “on-the-go,” snacks or meal sides.
- For the specific recipes you will be preparing, have the produce cut, chopped, sliced, pulsed, minced (whatever the recipe calls for) and measured out ahead of time. Store in the fridge until you are ready to make the recipe and cook the food. When you are making your recipes, it will much smoother; you will already have exactly what you need prepared to include in the recipe. Think of the cooking shows. They already have the seasonings and cut up produce already in bowls for just adding into the recipe at the right time. No getting from the cupboard, measuring out, cutting, etc. If you need minced garlic, you can already have minced enough for all the recipes and then when making each recipe, you can measure it out. In this case, you can even purchase minced garlic for even more ease and time reduction.
- Animal Protein (beef, poultry, fish, etc.): If you have to defrost the animal protein, be sure to pull it out of the freezer and allow for enough defrosting time before you plan to make it. For some items, you can bake directly from frozen. I do this with frozen wild-caught salmon. This is, of course, if you are not including it in a specific recipe, and baking numerous salmon fillets at once so you can mix-and-match for various meals. We talked about mix-and-match in article Part 2, when discussing recipes.
- Ingredients and Packaged Items: Just before as one of your first steps, or even the day before you plan to do all the cooking, pull out the packaged items (e.g. oils, salt, other food packaged/pre-made items, etc.) and set them aside on the counter. This way, you will already have out what you will need for all your cooking. If you are doing the day before, of course you will only be able to pull out the items that are ok at room temperature.
- Supplies and Accessories: Same as the above. Just before as one of your first steps, or even the day before you plan to do all the cooking, pull out all the necessary appliances (e.g. Instant Pot, blender, food processor), pots, sauce pans, baking dishes, mixing and cooking utensils, parchment paper, etc. and set them aside.
- Cooking and Food Preparation: For most efficiency, organize your recipes so you can be cooking as many recipes at the same time as possible. For instance, you may have a recipe going in the Instant Pot, one or more in the oven, and one or more on the stovetop at the same time. This can be overwhelming at first. As I’ve mentioned before, pace yourself and transition into being able to get multiple things cooking at the same time.
I spent time with a client working directly with her in her kitchen for her weekly meal prep menu and we had numerous things going at the same time. When she wanted to branch out on her own, she was a bit intimidated. She followed the ideas above to have a lot pre-done and cooked a couple meals at the same time. She then continued to follow until she was finished. As you continued with this activity, she was able to have more things going at the same time. This is not a race. This is creating a new habit and nobody said you have to go from nothing or not much to full speed ahead all in one shot. As you do this consistently, you will be increasingly more efficient at this activity. You can do most of the recipe cooking when setting aside a few hours time. You can even use the next day to finish up by cooking a large number of servings of rice and quinoa, for instance, in your Instant Pot. This can be done while you are doing other things in the house, as an activity like that would not require much time or overseeing in the kitchen. Here are a couple of pointers regarding how many servings/portions to make:
- The number of servings/portions you make of a given recipe will be based on your meal plan and how much you need. If your meal plan calls for you having that recipe for dinner one night and lunch another day as leftover, you would need 4 servings for that meal plan that week. However, who says you cannot make more servings to either use for another weekly meal plan or have as backup meals.
- When making food items for mix-and-match versus a full recipe, you may make more servings than the currently weekly meal plan requires. For instance, you have 8 frozen wild-caught salmon fillets in a bag and you only need 4 for the current weekly meal plan. You can save some time and make all of them and have the other 4 for another week, or again, to pull out when you need a backup. When making animal protein that you do not like if it is well done (e.g. beef, salmon), for that which you will be storing and re-heating, cook only 2/3 of the way through. This way, when you re-heat it, it is not overcooked for your liking. Another example are side such as rice or quinoa. Make large batches that may actually be enough to use for at least a couple weeks of meal plans.
- Storing Everything You Prepared: Remember the storage ideas I provided in Part 1 of this article series with Supplies and Accessories. After all your food is prepared, you will want to pack it up. It is always best to wait until things are cooled to do this. When using plastic, the food should be at room temperature. If putting in glass, stainless steel, or ceramic, it can still be warm. For items you will consume over the next few days, you can store in the fridge. Anything else should go in the freezer. At this stage, you will want to review your menu to determine what you will have and when and if you will be having leftovers of a given meal and so forth. When storing, keep in mind the number of servings you are putting in a container. If you end up filling a container with 4 servings and when you defrost it, you only need 2, you will have extra food and it may not get eaten.
- Wet Items: For anything wet (e.g. in a sauce of some sort, soup, stew, etc.), you will definitely need containers for storage.
- Dry Items: Grains that are basic and not in a sauce (e.g. rice, quinoa, etc.), animal proteins (e.g. burgers, salmon fillets, etc.) that you’ve made in bulk to mix-and-match (article Part 2), etc. When putting items in baggies that you do not want to stick together once they are frozen (e.g. animal protein portions), it is best to put them in a bowl and cool them in the fridge to get cool before packaging them up for the freezer. Otherwise, they will stick frozen together. No fun! You may even need to put parchment paper in between them. Another option is what I’ve learned to do and that is get them cold in the fridge, then layer them in a bowl in the freezer with parchment paper as separation, and then once frozen, put them in the baggie and at this point, no need to separate by parchment paper. I then save the parchment paper from the bowl and re-use. I am all about recycling and re-use.
Wow, this is quite the article series. I certainly hope you found it helpful and will put it to good use by making a plan and taking action by incorporating it into a healthy lifestyle habit. Remember, this is for YOUR GOOD HEALTH. I would love to hear from you on new ideas with meal planning and batch cooking that you have discovered work well for you.
To YOU Being Confidently Healthy and Living a Joy Filled Life!