Ready to start batch-cooking your food? Or maybe you are feeling overwhelmed and don't know where to begin. This guide will review all the basics of batch cooking and everything that you need to get started!
I am a strong advocate for batch cooking from both personal experience and as a nutrition professional. As a Registered Dietitian, batch cooking is one of the most highly recommended tips for individuals looking to save money, lose weight or eat healthier.
Personally, I have been using the batch cook method for over ten years now. It has helped me save a tremendous amount of time in the kitchen and keeps me on track with my health goals.
This article will guide you through the basics of batching. We will review the benefits of batch cooking, how to batch cook, and recommended recipes that work best for this method. Let's dive in!
What is Batch Cooking?
Batch cooking is the process of choosing one day a week to prep many of the different components that will be used for meals throughout the week. Typically, the ingredients prepped are the ones that will hold up well throughout the week.
For example, let's say you are serving chicken tacos and chicken chili during the week. Batch cooking would involve cooking all the chicken at once so it is ready for these meals. It would also include chopping any fresh veggies, preparing any grains, and making any sauces that you will need for your meal.
Once foods are batch cooked, it will allow you to quickly assemble recipes throughout the week without having to take time to cook items completely from scratch.
Why Batch Cook?
- Batch cooking allows for variety. You have most of your meal cooked, however, you can eat it in a variety of different forms.
- It helps stay on track with health and nutrition goals. It's so much easier to say no to the drive-thru or take-out when you already have food prepared and planned out.
- Batch cooking saves money. It's cheaper to cook at home than it is to eat out.
- Batch cooking saves time! If you can prep the bulk of your ingredients one time a week, then you don't have to spend time doing it during the week. For example, if many of your recipes involved shredded chicken, you will be cooking it all at once rather than 3 or 4 different times during the week.
- Batch cooking can range from simple to complex. It can be as simple as prepping hard-boiled eggs to snack on throughout the week, or you can prep the meat for a more complex recipe.
How to Store the Prepared Food
Food can be stored in the refrigerator, the freezer, or the pantry if it's non-perishable. Luckily, there is no special equipment that's needed to batch cook. It is helpful, however, to have some good storage containers to hold the food that is prepped.
- Fresh Produce Containers: these containers have a built-in vent filter which will help keep your produce fresh for a longer period of time
- Ziplock bags: these are perfect for snack items such as hard-boiled eggs
- Reusable bags: these are an environmentally friendly alternative to ziplock bags. They also work great for fresh produce.
- Glass Tupperware containers: I prefer glass Tupperware because they hold up well and do not contain any BPA. Also, you can reheat the glass Tupperware in the microwave.
- Disposable containers: these eliminate the need for any dishes!
- Mason Jars: these are perfect for dressing, dips, oatmeal, and salads!
- Freezer Safe Zip lock Bags: purchase at any local grocery store. Divide the food into small portions for easy defrosting.
- Freezer paper: wrap your meat or other freezer items in this before placing in a ziplock bag. It helps prevent freezer burn.
- Ice cube trays: these work great for freezing sauces or dips into small amounts.
Meal Prepping verse Batch Cooking
Meal prepping and batch cooking are often used interchangeably. There are many similarities between the two. With both concepts, food is prepared ahead of time and eaten at a later date.
The biggest difference between the two is that meal prepping means you are assembling all meals and placing them in a container so they are ready to eat during the week.
Meal prep works for some, however, it also leaves you on a schedule with limited flexibility for meals. Also, food is not as fresh at the end of the week when it was prepped 4-5 days before.
Batch cooking, on the other hand, is preparing the ingredients needed for meals, but then assembling the actual recipes at a later time. This allows for flexibility with needing to change or omit a recipe during the week (think last-minute dinner plans). It also allows for fresh, homemade recipes during the week.
How to Batch Cook
There are 6 important steps in batch cooking. I will review each step in more detail below. Batch cooking does take some time and commitment, however, if you follow these steps and dedicate a few hours to batch cooking each week, you will be successful!
6 Steps for Batch Cooking
- Plan your meals
- Select a Time to Prep
- Go Grocery Shopping
- Craft a Cooking Game Plan
- Prep the ingredients
- Store safely
Plan your Meals
The most important process of batch cooking is to plan your meals. If you are new to batch cooking, I recommend starting with one course only, such as a batch cooking a week of dinners. Once you are confident in your batch cooking skills, you can continue to add in more courses, such as breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
Select 3-4 recipes (or more if needed) and write down all ingredients that you will need for these recipes. Next, identify which ingredients can be prepared ahead of time. Typically, ingredients that can be prepared ahead of time are the meats, grains (such as rice or quinoa), sauce and veggies that can be washed and cut.
When planning your meals, there are several factors to keep in mind:
- How many people are you feeding?
- Can you eat leftovers a couple of times a week, or do you need a different recipe for every day of the week?
- What items are on sale at the grocery store for the week? If there is a big sale on ground meat, it might be a good idea to incorporate recipes containing ground meat.
- What are your health goals? Do you want recipes that are healthy, or do you prefer something more savory? Perhaps on days that you know that you will be eating a heavy lunch, you might plan for a lighter dinner, such as soup and salad.
- When will you be eating these? Choose to serve recipes at the end of the week that have ingredients that will hold up longer. For example, a fresh salad would be best at the start of the week if you are prepping veggies ahead of time.
Expert Tip: select recipes that have common ingredients. I like to think about protein first. For example, let's say I'm prepping to make 3 entrees for the week. Chicken is on sale, so I select 3 entrees that contain shredded chicken. I might do a teriyaki bowl with chicken, a chicken chili recipe, and a chicken taco bake.
Once you have determined your recipes, make a list of all ingredients that can be prepared ahead of time. This will be your 'batch cooking' work.
Select A Time to Prep
Select one day a week that you can set aside as your batch cooking time. For many people that do not work on weekends, Sunday afternoons may be a good time. For others, perhaps an evening after the kids are in bed works best.
Prep as close to the day eaten as possible. Food does not last long n the refrigerator, so it's not safe to prep chicken and store it for a few weeks.
Batch cooking may take anywhere from 1-3 hours depending on the ingredients you are using. Choose a time when you can perform the prep from start to finish and will not be interrupted. If cooking in the crock pot, it will obviously take longer than this.
Go Grocery Shopping
I prefer to go grocery shopping on a day that is different than my actual meal prep day. This helps to break up the amount of time required to prep. I'm a huge fan of grocery delivery, and know that Instacart and Walmart have some great delivery options!
Make a list of all items needed for your recipes. Next, double-check your pantry/fridge and cross off anything that you already have.
Some stores have certain days that they offer sales, so be sure to research that as well!
Make a Cooking Plan
The next step is to make a cooking plan so that you can cook efficiently. I find that multitasking is very time efficient. Create a schedule (this can be in your head or written down on paper).
- Write down everything that you need to prep so nothing is left out.
- Start with the items that take the longest to cook. For example, if you are roasting potatoes in the oven, prep and cook these first, as they may take over an hour to make. You can move on to other tasks while they are cooking.
- Next, determine the items that may not take as much time. Can you throw on a batch of rice, or make the ingredients for a sauce?
- Last, prep the fruits and veggies that do not require any baking. These typically involve washing and cutting, so it's easy to stop what you're doing to take the meat out of the oven or stir something on the stove.
Let the Prepping Begin
First and most importantly, make it fun. Put on some music or listen to a podcast. Some people like to put on a sports game in the background.
Next, you are going to stick with your plan and begin prepping. Start cooking the items that take the longest to cook first, and then finish with easy prep items, such as fruits and veggies.
The most essential part of meal prepping is to make sure that all food is stored safely. The USDA recommends placing all food in the refrigerator within 2 hours of cooking. Additionally, it's crucial to cool any cooked food quickly, to prevent the rapid growth of bacteria. (Source)
How to Safely Cool Food
Food that has been cooked should be cooled as quickly as possible to reach a temperature below 40. This is important because bacteria multiply rapidly when food is at certain temperatures.
To ensure your food cools quickly, review the following tips:
- Divide your chilis or soups into smaller, shallow containers
- Cut your meat or shred meat into smaller pieces before placing it directly into the refrigerator.
- Do not place steaming hot food in the refrigerator with the lid on; this will trap in steam and take longer for it to cool down.
- Place food in an ice bath to help it cool quicker.
Examples of How To Batch Cook for Each Meal
Here is a list of ways to batch cook for each meal. Remember, batch cooking includes both prepping ingredients for recipes you plan to make in your meal, and also for foods that you may snack on during the week.
- Oatmeal: (prep a big batch of oatmeal and add different toppings to it throughout the week).
- Overnight Oats (make 3 or 4 different containers of overnight oats). These kefir overnight oats are a healthy option!
- Quiche or other high-protein breakfast that will last all week.
- Hard Boiled Eggs (store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator)
- Wash Fresh Fruit (cut the tops off strawberries, chop up a pineapple, cut the skin off the cantaloupe)
- Granola: prep a large batch of homemade granola and add it to yogurt, and oatmeal smoothies. You can also eat alone as a snack or with milk as cereal.
- Ingredients for smoothies or protein shakes (cut/wash your fruit and bag into ziplock bags)
- Wash the lettuce and vegetables for salads (wait to cut your lettuce and tomatoes to help them last longer)
- Cook all protein ahead of time: bake chicken in the oven, place meats in the crock pot, and brown a pan of turkey or hamburger. Here's a list of casseroles that contain ground turkey.
- Prep a rotisserie chicken: remove all skin and bones from the chicken and place it in a Tupperware container.
- Cook grains such as quinoa, rice, or millet
- Cook veggies as needed, such as sweet potatoes, baked potatoes, broccoli, or cauliflower.
- Cut veggies for appropriate usage. For example, cut sweet potatoes into strips for sweet potato fries, and cut broccoli or carrots for use in a salad or soup.
- Prepare dips: hummus, guacamole, tzatziki dip or homemade salsa.
- Make salad dressings ahead of time. Try this honey lime dressing, which will last all week.
- Make some crockpot chicken ahead of time. Use in a soup recipe such as this white chicken chili or healthy tortilla soup.
- Prep some ground sausage. Serve breakfast for lunch or use it in this crustless pizza bowl.
- Make a large batch of healthy spaghetti sauce.. Refrigerate or freeze until needed. Make the pasta right before eating.
- Wash produce and store it in air-tight containers or ziplock bags. Items like carrots, celery, and whole grape tomatoes will hold up well throughout the week. Foods such as raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries tend to go bad quickly, so be sure to eat within a few days.
- Prepare a homemade trail mix or a blend of your favorite nuts and dried fruits.
- Make a large batch of hummus or homemade ranch dip to snack on throughout the week. I love this healthy apple fruit dip as an easy dip for all fruits!
- Prepare a batch of energy balls, such as these peanut butter balls or chocolate bliss balls.
- Muffins: you can mix together the dry ingredients and then have them halfway ready to cook midweek. Or, you can make a double batch of muffins and freeze them for later usage. Here's a recipe for my favorite morning glory muffins.
- Prep your favorite spreads and use them throughout the week. This honey walnut cream cheese is great with toast, crackers or waffles.
Batch cooking can seem especially overwhelming at first. The most important aspect of this is planning. Plan your meals, plan when you will batch cook, and plan the order you will cook foods. If you plan, you will succeed.
Sometimes it can be hard to start, but remember, you have to start somewhere! Start small, even batch-cooking one meal is better than nothing! You will be on to more meals in no time!
Lastly, remember why you are doing this! There are so many benefits to batch cooking. It can help to save money and it is a huge time saver. Also, it can keep you on the path to healthy easy. Remember your why and stick to it!