Most of us have brushed up on our culinary skills over the past year during our coronavirus confinement and with the prospect of coming out of furlough or heading back into the office after working from home, wouldn’t it be nice to keep up with epic skills you have mastered in the kitchen?

Well, batch cooking is the way forward! We have some amazing tips that are going to help you regularly prepare homemade meals despite a busy life. So, let’s look at what the principles of batch cooking are and how you can successfully prepare your own food without sacrificing too much of your time.

What is batch cooking?

So as the term implies, batch cooking is a method of meal preparation in bulk meaning more food, less often. It is a great way of getting prepared, saving money, wasting less and makes sure you have always got a fantastic home-cooked meal on hand. Dedicating a few hours of your week to cooking most of the meals you will eat that week instead of doing the work daily, is a godsend.

But there are also some less obvious benefits to batch cooking. By planning your meals and preparing them in advance, you’re less likely to give in to comfort eating and impulse food shopping, which is when we tend to make poor choices… nutritionally speaking!

To make sure you have all the ingredients you need for your designated ‘cook-a-thon’ day, you will probably buy in bulk as well, which means fewer trips to Tesco (other supermarkets are available!) more considered buying and as a result, less money cash. You will also be saving money by reducing food waste; reusing ingredients and giving your leftovers a second life is number one in the philosophy of batch cooking. More cooking means fewer takeaways and even more money in your pocket.

STEP ONE: Make a Plan!

Meal planning sounds a lot more effort than it is. Any kind of planning sounds scary if you’re not the type who gets excited about lists and spreadsheets! But if you can beat the initial struggle to give it a go, you’ll soon realise how much easier it becomes when you don’t have to go through the age-old issue of ‘what have I got for dinner tonight!’

If you’ve never done meal planning, start small – make a plan for three days and slowly move on to a weekly plan. You can also start by planning only your main daily meal, whether that is breakfast, lunch or dinner and work in the rest of the meals if you want to.

Meal planning is the first important step in batch cooking. Here are a few tips to consider when you plan your weekly meals:

  • Know your seasons! Have a look at what fruits and vegetables are in season before you start planning. Produce in season will always be cheaper and taste much nicer!
  • Include plenty of veg in your meals, as well as pulses, quality proteins, and good fats… healthy body, healthy mind
  • Think of what basic ingredients can be cooked in bulk and frozen. For example, you can roast some tomatoes for a pasta sauce or a curry and some more to freeze on their own. You can then use them to put in some hummus or a couscous salad another time.
  • Variety is the spice of life and this is the same for a healthy balanced diet. Avoid listing whatever it is that you feel like eating at the time of creating your plan. If you’re going to be eating chickpeas on Monday and Tuesday, maybe that’s enough pulses for the week and you can leave that lentil dahl for the following week.
  • Check if you have any previously prepared meals in the freezer that should be defrosted soon, and include them in your plan.
  • If you don’t mind eating the same thing for a couple of days in a row, this is a great way to maximise your time and effort.

STEP TWO: Preparation is Key!

Before you get your chef on, make sure you have everything you need. Batch cooking is all about efficiency, so being thorough about your prep work is important. So what can you do to be prepared and stay one step ahead of the game:

  • Make a shopping list of all the items you need for your meals and stick to it. If you are teaming us with a housemate/sous-chef, a shared shopping list on the cloud is a great way to stop doubling up. Something like Google Keep does the job perfectly.
  • Are going to be cooking anything that needs marinating overnight? Do you plan on using any of your previously frozen sauces for your next culinary adventure? Make sure you get this ready the day before
  • Tupperware, old takeaway containers, lunch boxes… however you are going to store it make sure you have them ready and waiting for your food once you prepare it. Glass containers and airtight jars are great for storing food in the fridge, but it is worth having a good selection of freezer-friendly Tupperware and a stash of freezer bags on hand.
  • If it’s your first time ever batch cooking, we would recommend doing a complete fridge and freezer clean up before you start. Batch cooking can rely heavily on freezing already prepared food for later use, so you want to ensure you have enough space for it.

STEP THREE: It’s game day!

The day has come to get your cook on. Clear your diary, don your best apron, whack on a good playlist, it’s time to get down to business. This is the day when you’ll want to prepare the bulk of the food for your meal plan, whether that’s 3 days or a week at a time.

The main piece of advice to boss this step is to plan the order in which you’re going to approach each part of your recipe so that you maximise your use of both time and utensils. Do you need to grind some nuts and grate some carrots? If you’re using a food processor for this, do the nuts first, carrots second – once the food processor is wet from the carrots, you would have to wash it and dry it before using it again for a dry ingredient. This is the general logic you should follow to save the most amount of time and avoid having to wash your tools repeatedly.

Also think of what tasks you can do at the same time, if you need to wait for certain ingredients to cool down before combining them, use the time to wash the dirty dishes and clear up the sink. You get the idea.

STEP FOUR: The big freeze

After all of this effort, you want to make sure your meals are stored properly so that it keeps long enough without going bad. Anything that goes in the fridge should be kept in airtight containers, try stackable ones for optimal storage. Any food you won’t consume within the next 3 days should go into the freezer.

According to the UK Food Standards Agency, if you are freezing fresh food, freeze it as soon as it has been prepared, freeze hot food as soon as it has been properly chilled down. You want to avoid freezer burn, which sucks all the goodness out of your food and makes it taste pretty rank. Use freezer bags instead of containers and press as much air out of the package as possible. To avoid freezer burn, use up your food within three months of freezing it. So get labelling, clearly mark what it is and what day you cooked it. Masking tape and a permanent marker are your best friends here – the tape is easy to remove, it doesn’t leave any sticky residue on your containers, and it’s very economical.

A word about defrosting: the only safe ways to thaw food are in the fridge, in cold water, or in a microwave. Do not leave frozen food on the counter to thaw at room temperature (or any food for that matter – as soon as it’s cool, store it in the fridge or freezer).

Not all food freezes the same, meaning that what you get once it’s defrosted may not be as yummy as you originally hoped for. Potato is a particularly infamous example, as are mayonnaise-based salads and dressings, raw vegetable salads, or cream-based soups. Food items that do freeze and defrost well are stews, casseroles, meatballs or meatloaves, sauces, bread, fruit, beans, muffins, and pies.

So get prepared, get cooking and save yourself some time… and money!

If you are reading this and it has sent shivers down your spine, do not worry!! There are local, independent companies out there helping you get the most nutritious and balanced meals, but do all the hard work for you, we recommend!