Kitchen Shortcuts: Batch Cooking for Busy Nights

Kitchen Shortcuts: Batch Cooking for Busy Nights

Published on Thursday, February 15, 2024 by Kelly Velting

An Introduction to Batch Cooking for Effortless Meal Planning

Everyone wants to eat. AGAIN?! I am constantly reminded how often humans consume food when I’m spending the day in stay-at-home mom mode. It’s 5 o’clock, and everyone wants to eat again!  I just cleaned up lunch. And this happens every day. They are SO predictable.   

If you start feeling fed up with all the meal prep, it might be time to go out to dinner (or take yourself out for some alone time). But making weekly meals doesn’t have to drive you that crazy if you save yourself some time with batch cooking. 

Strategic Freezing: Preserving Freshness and Flavor

Efficiently stock your kitchen with a variety of home-cooked meals by preparing large batches of your favorite recipes and freezing them for later use. This time-saving approach is ideal for couples cooking for two and singles preparing meals for one. The key lies in the strategic freezing of meals: opt for individual servings when cooking for one and adjust portion sizes for couples accordingly. 

While I advocate for freezer meals, some prefer crafting dinners from scratch throughout the week. An alternative strategy involves buying groceries on Sundays and dedicating that evening to chopping vegetables—this method, reminiscent of restaurant practices, streamlines meal preparation for the entire week. On grocery day, chop an assortment of vegetables (carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, etc.) and store each in separate containers, making them readily available for cooking. 

While chopping all your produce in one day can save time on busy weeknights, it might not suit those who prioritize fresh flavors. Additionally, batch-cooking individual meats is a particularly appealing practice.

Batch Cooking Meats: From Pulled Pork to Baked Fish

Pulled Pork – Pork from pork shoulder is the easiest to batch cook and freeze because it’s pretty fatty, and that keeps it moist.  Shred the pork in a large bowl, ensuring even sauce coverage. Portion into meal-sized freezer bags, about 3-4 oz or ½ cup per person. For a family of four, use 2-3 cups per bag. Seal, label with a permanent marker (item, today’s date), and stack flat with parchment paper between bags. Freeze for convenient use in various dishes like sandwiches, soups, stir-fries, or tacos.

Beef Roast – Make a large pot roast for dinner, then set aside the leftover meat in small containers with a scoop of each side dish so you’ll have a beautiful lunch already portioned for the next day.

Baked Fish – Fish loses its crispy texture the day after you serve it, but you can make it into something new.  Try flaking the leftover fish and freeze it to make fish cakes for another meal.  

Roasted or Baked Chicken – Chicken is another easy one to batch cook and turn into something new later.  Roast extra chicken, chop the remaining meat into bite-size pieces, and store in labeled freezer bags. Freeze flat for convenient use in future dishes like soup, stir-fry, or chicken sandwiches. Thaw and prepare as needed.

Chicken Breasts or Thighs Prepped for a Later Date – I like to make 4-6 marinades in mason jars. Then, I portion many chicken breasts or chicken thighs into freezer bags (4 per bag).  Pour a marinade into each bag of chicken, seal tightly, and label immediately for easy identification. Lay the bags flat on the counter with parchment paper between each. Freeze the stack for future meals. Thaw the desired bag for dishes like orange chicken, cook until the internal temperature reaches 165°F, and serve with rice and veggies.

Beyond Meats: Batch Cooking Breakfasts, Casseroles and More

Batch cook meals – You don’t have to batch cook just meats. You can also make breakfast casseroles, stews, spaghetti sauces, homemade breads, muffins, scones, and salsas to keep in the freezer. Portion them before you freeze them so it’s easy to thaw just how much you want on that day.  

Do you need a protein-packed breakfast each morning but hate getting up early to cook scrambled eggs? Make a breakfast casserole or a quiche in a 9x13 pan, then cut it into pieces and put each piece in a small freezer-friendly container or baggie. Now, you have an easy-to-thaw protein breakfast that just requires a little time in the microwave or toaster oven.   

One of the things I like to preach is to plan ahead for lunch by utilizing your dinner leftovers. Eating consistent protein throughout the day and including a vegetable (or fruit) and grain is important for balance in your diet. I encourage my clients to make at least two vegetables with every dinner for more fiber in their day. If you prepare a balanced dinner and make extra,  you can also have a balanced lunch ready for the next day.

Lunch Planning Made Easy: Dinner Leftovers as Tomorrow’s Meal

Optimize your cooking routine by effortlessly turning dinner into lunch. Picture it as a clever twist on batch cooking. Instead of repeatedly marinating chicken and dealing with a dirty oven pan, streamline the process once a week. I cook two packs of family-sized chicken thighs for my family of four, ensuring enough for multiple meals. This time-saving strategy eliminates the need to cook chicken repeatedly throughout the week. 

By preparing extra, I have chicken available for sandwiches, soups, or even as leftover roasted chicken for my lunch. For instance, a delightful roasted chicken seasoned with my favorite Italian blend of seasoning, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper serves as a delicious entrée one night. Pair it with sides like brown rice and honey sautéed carrots on the stove while the chicken cooks in the oven for a perfectly balanced meal with leftovers.

Strategic Refrigeration: Maximizing Leftovers for Future Meals

If you plan to use your chicken (or whatever meat) for multiple uses, put it strategically in the fridge after you eat. If I’m using chicken for soup later in the week, I’ll want to pull the meat off the bone, chop it into bite-sized pieces, and put the meat pieces in a tight container ready to use later. If I plan to have pot roast for dinner and then a nice lunch that same week, I’ll get out my lunch container (right after dinner) and portion a small piece of meat, a scoop of potatoes, and a scoop of green beans. 

Better yet, make two lunches. Don’t store all your dinner in one container when you know you’ll need lunches this week. Save yourself the steps. Also, leftovers are much more appealing when you portion them neatly in a reheatable container, just as if you were dishing it up the first time. 

Embracing Batch Cooking for Effortless Meal Mastery

Incorporating batch cooking into your culinary routine is not just a time-saving hack; it's a lifestyle upgrade. Whether getting together with friends and cooking freezer meals for a crowd, preparing lunch for just you, or cooking dinner for two, save yourself some time with batch cooking. By strategically freezing, cleverly repurposing leftovers, and mastering the art of efficient meal preparation, you're not just saving time — you're curating a diverse and delicious menu that adapts to your lifestyle. 

These are great ideas even for us who are retired!

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