Are you jealous of those Instagram posts with a week’s worth of meals prepped and packed in five perfect rows? Are you longing for a freezer stacked with casseroles or bags of ingredients ready to dump into the slow cooker?
I am a big believer in plan, shop and cook. I like being in the kitchen when I have time. Yet I don’t want to live there all weekend.
Mama Jean’s recently did a meal planning class for my team. Chef Goeff had great tips for us on how to make a list and a dinner plan for the coming week. He talked about cooking for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to have things like rice cooked and vegetables chopped or roasted for dishes he would make on weeknights. It’s a great idea, one I totally agree with. I hard boil eggs and make date balls on the weekend. But Sunday is my one day off. I honestly can’t say I am willing to commit to two or three hours in the kitchen.
His suggestion of repurposing foods you might cook on the weekend through out the week is more my style. For example, if you eat meat, you might cook a whole chicken on Sunday. You would have some for dinner with roasted vegetables. You might use more of it for chicken salad on Monday and a stir-fry on Wednesday. You might roast extra vegetables to make tacos on Tuesday by adding black beans and cilantro. This kind of meal planning is what makes sense in my schedule.
My form of batch cooking is making the most of my leftovers. Cook once and eat all week is my motto these days. I am only home three nights a week for dinner. Sometimes I have time to make something for lunch on Tuesdays. I make the most of these meals to keep Brian and myself feed for the week. With this concept in mind, I have two rules that I (mostly) follow when I plan meals:
- The dish has to make at least 4 servings.
- It has to take less than 45 minutes to make (not including cooking time).
This leaves me a lot of latitude in my huge recipe collection. I have every issue of Clean Eating ever published plus a huge store of Vegetarian Times magazines. I also have a collection of well-worn vegetarian cookbooks. (Right now Tosca Reno’s Eat Clean Diet Vegetarian is at the top of my list.) I’ve been doing this for so long that I have a running list of “house favorites” in head. I know where to turn when I have an overload of a certain ingredient to use. I can walk the farmers market, select what’s in season and inexpensive and know that I have at least two or three recipes I can make with it.
Let me give you a run down of what a typical weekend of my style of batch cooking might look like.
My favorite vegetarian crockpot chili is a winter staple. It uses those frozen vegetables and beans I mentioned plus canned goods I normally have from stocking up at Costco. When squash is in season I might make a yummy Baked Ziti with Chickpeas and Zucchini or a Red Curry with Delicata Squash and Tofu.
I look for the same types of recipes as I do on Friday night. While I am not in the gym training on Saturdays I still have plenty of work to do. My brain is usually taxed from all the bookkeeping, program prepping, writing and taking care of household tasks. I need something uncomplicated. Tofu Pad Thai is a favorite right now because it’s super easy and quick. A head of cabbage will last for a couple of weeks, so I can make this one twice during a two-week cycle if I want to.
Sunday is double duty day. I make my Vanilla Coconut Protein Pancakes for breakfast. They make easy to take to work leftovers for both of us on Monday. Sunday night is movie night and black bean burgers with sweet potato fries. The black bean patties are something I do freeze because we eat them EVERY Sunday. They also serve as back up for dinner. If we run out of leftovers from the week, Brian can easily make one warm on up in the microwave when he gets home from the office.
I supplement the week with another batch of pancakes on Thursday. I make them for one of my meals while I finish up emails and pack my dinner for the gym on Thursday night. Tuesday is another day I don’t go into the gym until late. If I don’t have a lunch meeting, I will make something quick like a Broccoli Quinoa Frittata or instant potato soup. When I am home, my other quick go to meal is eggs with spinach, toast and fruit. Eggs are easy to make and you can dress them up any way you want.
That is batch cooking for the time challenged. This is how I keep us both feed. While it is just Brian and I, the same rules can be applies to any family. You need more servings, but not more time. You can even take advantage of the extra hands by making cooking a family affair. The most valuable skill you can teach your teenager is to cook. Younger kids might make a mess, but that’s where it can be fun. Besides I find the occasional OOPS photo more interesting than perfectly portioned bowls of oatmeal anyway.