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This is a guest post from Alea Milham of Premeditated Leftovers
It seems like every other month a new study comes out that supports the idea that eating dinner as a family has long term benefits for children. I agree that having that time to come together is not only good for the kids, but for the entire family, but I can’t be the only person who has wondered if eating together as a family is still beneficial if you are stressed out and scolding children to clear the table while trying to prepare a healthy meal.
Meal planning eliminates dinnertime stress and overspending. Rather than navigating weeknight meals without a plan, go in with a plan and dinner is served. Simple!
Oh, the mama guilt! We are trying to balance so many things: creating healthy meals for our family, carving out quality time together, homework, after school activities, and church meetings. When something has to give, all too often it is the home-cooked, family meals.
Simplify Dinner Time with Batch Cooking
I realized that instead of turning to packaged foods on those hectic nights, I could create my own “convenience foods” by batch cooking staples such as meats, beans, and rice ahead of time. It takes the same amount of time to cook 3 cups of rice as it does 1 cup of rice. By spending 1 – 2 hours a week batch cooking ingredients, I can save time and streamline dinner preparation. Cooking the most time consuming ingredients in bulk enables me to create quick and easy dinners with minimal prep time on busy weeknights.
In addition to batch cooking staples, I prep my vegetables ahead of time. Just prepping vegetables can shave off 10 – 15 minutes of prep time on busy nights.
I also make a large salad that we can use through out the week. The salad can be used as a base for a fast and easy dinner or as a simple side dish. I add shredded lettuce, matchstick carrots, and cherry tomatoes to a large lidded bowl. I place a paper towel in the bowl to absorb any moisture which helps keep the greens from wilting.
How to Get Started with Batch Cooking
Create a menu plan.
Make a List of your family’s favorite recipes. Look at the recipes to identify common ingredients. Do several call for chicken or ground beef? Do a couple include rice or beans? Do most of them include onions or cheese? Start by choosing 5 – 6 recipes that share some common ingredients and make your shopping list.
Choose a batch cooking day.
Don’t worry, you don’t need an entire day; in most cases you only need 1 – 2 hours to do your batch cooking. However you want to pick a day where you have an hour or two to devote to batch cooking your staples and prepping your vegetables. I like to do this on the day I do my grocery shopping. I usually dive in as soon as I walk in the door rather than putting away the groceries and then pulling them back out later to cook them.
If you choose to batch cook an ingredient in the slow cooker it will take longer, but it is a hands off process. You only need to spend 5 – 10 minutes setting it up and then another 10 – 15 minutes storing the slow cooked food.
Choose your batch cooking methods.
I like to choose the fastest methods possible and maximize my cooking time by using multiple appliances to cook the most food in the least amount of time. However, I also capitalize on times when the oven is already going to be on. If I am roasting a chicken for Sunday dinner, it isn’t that much extra work to pop an extra chicken in and cook two at the same time.
Sample One Hour Batch Cooking Method
I start by putting the item that takes the longest to cook on first, then the next longest cooking item, so on until everything is cooking. Once all of the food is cooking, I start prepping vegetables while waiting for the items to cook. I occasionally have to pause prepping vegetables to tend to the items that are cooking, but I can finish up whatever needs to be done while waiting for the items to cool.
Cook 1 pound of black beans in a pressure cooker. Cooking time 25 minutes
Cook 3 cups of basmati rice on the stove top. Cooking time: 20 minutes
Broil 2 – 3 pounds of chicken thighs. Cooking time: 12 minutes
Brown 2 pounds of ground beef. Cooking time: 10 minutes
Chop, slice, and dice vegetables. Prep Time: 20 minutes
Grate 1 pound of cheese. Prep Time: 5 minutes
While broiling is the fastest ways to batch cook chicken breasts and thighs, if you need shredded chicken for a recipe, you will probably want to cook it in a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. If I am going to be using a slow cooker for part of my batch cooking, I try to time it so that the item will be done cooking close to the same time as the other batch cooked items. This allows me to do all of my food storage and clean up at the same time.
Store your cooked food in usable portions.
Look at your recipes and determine how much you will need of each of your pre-cooked ingredients and place that amount in a sealable container and refrigerate it. While it might seem easier to place it all in one large bowl, if you pre-measure it and store the amount for each recipe in individual containers, you can just grab it and add it to your recipe. This will save time measuring ingredients when rushed.
If you cooked more than you can use in the recipes that you have planned for the next week, freeze the excess in usable portions. Before freezing cooked food allow it to cool. This will prevent condensation from forming inside your container so fewer ice crystals will form on your food. If using freezer bags, remove as much air from your container, because air causes freezer burn. If you are freezing food in lidded containers, place a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap on top of the food before you put the lid on it to reduce the amount of air that comes in contact with your food. Don’t forget to label your food before you place it in the freezer.
Create quick dinners with your pre-cooked ingredients.
Use recipes that call for precooked meat, rice, and beans or modify your recipes. Many modern recipes call for pre-cooked items, but if your recipes do not you can modify your recipe. Either eliminate the step that calls for the ingredient to be cooked and add the pre-cooked ingredient in at that point or add your pre-cooked item in at the very end and just cook it until it is heated through.
Quick and Easy Recipe Ideas Using Batch Cooked Ingredients
- Rice Bowls
- Chicken Salad
- Taco Salad
When all else fails, make Quesadillas! You can put anything in between two tortillas as long as you add enough cheese to hold them together.
Alea Milham is the founder of Premeditated Leftovers and the author of Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch. She aims to help busy parents create inexpensive, wholesome meals by sharing simple recipes made with whole foods, practical shopping tips, time saving techniques, and meal planning strategies.