Batch Cooking for beginners! This is your batch cooking game plan to help prepare for a healthy week, broken down into a 5-step approach to keep things simple. Plus lots of recipe inspiration for what to do with all that batch-cooked food!
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If you're working on making healthy eating a priority, trying to save time and / or money, and tired of struggling to get dinner on the table, you may want to give batch cooking a try.
What is batch cooking?
Excellent question! Batch cooking is simply making big batches of foods or ingredients that you can use as components in future meals.
For example, you may know that brown rice is more nutritious than white rice, but you also know that it takes about 45 minutes to cook up a pot of brown rice whereas white is done in 10.
So instead of cooking up the amount of rice you might need for one meal, you cook up a big batch of it, and then portion it into amounts that you would use each time. That, my friends, is batch cooking.
What's the difference between batch cooking and meal planning?
Batch cooking and meal planning are definitely related, but they're slightly different strategies. Meal planning might involve planning out a week's worth of meals and preparing all of them at once, whereas batch cooking is about preparing the components you will use in different meals.
Batch cooking is a great strategy for those who like to mix and match their meals a bit, rather than knowing exactly what's for dinner each night.
Do you need any special equipment for batch cooking?
The main thing you'll need is food storage containers that are both fridge and freezer friendly.
I love these reusable silicon freezer bags for freezing just about anything in. They come in a variety of sizes, so I'll freeze anything from a cup of beans to an entire pot of rice in them.
You'll also want some containers with lids. I like clear glass containers (this is a great Pyrex set with a variety of sizes) since you can easily see what's in them and you know exactly what you need to use up.
I'll be real, though, and let you know that I frequently freeze stuff in empty cottage cheese containers. My husband has a two-tub-a-week habit so we've always got empty containers on hand, and I love them for freezing soups, stews, and sauces.
If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of batch cooking, here's the game plan I like to use:
Let's break down Batch Cooking For Beginners point by point!
1. Choose a grain
Healthy whole grains take a lot longer to cook than their refined counterparts, so they're a good thing to make in bulk. Consider that white rice takes about 15 minutes to cook whereas brown rice typically takes about 45, and it's no surprise that people aren't keen on cooking up a batch of brown rice on a Monday night.
But! If you cook up a big pot of brown rice (or wild rice or kamut or farro or barley...) on the weekend while you're prepping everything else, you'll be good to go all week long. Cooked grains will be good in the fridge for 3-5 days, and will last in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Mix things up and try grains like farro (related: how to cook farro), wild rice, or barley. Use your cooked grains to make meal bowls (related: How to make a meal bowl without a recipe) or serve with a vegetarian stir-fry.
And it doesn't have to be a pure grain either. I'll batch cook pasta to mix in with various sauces throughout the week, and every other week I make a double batch of this Spelt Pizza Dough and freeze par-cooked pizza bases to make pizza night a breeze.
2. A Green
I'm saying choose a green because it rhymes (a grain, a green, a protein...) but really we're talking about all forms of vegetables and produce here.
First up, when you do your weekend meal prep, spend some time making your veggies eatable. By that I mean, wash your salad greens so they're easy to use on the fly. Chop up your carrot sticks and stick 'em in water for easy snacking. While you're at it, chop anything else you might be cooking with later in the week.
Then, I love to batch cook some sort of vegetables. My go-to is a huge tray of Mediterranean Roast Vegetables because they can be used in so many things. Even just a bowl of brown rice, roast veggies, and a big spoonful of hummus makes for a delightful meal.
For example, if, on Sunday, you roasted up a big tray of vegetables, you could start off the week eating them as a side dish. On Monday they could become roasted vegetable quesadillas. On Tuesday they could be part of your packed lunch with some cooked grain and some sort of sauce. And on Wednesday you can finish 'em up in a roasted vegetable frittata.
If I'm short on time, I'll often just throw a bunch of veggies into a steamer basket and then have a container of lightly steamed veg on hand in the fridge that I'll use in meal bowls or salads.
3. Pick a protein
Pick a protein... any protein! What floats your boat? Tofu? Then I recommend you take steps to make it tasty ahead of time. Cube it up and throw it in a marinade. Bake it, roast it, barbecue it, fry it. Whip up a batch of tempeh bacon. Any of that stuff's amazing on salads, in sandwiches, in lunch bowls...
Maybe you're more of a bean person? No problem. If you prefer soaking and cooking your beans from scratch, here's a handy tutorial on how to cook dried beans. Use some of those beans to make a batch of freezer-friendly Black Bean Burritos, or, if you don't feel like rolling burritos, how about this black bean burrito stack?
You can cook up a batch of this spicy black bean ragout, which is a perfect side dish, taco filling, or bowl topper. Or, you can make a batch of these chipotle black bean burgers, which are a bit of work to pull together, but they freeze like a dream.
4. Make a sauce
A good sauce can really help turn your batched cook food from just a bunch of ingredients into a tasty meal. I like to prep a protein-packed hummus like this Chipotle Hummus or Mung Bean Hummus, which can be used in sandwiches and wraps, as a snack, as a bowl topper, or even as the base of these Roasted Cauliflower Hummus Bowls.
Other favourite sauces include this Orange-Carrot-Miso-Ginger Sunshine Sauce, the magic tahini sauce from these Winter Veggie Meal Prep Bowls, and the zippy almond-chili-ginger sauce from these Summer Salad Rolls.
I'm also including these Spicy Pickled Onions in the sauce department, because they add so much flavour to whatever you add them to. They take only a few minutes to make and are perfect for batch cooking.
Other meal prep ideas:
Once you've got the hang of batch cooking, you might want to take your meal prepping a little further. Start by checking out the basics of meal planning, and then go from there.
Originally posted March 16, 2018. This post was edited, updated, and republished January 14, 2020.