Batch Cooking for beginners! This is your batch cooking game plan to help prepare for a healthy week, broken down into a 4-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.
Similarly, cooking dried beans from scratch can take some time, so it makes sense to cook up a whole pound at once, and then either use them in recipes throughout the week or freeze for future use.
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 either preparing all of them at once or simply knowing what's on the menu each night.
Batch cooking on the other hand is about preparing the components you will use in different meals. You may end up using the components you prepared while batch cooking in the meals you've planned out for yourself on your weekly meal plan.
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.
Be sure to label your containers so you know what's what and you're not stuck with a freezer full of mystery ingredients!
Batch Cooking Game Plan
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 you can totally mix it up! 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. You can also bake potatoes, roast sweet potato wedges, or mix up whatever starch your family prefers.
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 carrots 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.
I love making a big batch of Air Fryer Tempeh to use with a variety of sauces. Or, try the technique from these BBQ Tofu Bowls where the tofu is torn up, baked, and then tossed with barbecue sauce. Maybe just cubed and tossed in a simple marinade like these Vegan Poké Bowls?
Maybe you're more of a bean person? Or other legumes like lentils? No problem. If you prefer soaking and cooking your beans from scratch. We have lots of bean cooking tutorials on HNL, so grab those dried beans in the back of your cupboard and cook 'em up!
- How to Cook Mung Beans
- How to Cook Adzuki Beans
- How to Cook Black Eyed Peas
- Instant Pot Chickpeas
- Instant Pot Pinto 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 Tortilla Stack? You can also make a delicious Mung Bean Salad or Mung Bean Soup.
You can cook up a batch of these Spicy Instant Pot Black Beans, 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.
I also love cooking hard boiled eggs as part of my weekly batch cooking. They're great in Egg Salad Sandwiches, Curried Deviled Eggs, or just as a snack!
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 or Spicy Vegan Wraps, as a snack, as a bowl topper, or even as the base of these Roasted Cauliflower Hummus Bowls.
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.
If you're a smoothie lover, try making Frozen Smoothie Packs, or check out these Vegetarian Breakfast Recipes you can make ahead. Also be sure to peruse our 25 Vegetarian Lunch Ideas and 22 Vegetarian and Vegan Sandwiches.
Originally posted March 16, 2018. This post was edited, updated, and republished January 14, 2020. Last edited and updated January 7, 2022.