Sometimes, you just want a nice, home-cooked meal without all the fuss of prepping, cooking and cleaning up. Given that, I've got some tips about what I've learned about successfully cooking in batches, and five big batch recipes to last you a long time.
Truth be told, I love to cook. Typically, my brain is a whirring train, perpetually in motion. Thinking. Stressing. Aspiring. Worrying. When I'm cooking, all that goes out the window. I'm focused and present, totally mindful of the task at hand. In order for my meals to come out the way I want them, I need to be dialed in so there's no time to let my mind wander. It takes energy, but it's energy spent in the moment, so it's a form of active relaxation for me.
Still, there are some days when I'm so physically and/or mentally exhausted that I just need a break. I'm zoned out and cannot fathom another task to complete -- even cooking! On those days, I order out. My waistline and wallet might take a hit, but it beats the alternatives of expending more energy or not eating at all (the horror!). Oh, if only there were another way!
The thing is, there is. Something that allows me to eat home-cooked meals without the work of actually cooking that night: big batch cooking. It just takes some (a little) planning ahead and a bit of space in the fridge or freezer.
Big batch cooking has been such a clutch move as a husband and father of two kids under five, and not just at dinner time. It's a great way to stave off the $10-$15 (or sometimes even $20) fast food lunch run for both me and my wife, thereby cutting our midday meal time costs by about 50%. That amounts to big bucks each month.
Read more: 21 easy family meals from the slow cooker
Six tips and tricks
When I'm big batch cooking, I like to keep a few things in mind. Some are tips, others are helpful reminders.
First, the term "big" is relative. So, what makes a batch big? Simply put, the batch is big if it yields results that can be used beyond a single meal. In that way, much of my dinner cooking is big batch in nature. Most of the time, I make enough for that night and a few days of lunch beyond. Sometimes, I'll make double or triple batches of a meal, then pop the remaining items in the freezer for a full dinner in the future. Big batch cooking is great because it allows one to set aside individual portions or four-person meals. Either way, it's got me covered.
Second, and relatedly, if I have a recipe with serving sizes, I'll adjust up. If I'm cooking for four that night, I'll make at least six servings. This means adjusting ingredient quantities and cooking times appropriately. For instance, if I'm making a roast, this means increasing the size by about a half pound per person and increasing cooking time.
Third, big batch cooking might involve a slight sacrifice of time on the day everything is prepared and cooked, but the payoff is less work in the future. Instead of spending time making full meals every day, you spend a little bit more time making larger/more meals on one day and simply reheat on other days. Note: there will be a small amount of cleanup whenever the food is consumed (I can't solve every problem).
Fourth, I don't fret over how much pasta or rice to cook. Ever. When I cook pasta, I cook it by the box. If I only need eight ounces, I'll sort it out after it's cooked, and I'll refrigerate the rest. Pro tip: When reheating, place a little oil or butter in with the pasta to keep it from becoming gummy.
When I cook rice, I'm cooking at least three cups (dry) worth. Only need one cup (cooked)? That's fine. Your rice will keep in the fridge. And when you're ready to reheat it, put a dash of water in the dish along with the rice. This will keep your rice from drying out. By the way, I highly recommend pasta and rice for big batch cooking. They heat up well, and can be used to accompany many a main dish.
Fifth, sauces and spices are my friend. You ever make a casserole and discover the leftovers taste better? Sometimes, with certain dishes, time is on your side. When you cook big batches, allowing the flavors to set in can be a real benefit. Additionally, those sauces keep things flavorful and moist. What does that mean? Well, when making meat, save the drippings. Trust me.
Sixth, raw veggies and fruits -- really, most raw stuff -- is not my friend. Why? It won't last. And if it does, it might be wilty or slimy or mushy or brown. When I'm big batch cooking, I stick to cooked items. Cooked keeps!
Simply put, when I'm cooking, I try to maximize my labor. Sure, I really enjoy cooking, but I also enjoy enhancing overall efficiency and optimizing my productivity. If you find that appealing, big batch cooking might be for you.
Big batch recipes
If you're intrigued, here are five big batch recipes you might want to try:
One of my all-time favorite big batch meals is baked ziti. It tastes great, it keeps great, and it's easy to double or triple if you want to make a few casseroles ahead of time and keep them in the freezer. Check out this baked ziti recipe. Try it with ricotta as listed, or without it by simply adding more mozzarella!
Pork loin with vegetables
Roasts are pretty much made for big batch cooking by nature -- unless you get a tiny roast. (Wouldn't that just be called a "piece" or a "chop" though?) Personally, I like pork. It's easy and versatile. Serve it hot or cold, slice it for sandwiches, reheat it in a saucepan with gravy or nuke a few plain pieces with rice, pasta or potatoes. Any way you slice it (pun!), it's good. Check out this pork loin with vegetables recipe. If you're planning on reheating the veggies, you might want to cook them al dente. That way, when you warm them up, they won't be overcooked.
Easy tuna casserole
Tuna casserole is a big hit in our house. First, we're Catholic, so during Lent (which recently ended), meatless Fridays require meatless recipes, and this fits the bill. Second, it tastes wonderful! Third, it's inexpensive. Fourth, it's made with tuna, a protein that seems to last forever on your shelf (but seriously, check your expiration dates), which, in these times of safer-at-home/shelter-in-place/stay-at-home, is an asset. Check out this easy tuna casserole recipe for a big batch staple!
Making a single serving of chili seems…odd, which means if you're making chili, you're making a big batch. The same can be said for soups. If you're looking for an on-trend chili to try, keto chili recipes abound or try a classic beef and bean slow cooker chili recipe.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: There might be Taco Tuesdays, but it could seriously be Enchilada Everyday! With that in mind, you might want to consider having an enchilada bake on hand -- you know, in case of emergency. Check out this chicken and corn enchilada recipe.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.