Preview: Batch cooking can make meals easier by having pre-cooked foods stored in the freezer.
School will be starting soon. Along with school, comes fall sports and other after school and evening activities. Most days, I find myself rushing home from school, rushing the boys through homework, and rushing to get supper on the table before someone has to be at a baseball practice. You can probably relate.
I can’t help you with the homework or sports practice, but I do have an idea to help get supper on the table quicker – batch cooking. Cooking a big batch of something is not a new concept, and there are many ways to do it.
I generally focus on cooking large amounts of meat or some breakfast items. I don’t want to batch cook 5 lasagnas, I’ll be bored with lasagna long before we ever get all 5 eaten. (Though there is nothing wrong with making 5 lasagnas if you’ll eat them all!)
Batch cooking is basically meal prep. Only instead of always preparing a full meal, I also like to make meal components that we use often. Things like cooked chicken, cooked ground beef, even sauteed onions and peppers are great to have on hand to put together a meal at the last minute.
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BENEFITS TO BATCH COOKING
There are several benefits to cooking food in bulk. First, you can purchase meat when it is on sale rather than paying full price. This allows you to save big on your grocery bill over the long term. Batch cooking dried beans from a bag is also a lot cheaper than buying canned beans at the store.
Another benefit is that you can quickly have supper on the table after coming home from a busy day. Tacos or soup can be made in a hurry when cooked meat is waiting in the freezer.
Batch cooking also saves time. It doesn’t really take much longer to cook 5 pounds of chicken than it does one pound, especially if you are using a slow cooker. Then, you only have to clean the pot once, not 5 times! I call that a win.
The one thing you want to remember when batch cooking, is to be sure you package the food in meal sized containers. You don’t want to have to thaw 5 pounds of ground beef just to get enough for taco soup one night.
BATCH COOKING MAKES SUPPER EASIER
Here are my favorite things to batch cook to make supper a little easier.
Chicken breasts in the crock pot
If I am cooking chicken breasts, for instance, I will cook extra to put in the freezer. I put about 5 pounds in my slow cooker and let it cook all day. In the evening, I shred the chicken, we eat some for supper, and I freeze the rest in meal sized portions. Then I can pull some out to add to a casserole or soup.
It’s easy to grab some shredded chicken out of the freezer and add a sauce such as barbecue or honey mustard, and serve with hamburger buns for an easy meal in a hurry. You can also do this with a whole chicken. Check out this recipe at 100 Days of Real Food to see how its done.
Chicken breasts on the grill
I also grill extra chicken breasts to freeze. When I need a protein to top a salad or want a grilled chicken sandwich, I can pull out as many breasts as I need and heat it up quickly. Here is my recipe for the best chicken marinade. Grilled chicken is also great in pasta salads and it is my go-to choice for chicken salad as well.
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I also do batch cooking with ground beef. I’ll purchase and cook 5 pounds of ground beef at once. It is easiest to do this in a stock pot, not a skillet. Since I almost always add onions and peppers to my ground beef, I add it while I am cooking the beef. Then I drain it, divide it into 5 freezer bags and store in the freezer.
Having cooked ground beef in the freezer makes it easy to whip up tacos or taco salad on a busy night. Mix up a batch of this taco seasoning while the beef is browning and taco night just got easier and healthier.
A batch of cooked ground beef makes it easy to add to casseroles or soups. I can also use it if I need to take a meal to someone. Half the work is already done. Just this week, I needed to take a meal to a friend that just had a baby, and a member of our church that had surgery, and my casseroles came together quickly with my already cooked beef from the freezer.
You can also make up a large batch of meatballs and cook them to store in the freezer. If I’m going to get my hands messy making meatballs, I’m going to make it worth my while and make a bunch. Cook them (either pan-fry or bake) and let them cool. Store in meal sized portions in the freezer and they are ready to add to spaghetti sauce, BBQ sauce, or sweet and sour sauce for a quick and easy meal.
Batch cooking a boston butt or pork loin is another way to get a quick meal on the table. I use Jessica Fisher’s recipe at Good Cheap Eats and let it simmer in my crock pot all day. We have BBQ for supper and I freeze the rest. It is great to pull out and use to make BBQ pork quesadillas or to top a BBQ flavored pizza. We also use it in salads and quesadillas and BBQ Chicken Sheet Pan Nachos is a favorite around here.
BATCH COOKING FOR OTHER MEALS
I also will cook a big batch of muffins. Depending on what I feel like, I will make several dozen muffins at a time and freeze them or make up several batches of muffin mix. You can also freeze muffin batter in muffin cups before baking, and bake from frozen if you want hot muffins in the morning. (I do!) (And ignore my note on the bag-my kids didn’t like these tropical muffins. Crazy children!)
I often make several batches of biscuits and freeze before baking. Then I can pull out as many as I need for breakfast or supper. They cook up quickly from frozen and taste just a good as they do freshly made. Plus my homemade biscuits don’t have the preservatives and unnecessary ingredients that store-bought biscuits generally have.
You can also batch cook waffles and pancakes and freeze those to have on hand for quick breakfasts. The Pioneer Woman has a great tutorial on her blog of how to do it. And my Oatmeal Breakfast Bars are great to make and store in the freezer for a busy school morning breakfast.
OTHER THINGS I MAKE OR COOK IN BULK
Rice-It freezes great and is nice to have on hand to serve with BBQ or sweet and sour meatballs (see above).
Ranch dressing mix, taco seasoning, and french onion dip-These pantry staples are great to have on hand to quickly whip up ranch dressing for salads, taco meat for taco night, and french onion dip for veggies or a party.
Beans-As I stated before, they are much cheaper if cooked at home and you can control the amount of salt you add.
Soups and chilis-They freeze really well and it’s so easy to pull out a container of soup for a quick meal. Double this taco soup for a meal tonight and one for the freezer. And you can use chili to top baked potatoes or tortilla chips for a quick weeknight dinner.
But I Don’t Have Time to Cook Up Extra?
This is a complaint I hear often. But what if you double the recipe you are cooking tonight? Make twice as much and put the extra in the freezer. Or if you are making chili, brown some extra ground beef. Pull out what you don’t need for the chili, allow it to cool, then pop it in the freezer. You’ll we well on your way to taco night, especially if you have a batch of my taco seasoning on hand.
DO YOU COOK ANYTHING IN BULK?
There are lots of ways to batch cook to help get meals on the table quickly. (Even making 5 lasagnas is fine if you don’t mind eating that many!) Many times it’s as easy as cooking extra of something you are already making. Have you tried batch cooking? What is your favorite thing to store in the freezer to make meals easier?