Read: Irish Examiner | How batch cooking can save money & time
First published in the Irish Examiner on 25 March 2021.
It’s never been more difficult to get out of the kitchen. Lockdown plus homeschooling plus working from home equals a constant demand for meals and snacks. There’s one solution: batch cooking enables you to save money and time, while avoiding food waste, by planning ahead and making sure that you have easy options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Quite simply, batch cooking simply involves preparing meals ahead of time. It can be as simple as doubling or tripling your favourite recipe for stew or soup so that you can cook once to eat twice or three times. Or you can be a super-batcher like Scottish woman Suzanne Mulholland – aka The Bach Lady – whose popular YouTube videos tackle things like making 10 freezer-friendly meals in one hour.
Irish food writer Susan Jane White, author of Clever Batch: Brilliant wholefood batch-cooking recipes to save you time, money and patience, is a wholehearted believer in batch cooking. “I became obsessed with batch cooking when I realised that my life would be much easier if only I could cut down on shopping, cooking and washing up! As an under-caffeinated, financially cramped, time-pinched mum, my kitchen management definitely needed re-evaluation.”
Although White loves to cook nourishing food for her family of four, she didn’t want to be doing it every night. For her, “healthy batch cooking ticked all the boxes.” Not one to keep this knowledge to herself, she set out to write “a cookbook to help readers save time, money and patience, chronicling all the amazing meals that boosted my family and saved my sanity.”
While registered dietitian Sophie Pratt notes that batch cooking can be an effective way of making sure that healthy nutritious meals are always at hand, she does so with a caveat: “you must first ensure that what you are cooking is healthy. It should contain a balance of nutrients including carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta etc), protein (meat, fish, eggs, dairy products etc), fat (oily fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds etc) and some vitamins and minerals (fruit, vegetables, salad etc.).” She points out that it’s worth including as much colourful food as possible: “the more colours, the more nutrients.”
Although a lot of batch cooking is orientated towards filling the freezer, this is not necessarily a bad thing from a dietitian’s viewpoint. Pratt sees freshly made food as the “gold standard” but she does point out that “the type of frozen meal/food eaten is important… a home cooked meal with whole foods and minimal additives would be much healthier than a shop bought frozen pizza or pie containing large amounts of salt, sugar and fat. Eating frozen food for every meal can be healthy and nutritious but, like fresh food, this comes down to the actual food choices.”
As far as Pratt is concerned, batch cooking saves time and money, as there’s much less waste. “I would advise anyone who feels that they don’t have time to cook healthy meals every day to allocate one day a week to do their batch cooking. It greatly outweighs the stress of having to think about what you are going to have for a meal, find the ingredients in the kitchen or go to the supermarket to buy the ingredients and then make the meal at that specific time.” With a little planning, batch cooking can take you a long, tasty way.
Four tips for organised batch cooking
1. In advance of a big cooking session, take the time to plan meals, make lists and shop to buy just what you need – instead of what you think you want.
2. Clear the freezer to make sure that there’s enough space for all that cooking and make sure you have all the bags, jars or containers that you need. Plus lids.
3. If you’re batching a regular weeknight dinner, make sure you box up the extra – in individual or family portions – and set them aside before dinnertime, just in case your family eats the lot!
4. Most importantly, label everything clearly. Everything looks the same when it’s been frozen and there’s nothing worse than discovering that you’ve defrosted an apple tart instead of a chicken pie for dinner.
Six healthy batch cooking suggestions
- Batch cooking is not just for dinner and White’s Clever Batch has breakfast and snack ideas that you can make once and have on the go all week, including “waffle batter, low-sugar granola, cold brew coffee, green tea brack” – who could resist Chocolate Buckwheat Granola or Hallelujah Banana Bread?
- A big saucepan of homemade tomato sauce is a treasure indeed. Use it as the base for brunch time shakshuka, a simple pasta dish or on top of that pizza dough that you batched and froze last week.
- The Batch Lady has a couple of meal plans that involve cooking three meals for the fridge plus three for the freezer in just 1 hour – just think of having hasselback chicken, veggie burritos and bolognese sauce ready and waiting for dinner.
- Make a 3 x batch of basic meatballs and serve them three totally different ways: with the tomato sauce that you’ve previously stashed in the freezer, in a red Thai curry or Swedish-style with a mustard and dill sauce.
London-based, Kilkenny-born Ciara Attwell has just released We’re Hungry: Batch Cooking Your Family Will Love. Attwell, who writes the My Fussy Eater blog, has a section on her website with tips on batching and freezing recipes like Chocolate Orange Energy Bites, Nut Free Granola Bars and Apple & Carrot Greek Yogurt Muffins. The book also includes a recipe for Big Batch Brownie Mix that you can store in a jar so that you’re always ready to make fresh brownies in minutes.
- “My store cupboard staples are tinned beans, tomato passata and spices,” says White. “You can make endless variations of curries and hotpots from a combination of spices in a tomato or stock base… [and] beans are brilliant for fibre, creamy texture, long shelf-life and versatility.”