By Lee Holmes
I’m such a fan of kitchen organisation. I really believe that just about anyone can live out a healthy lifestyle full of vibrant, nourishing meals made from quality ingredients. You don’t have to outsource your food preparation, no matter how time poor you are. It’s all about priorities and time management.
One of my favourite ways to ensure I’m set up to thrive with beautiful food in a chaotic week is to batch cook. I cover this in my eBook The Renewable Table which is a loaves and fishes” philosophy and centres around the concept of ‘continuum cooking’, a resourceful and environmentally friendly way to cook that re-imagines your original meals into two, three or even four more, delicious dishes. You can read more about the eBook here.
There are so many different ways to incorporate batch cooking into your life that will free up time and energy in the kitchen so you can focus on other priorities. Rather than cooking dinner every night, you might like to make two dinners that will give you the next night off. Or you may like to go hard and cook up an entire weeks’ worth of meals in one day.
Here are some tips to help you take up this liberating system in your home.
Equipment and storage
Firstly you’ll need a freezer with enough room to store the amount of meals you want to make. If you have a deep freezer you’ll be able to batch cook for more meals; potentially a month or even more! A deep freezer is also a great investment for buying bulk organic foods like meat, dairy, nuts and grains.
A freezer section of your fridge is also fine but you will just have to work with the space you have. I often clean my freezer out regularly to make space for more meals.
You’ll also need all of your regular cooking equipment, but if you have two saucepans instead of one, you’ll be able to have more meals cooking at once.
Lastly you’ll need storage containers of your preferred size. If you’re just feeding yourself you’ll need smaller potions, or larger containers for family meals. I often use glass jars in the freezer too. Just remember not to fill them too high or you’ll break the glass!
Build a menu
Plan the period of meals you’d like to cook for. Is it just dinner? Or lunches too? Do you want to have snacks on hand for yourself or the kids? I often eat leftovers for lunch the next day so focus on making large dinners and I also throw a few snack, dip and smoothie recipes in the mix.
Look at your schedule and get out some recipe books or blog recipes that you love. Meals with some liquid in it; soups, stews, casseroles, lentil dishes and curries are my favourites to freeze. Muffins, cakes and slices can also freeze well.
List the recipes you’ll be cooking including the page numbers or website and remember to double or triple recipe quantities if needed. Write a corresponding shopping list for everything you need.
Have a cooking day
Here’s the fun part. Choose a free day in your week, tie your hair back, get your kitchen ready, and put on some music—it’s time to party! Cook all your meals, as many as you can cook at once.
I like to do all my food prep first- all the organisation of ingredients including the peeling and chopping. Then get cooking. You might have a stew in the slow cooker, one casserole in the oven, a curry plus a soup on the stovetop, and while they’re bubbling away you might be making almond milk, smoothies, pesto or other staples in your blender.
If preparation is where you feel most challenged, clear off the counter tops and get ready for some fun and interesting meal preparation ideas.
Chop up or spiralize raw vegetables such as carrots, celery, zucchini and capsicum into strips, batons and sticks and store in the refrigerator. Then all you need to do is whip up a quick dip for a healthy snack.
When roasting batches of vegetables on high heat to bring out the sweetness, find perfect partners with the same cooking times. Fast cooking vegetables are asparagus, capsicum, broccoli, leeks, mushrooms, tomatoes and zucchini and slow roasting vegetables include celeriac, parsnips, potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, rutabaga, daikon, butternut squash and onions. If you require a mixture of fast and slow, cook slower vegetables on the stovetop first and then add to the baking dish.
Smoothies can be made in advance and placed in muffin trays in the freezer. When morning comes, take three out and simply place them into blender to whizz and refresh.
Cook up skewered kebabs and save some for ready meals for the oncoming days.
When cooking a renewable dish such as chicken, cook two at the same time but with a couple of different variations, one could be lemon and rose- mary and the other could be Moroccan spices with yoghurt.
Eggs can be hard boiled in muffin pans in the oven allowing you to cook a few batches of twelve at a time. Just preheat oven to 350°F (175°C), place the egg in the muffin pan and bake for 30 minutes.
Make a tray of frittatas in muffin tins, which can be stored in the fridge for up to five days. You wont lose interest if you make them in different flavours.
Preassemble glass jars of soup ingredients, salads or layered gluten free oatmeal, buckwheat, coconut milk and berries. Using glass jars help the ingredients from getting tarnished, carry dressings separately or place at the bottom of the jar, layering sturdier vegetables such as capsicum and carrots then top with leafy greens. Use a section of paper towel at the top, this will absorb moisture and enable you to store your soups and salad jars for 3-5 days.
Snap frozen vegetables such as peas and green beans are easy to use and convenient if you don’t have fresh, they’re great added to soups and stews.
Label and store
I’m a self-confessed label nerd. Your day will be so much easier when you can look in the freezer and see exactly what meals are in there.
Buy some stickers, write your meals on them and place them on your containers of food so you are never stuck rummaging through the freezer trying to work out what mystery meals you have before you.
Remember when freezing leftovers, be sure to freeze appropriate portions that you’ll know you’ll eat when it’s time to re-heat. For example, don’t freeze a whole tray of lasagne; rather split it into portions you know you want to eat – or even more importantly, you know are good for you to eat. This provides fantastic support for portion control.
Enjoy the bliss of free time, and knowing that you’re looking after yourself through busy seasons.