Like the Robin to your Batman, the Watson to your Holmes, the Jesse Pinkman to your Walter White – batch cooking needs to become your BFF, or at least your sidekick.
What is batch cooking?
Batch cooking is cooking extra portions alongside the meal you’re eating. I know what you’re thinking – how is this any different to meal prepping? As you may have seen on our recent beginner’s guide to meal prep, sometimes meal prepping can be scary, especially if you check out the tag on Instagram. It can often look unachievable and that may put you off if you’re not ready to plan your week out that meticulously.
Batch cooking is like meal prep’s less intimidating (and less photogenic) little brother. If Meal Prep is too cool to speak to you, you can rely on lil bro Batch Cooking to hang out with. Like any set of siblings, there are some similarities: you’re still going to need some nice sturdy boxes to keep your meals in, and it’ll still give you homecooked meals to enjoy without the effort.
The difference is that batch cooking is pretty laid back – if you’re making a casserole one evening, you might decide on the fly to double the ingredients and freeze half, which you then might defrost and eat a few weeks down the line. Batch cooking is not as regimented as meal prep, but it can still have great results for your weight loss.
Learning how to batch cook will dramatically streamline your meal preparation times and stop you from wandering down the road to the chippy, controlled by your belly’s darkest desires. It’s all about putting a little bit of extra effort in to reap big gains, and Future You will thank you.
Batch cooking is kind of like meal prep’s back up – it’s another way of protecting yourself against unplanned high-calorie meals.
How do I do it?
The concept is simple – cook whatever you had intended to cook but make a bigger batch. So during your planning stages, find recipes that are easily doubled, or even tripled, with ingredients that will either keep or freeze well. Things like casseroles, stews, Bolognese and chillis are perfect, especially if you bulk them out with veg.
The freezer is your friend
Don’t put the work in just to let it go to waste. Your freezer is your friend and will make the whole process even easier. Dish up dinner, box it up and you’re (almost) ready to go. There are a few rules you’ve got to follow to ensure you avoid any kind of kitchen mishaps or worse, food poisoning.
- Freeze individual portions to avoid overeating, stop food waste (you can’t defrost more than required!) and to make defrost times super fast.
- Make sure you cool your food down before it goes in the freezer. Big/multiple batches of hot food will screw with your freezer’s temperature. Just make sure you’re not leaving the food out to cool for too long though, as this will give bacteria the opportunity to grow.
- If you’re using frozen ingredients, do not refreeze it if it’s raw. Freezing food slows down bacteria growth but does not kill it – defrosting will allow bacteria to grow and then you’d be freezing the nasties, ready for attack next time. Remember though, it’s perfectly fine to defrost, cook and then refreeze, so if you’re cooking with frozen veg, you don’t need to worry as long as it’s been cooked.
- Use proper freezer bags/tubs to avoid freezer burn – yuck. Make sure you label the container with the date it was frozen and what it is and follow these guidelines for best practice.
- Make sure there’s room in your freezer bags/tubs for expansion, you don’t want anything to blow up.
- For smaller foods – such as berries or banana slices – you’re better off if you ‘open-freeze’ them first. Stick them on a lined baking tray until they’re frozen solid and then throw them into a freezer bag.
The do not freeze list
You’d be surprised at the things you can freeze and most already complete meals will freeze very well if they’re mixed up in sauces.
Remember that freezing and thawing food will reduce the quality of it and as such there are some foods that probably shouldn’t pop in the freezer alone:
- Fruit and vegetables with a high water content such as citrus fruits, watermelon and salad greens. These won’t hold up unless you want a tasteless slush when they’ve defrosted.
- Herbs without any form of preservatives like oil or butter.
- Starchy carbs like rice and pasta, but bread is pretty good if you plan to toast it. If you’re making something you want to serve with rice, pasta or spaghetti, just freeze the sauce and cook the pasta on the day.
- Dairy, including eggs and especially soft cheese, although Tupperware full of odds and ends of hard cheese can be successfully thrown into a homemade sauce and served with pasta.
I scoured the internet (read: my bookmarks) to hand-pick some of the best batch-cooking recipes to get you going.
First up is a recipe for veggies, or those who need a little help fitting in their 5-a-day. This lentil bolognese is comforting and already serves 6, so follow this recipe to the letter and you’ll have 6 portions ready to go in the freezer. The ingredients are so cheap you could easily triple this one and eat bolognese forever should you fancy. With 662 calories and 33g grams of protein, this will fit the bill whether you’re a Calorie King or a Macro Matcher-Upper.
Keeping with the comfort food theme, BBC Good Food has also got a quick cottage pie recipe. 10 minutes prep, 390 calories and 36g protein. This’ll be on the table in no time and you can feel satisfied with your great grub, knowing there’s more in the freezer for an easy mid-week meal.
You can even batch cook to satisfy your sweet tooth. Jamie Oliver’s fruity frozen yoghurt is a good one to keep on hand, or give these freezer biscuits a go if you want a biscuit treat but want to make sure you don’t raid the entire tin.
Don’t leave your leftovers behind
Batch-cooking can also work on a slightly smaller scale. You’ve cooked a 4-portion meal for 2, that means you can go back for seconds, right? Wrong. What you have is your lunch for tomorrow. When you’re serving dinner up, grab a couple of tupperware boxes and split it straight into 4 servings, ready to be cooled and put into the fridge. Out of sight, out of mind, out of the fridge and into your belly the next day.
Go forth and unleash the power of batch-cooking. Minimum effort, maximum gain. As I said, Future You will be pleased… treat him right!