Meal prepping….batch or bulk cooking is not a foreign concept….there are hundreds of resources that talk about this practice. And don’t get it twisted….it is a “practice” in the traditional since of the word.
Practice meaning that it is not usually easy to do start with, but after you do it for a while you get better and more efficient at doing it (definition source – my brain).
The basics of what you need:
- Time 1x to 2x per week (I like a weekend day and a mid-week day)
- Food / Ingredients (make a list, go to the store or farmers market)
- Lots of glass or stainless steel containers and zip-lock baggies
Add Some Fun
To make your batch cooking experience more fun, I suggest putting on some groovy music or informative podcast while prepping and cooking. It is fun to bring a friend or loved one in on the fun by batch cooking together and splitting the food. If you have kiddos you can include them on the process as well, the more involved they are the more fun it will be for them to eat the food they helped prepare.
Note: If prepping the food items and cooking it all on the same day is too much; then prep the food (cut, chop, puree, marinate, make sauces etc.) one day and cook it the next day.
Variety is the Spice of Life
My bulk cooking strategy has been to cook-up approximately 3 different meals to last 3 -4 days until my next session. You can also cook up 2 – 3 meats that you can mix match with 2 – 3 starchy carbs sources and veggies. You can also cook enough to last 5 – 7 days, but be sure to freeze half of the food and then pull it out to replace what you use from the fridge. I’ll cook enough veggies to use with breakfast and lunch and cook fresh veggies at dinner time. But, whatever works for you….do that!
The key is cooking enough variety that you don’t get bored or tired of eating the same food. Also, to avoid food boredom if you cook generically spiced food items you can later add different spices or sauces to create a new flavor profile to the meal you are about to eat.
Utilize all the Tools
I’m a bit of a kitchen gadget junkie; anything to make my experience more fun, easier, or faster! You really just needs some pots, pans, baking sheets, your grill and or a crockpot. An Instant Pot also works nicely. Choppers, Food Processors, Blenders etc. etc. can all come in handy depending on what all you want to make.
The plan is the use all of the things at the same time! The more you cook at the same time the shorter the amount of time it takes to complete the objective. Use your crockpot(s) (get them going first), oven, pots and pans (use all 4 or 5 you have), grill, and Instant Pot.
To Recipe or Not to Recipe….That is the Question
So, the question is – do you want to use recipes or not. My suggestion is to do one of three things….1) pick recipes out ahead of time and make a grocery list or 2) go grocery shopping see what looks good to you and then pick out some recipes that will work with what you bought 3) go grocery shopping see what looks good to you and then cook them up however you like, add some condiments and be done.
I like to do a bit of #1 and bit of #3. I like to have a general idea of what I want to cook, find some recipes that look easy, get a grocery list together, pick up some extra generic stuff, then cook it up and mix and match my meals.
I have LOTS of recipes on my Pintrest page. LOTS!
Where to Start? Here are some basics….
As I previously said, you’ll do this once or twice a week.
After you have all your ingredients, you can start prepping it, most of my dishes start with a base of onions so I usually chop those first and get them sautéing/browning (butter, salt, pepper, and garlic powder).
If you are doing something in the crockpot, get that meal in and cooking first – cause it is the slowest. If you are doing chili or greens or peas get those going now because they will cook for a few or more hours.
Then get your meats prepped and cooking – likely next would be the whole chicken or the bone-in and skin-on chicken as it takes time to cook. Then your beef items. If you are precooking bacon; I would do that now as well, so you can use your bacon grease (if it is high-quality bacon) for roasting veggies.
Once your oven is free from meat you can roast your veggies and potatoes; use two wracks and get it done. You can also roast your veggies and potatoes with and around your chickens; they will get good flavor soaking up the chicken drippings. I also have a counter-top convection oven I use as well.
While you are cooking all that also put on a pot of rice or use a rice cooker.
There will be a point when all things are cooking – this is when you chop your raw veggies for grab-n-go and wash-up dishes and utensils to get them out of the way.
Since Protein is the most time consuming part of cooking meals, at the very least make sure you have enough proteins cooked for each meal for 4 – 7 days. If that is all you prep each week, it will save you so much time!
Chicken / Turkey / Duck
Skinless boneless breast or thighs for quick stir-fry or Asian inspired food dishes, whole baked or crockpot chicken to just eat and to make things like chicken salad or shredded chicken for tacos, grilled or baked crisp dry-rub wings, for easy snacks. Save your bones and throw them in a pot to make broth.
Beef / Bison
Ground beef (grass-fed/finished is the best quality) or ground bison sometimes I mix the two together. I probably cannot adequately describe out versatile this meat is. I like to cut some onions up and sauté them nice and brown in butter, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then add in the ground beef and add more, salt, pepper, and garlic powder till done (but not dry). This base can be then later used for dinners where you will add extra spices to create various meals like Mexican or Italian. I also like to make meatballs with salt, pepper, garlic powder and an herb blend of some sort – easy to bake them in the oven. I like to pre-make a bunch of burger patties and put them in ziplock bags. I like to have some pre-cooked and some raw (parchment paper in between) in the freezer for easy grab and go. Putting a beef or pork roast in the crockpot is easy and delicious; you can even add in a bunch of root veggies (others will get too soggy) and you have a one-pot-meal. Pre-grilling various types of steaks (keep them at least medium-rare so when you warm them back up it won’t get over cooked). I like to make a double recipe of Spicy Pineapple Chili and keep it in my freezer at all times. When I run low, I make another batch.
I love to pre-cook a whole package of bacon, creating individualized portions in zip-lock bags to eat with my eggs for breakfast and some for crumbling up and adding to other dishes. I also like having pre-cooked sausages available to easily pull out for breakfast or snack – add some spicy mustard, sauerkraut, and cheese. Yummm! Again a nice pork roast in the crockpot is so easy. You can also cook up pork chops and tenderloins in the crockpot or oven, do your best to not overcook or cook on too high of heat (in the oven, stove-top or grill) because they will get tough and dry.
I tend not to bulk seafood. It takes very little time to cook and doesn’t preserve very well. If you are going to eat it the next day you can pre-cook a filet of fish or boil some shrimp, but I’d eat them pretty quickly. I love salmon cakes, so keeping cans of salmon in the pantry is a must for fast meals. They are fast to put together and cook – if you make enough you will have some to eat the next day too for added variety to the week. (How-To: Cook Scallops Perfectly)
I personally don’t consider eggs a protein necessarily I consider them a healthy fat. I prefer spending an extra couple of bucks to get fully pastured / free range eggs like Vital Farms. I like to batch cook “egg muffins” with meat and veggies in them – heat up and eat with hot sauce. Also, I will pre-cook soft or hard boiled eggs for grab-n-go breakfast with pre-cooked sausage or bacon.
Easy-peasy! Roast or bake some potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, and or winter squash. Cook up a pot of black, brown, or white rice. I also will occasionally cook up some plantains; but not very often. I love these Plantain Chips to eat my chicken salad on.
One of the easiest things I like to do is to roast a BIG pan of veggies together. I will add onions, carrots, parsnips, brussel sprouts, beets, turnips, radishes all on one pan together with some avocado oil or ghee with some lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and herb blend and roast them up till they are soft and browning.
I like to pre-roast cabbage steaks, broccoli, and cauliflower – basically with the same oil, citrus, and spices as above. I love asparagus, but I’m not big on bulk cooking it; tastes better fresh. You can also roast or sauté yellow squash and zucchini to mix match.
I also like to sauté onions, all the colors of bell peppers, and garlic with lemon or lime juice, salt, and pepper and keep it in containers to add to dishes for extra flavor. If you like mushrooms add those in too.
You can add these to any meal of the day – throw some fried eggs over the top with crumbled back or sliced sausages, add your meat of choice to them for lunch or dinner with a side salad.
During the winter I like to make large pots or slow-cooker of greens, usually a mix of collards, mustard, and turnip. I do the same thing with peas and keep them in my freezer all the time to pull out at any given meal. I cook up ½ to 1 pkg of bacon, in the same pot I add onions to brown with salt and pepper, then garlic cloves, then add stock/broth, water, ½ cup of Apple Cider Vinegar, red pepper flakes or ¼ to ½ cup of Frank’s Hot Sauce, and all the greens with additional salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Same for the peas except I don’t add the vinegar and hot sauce.
I keep lemons and limes in bulk in my refrigerator at all times and I use them all the time for all the things.
It is always good to have grab-n-go veggies in the fridge or at least veggies you can quickly cut and eat. Love to have cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, sprouts, and lettuces in the fridge so that I can snack or have a salad with some meat that is fast and easy.
During the summer time I eat more fruit than winter time, because they are fresh and in season. I will keep some fruit around. I’ll keep a couple of apples or banana to easily grab-n-go. I love grilled peaches, tangerines, and pineapple to add to my pork and chicken dishes. Berries and homemade whipped cream for a treat. When cherries and watermelon are in season, I eat them for a couple or few weeks until I’m tired of them. If fruit floats your boat then add that in too. I incorporate avocados into my meals every week as well.
You want to cook the food till it is done and flavorful, but not so much that when you warm it up later that it is dry. With this in mind, at the end when put your food in containers you will want to add a touch of bone broth, lemon or lime juice, Ponzu sauce or other to the container so when you warm it up it has extra moisture already and it doesn’t try out. Also add a dipping sauce (tzatziki, quacamole, almond butter, homemade ranch, hummus) or something after you warm it up to add to the variety of the meal.
I am all about brining my chicken it give it so much more flavor and keeps it moist.
No Food Poisoning Here!
- Allow the food items to completely cool before placing them in the refrigerator or freezer. Rapid cooling is best – I use a fan
- Put half of your prepared proteins in the refrigerator and the other half in the freezer; as you eat the ones in the refrigerator pull one out of the freezer to replace it
- When reheating your food, make sure you get them nice an hot for at least 10 or 15 mins (boil, hear sizzling) (unless you are using a microwave) to kill bad bacteria. This webpage to make sure the food is over 165 degrees.
This mini crock-pot food warmer is so awesome!
Are you Fully Prepared for Your Week Now?
While this is about bulk cooking, it is also about being prepared for your week. Snacks are important. If I am able to, I prefer to have smaller containers/portions of the foods I bulk cook as my snacks. If I am on the go, I like to have beef sticks, cheese slices, a few nuts, a piece of fruit, a shaker bottle of protein powder or this one, seasnax, or even some of the grab-n-go veggies in a baggie in my purse or vehicle. And don’t forget water!