What are tips for batch cooking on a budget?
Meal prepping is a great way to save you time and money on food for your family. And one of the best ways to make the most of meal prepping is taking the time for batch cooking each week. In addition to making weeknight dinner preparation so much easier, batch cooking can also save you tons of money at the grocery store every week. Whether you’re new to meal prepping or have been doing it for a while, you’re going to love all these tips and tricks for batch cooking on a budget.
What is Batch Cooking?
Batch cooking is a type of meal prepping where you prepare all or part of your meals for the week ahead of time. Typically, you spend one day preparing and cooking several meals so you have a variety of meals ready to go on those busy weeknights. In addition to making dinner prep quick and easy throughout the week, batch cooking also has a ton of other great benefits:
- It helps you eat better. When your family has ready-to-go meals they can grab and reheat, they’re more likely to make better food choices. That means they’ll be less likely to grab an unhealthy option when they’re looking for something to eat.
- Batch cooking reduces food waste. As you plan the meals you’re batch cooking, you can incorporate common ingredients so none of the food you purchase at the grocery store goes to waste.
- You won’t be tempted to eat out. Finding something to cook for dinner can sometimes be difficult – especially after a long day. But with the help of batch cooking, you’ll have several meals already prepared, taking the guesswork out of dinner planning. So, you’ll be less likely to skip cooking altogether and grab take out or drive-thru dinners instead.
- Meal prepping helps you save money. Meal prepping and batch cooking forces you to plan ahead, which means you’ll know exactly what you need every time you head to the grocery store. Being able to stick to a list and know you won’t forget anything well help you avoid impulse purchases while you’re shopping.
- Batch cooking meals helps reduce your stress. How many times have spent the afternoon racking your brain, trying to come up with something to cook for dinner? With the help of meal prepping and batch cooking, you won’t have to come up with dinner ideas at the spur of the moment ever again. Each meal will be planned and prepped, giving you more time to relax and enjoy your family.
Types of Batch Cooking
Basically, batch cooking requires you to prepare your dinners ahead of time to make life easier for you and your family during the week. But you don’t necessarily have to precook all your meals for the week when you’re using the batch cooking method. There are actually three different ways you can use batch cooking in your meal planning routine.
- Batch cook and freeze entire meals. This is probably the method that comes to mind when someone mentions batch cooking. When meal prepping whole meals, you take the time to prepare, cook, and freeze several meals at once. Then, you reheat those meals throughout the week when you’re ready for dinner.
- Batch prepare and freeze entire meals. Another popular method of batch cooking requires you to prepare an entire meal, then place all the ingredients into a freezer-safe container and freeze it. When you’re ready to make your meal, thaw it out and cook the ingredients for dinner.
- Batch prepare components of meals. With batch cooking, you can also prepare components of meals ahead of time for use throughout the week. When batch preparing meals, you typically take care of the meal prep work, then freeze or refrigerate those components for use throughout the week.
The best part about batch cooking is that you can use one or all of these methods in your meal prep each week. Whether you plan to cook entire meals or just want to get the prep work out of the week at the beginning of the week, these meal planning methods will make your life a little bit easier when you’re ready to start making dinner.
How to Batch Cook on a Budget
There really is no right or wrong way to start batch cooking, so the method you use to cook for your family depends on how much time you have to dedicate to meal prep and the types of food you prepare for your family. These budget cooking tips can help you stay on budget while batch cooking for your family.
Start with a plan. Without a plan in place, batch cooking can quickly become overwhelming. Before you start preparing your meals, take the time to plan out the meals you’ll make and write down all the ingredients you’ll need. Check your pantry and fridge to see which ingredients you already have at home, then create a shopping list for the items you’ll need. Stick to your list at the store so you don’t overspend and ensure you stay on budget as you shop.
Buy and cook in bulk. Buying bulk dry goods, like beans and rice, is a great way to save money on your meals each week. And when you cook those items in bulk, too, you can easily create a foundation for a variety of meals. Simply cook the ingredients in a large pot and freeze the items in usable servings to easily add them to the meals you’re cooking. Making sure to pre-portion the cooked ingredients before freezing them will help make cooking throughout the week quicker and easier.
Combine common ingredients. Another great way to save money with the help of batch cooking is to use recipes that combine common ingredients. Whether you make two meals featuring the same protein or meals with similar flavor profiles, you can quickly prepare several meals at once without having to buy additional ingredients and prep more food for the week.
Store the food in usable portions. Although you may spend the day preparing big batches of food, it’s unlikely that you’ll need all the food you cook to make your meals. Start by separating out the portions you’ll need for the recipes you plan to make for the week. Then, freeze the remaining ingredients in usable portions so you can use them in a recipe in the future.
Know what you can freeze. Since a big part of batch cooking requires you to freeze ingredients, it’s important to know which foods freeze well and which don’t. There’s nothing worse than taking food out of the freezer to see that it’s been ruined by the cold temperatures. When freezing your ingredients, these foods are fine for freezing:
- Some dairy ingredients, including butter, cheese, and milk
- Most meats, poultry, and seafood (both raw and cooked)
- Fruits, including berries, cherries, mangos, peaches, pineapple, and strawberries
- Vegetables (raw or cooked), like asparagus, artichokes, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, greens, mushrooms, okra, onions, peppers, peas, pumpkin, and squash
- Vegetables (cooked only), like potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Herbs and garlic, if frozen in water or oil
- Baked goods, like biscuits, brownies, cakes, cookies, muffins, quick breads, pie, pizza, and yeast breads
- Uncooked doughs, like pizza dough, pie shells, cookie dough, cake batter, and yeast dough
- Some sauces, like marinara or pesto
- Cooked grains, like rice, beans, and pasta
There are also several types of foods that do not fare well in the freezer. These foods should not be frozen or added to dishes you plan to freeze:
- Cooked eggs
- Cream-based soups and sauces
- Sour cream
Have the right containers on hand. Before you start preparing your meals, it’s a good idea to make sure you have plenty of containers ready. In addition to freezer bags for prepared ingredients, you’ll also need oven-safe and freezer safe dishes to store big meals, like casseroles, and airtight containers to store individual portions for lunch and dinner.
Remove as much air as possible. To keep your meals from becoming damaged by freezer burn, make sure to remove as much air as possible from your storage container. Use a vacuum sealer to fully remove excess air from your containers. Or push out as much air as possible with your hands before fully sealing your freezer bags.
Batch Cooking Tips
While batch cooking may save you time during the week, it also requires you to dedicate a set amount of time to do all the prep work. Sometimes, batch cooking can take a significant part of your day, depending on how much cooking you plan on doing ahead of time. Luckily, there are a few time-saving techniques that will help make meal prep go smoothly and easily every time.
Use your favorite appliances. Batch cooking is perfect for slow cooker meals because you can easily dump all the ingredients into the appliance and cook them without much work. And using your Instant Pot to help prepare elements of a recipe, like rice or beans, will cut down on your cooking time and free up your oven for cooking other meals. Don’t forget to let your food processor help with preparation, like chopping vegetables or blending sauces.
Freeze individual portions with the help of a muffin tin. For premade lunches, breakfasts, and snacks, there’s no reason to freeze a big batch of food. Instead, portion out individual portions of foods like soup or oatmeal using a muffin tin. Place the tin in the freezer and allow the contents to freeze. Then pop the portions out and transfer them to a freezer bag. You can pull out the portions you need as you eat them to prevent food waste and make meals easier for everyone in your family.
Undercook vegetables and pastas. Freezing some ingredients, like vegetables and pastas, can cause them to become soggy when they’re reheated. To prevent this from happening, try to undercook those items before adding them to the rest of your meal. That way, they’ll have some time to finish cooking as the dish bakes while its reheating.
Make a double batch. If you’re short on time and don’t have a good day of the week to dedicate to batch cooking, try doubling your current dinner recipe to freeze for future use. You can easily reheat the meal next week, allowing you to skip dinner preparation for one night in the future.
Keep track of good recipes. Not all recipes will work well for batch cooking – especially if you plan to freeze them and cook them later. When you find a good recipe that your family loves, make sure to keep it on file so you can make it again. And if you try a recipe and it doesn’t work out, make sure to remove it from your files so you don’t waste your time making that dish again.
You don’t have to make everything from scratch. Just because you’re taking the time to prepare your family’s meals for cooking doesn’t mean everything has be made from scratch. Adding some convenience foods, like premade sauce or rotisserie chicken, can save you tons of time. And the foods you make will still taste great, even if every element isn’t made from scratch.
Cool all your recipes before freezing. After you have your meals prepared, always be sure to let your dishes completely cool before you place them in the freezer. The drastic temperature change from a hot oven to a cold freezer can damage your pan, which could result in a big mess if you’re careful. And freezing some items, like baked goods, before they’re cool can cause them to become soggy during the freezing process.
Make sure you have storage space. Spending all that time preparing your meals ahead of time will do you no good if you don’t have anywhere to store your meals before they go bad. If you plan on making batch cooking a part of your routine, it’s a good idea to invest in a large deep freeze to store all your prepared meals. And make sure you have your refrigerator cleared out at the beginning of the week to have a spot for leftovers to go so they don’t go bad.
Don’t forget the label. Once your meals are frozen, it’s going to be difficult to know what’s inside each container. Make sure to label the container with the name of the recipe and the date it was cooked so you know exactly what’s inside each dish.
Keep your freezer organized. Having labels on all your containers is the first step to keeping your batch cooked ingredients organized. It’s also a good idea to move older containers toward the front of the freezer so you make sure to enjoy them before they go bad. Most frozen dishes need to be eaten with three months of freezing.
Recipes for Batch Cooking
With so many ways to start batch cooking, you have plenty of options for your family. And since there are a variety of recipes you can make with the ingredients you batch cook, you’ll also have tons of options for dinner ideas. These types of recipes are perfect for batch cooking:
- Stir fry. Combine pre-chopped vegetables with precooked meat and rice, the stir in a premade sauce to create an easy and healthy meal for your family.
- Rice bowls. You can also combine precooked meat and vegetables with rice and sauce to create rice bowls for dinner. Change up the flavor profiles to make unique meals using common ingredients.
- Tacos or taco salad. Precook the meat for your tacos on your batch cooking day, then let everyone build their own tacos or taco salad using the prepared ingredients.
- Soups. Cooking soups ahead of time is a great way to make the most of batch cooking. Toss in a variety of ingredients to create an easy meal you can freeze and reheat later in the week.
- Casseroles. Prepare an entire meal all at once by combining ingredients in a casserole dish. Cover the casserole and freeze or chill it until you’re ready to serve, then let it thaw and cook for dinner.
- Dump meals. Creating dump meals is another great way to make the most of the ingredients you have on hand. Combine a protein with a sauce and a grain, like pasta or rice, then dump everything into your slow cooker to cook.
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