It’s true, eating healthy plant foods instead of processed convenience foods requires you to cook a little. This may feel like a chore or something you don’t have time for. Don’t worry though, I’ve got your back. Today we’re going to talk about a way to save time and money while ensuring that you eat healthy and maintain some semblance of work-life balance. Batch cooking! With a little planning and some time upfront, you can be eating well all week long with minimal cooking effort after work each day.
I’ve even got you covered with a free download that will help you plan out your batch cooking sessions so you’re saving the most time and money you can. Let’s get to it. The ultimate guide to batch cooking awaits!
What is Batch Cooking?
What is batch cooking, you ask? Batch cooking refers to cooking multiple meals to eat at different sittings. Basically, you set a couple of hours aside on a day that works for you and cook up a bunch of food to eat through the week. You can even plan long-term if you’re feeling gung-ho and ready to stuff your freezer.
The beautiful thing about batch cooking is that it can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. You can stick to just basic components that you will put together to make different meals. Or, you can make a bunch of different meals that you’ll just need to heat and serve through the week. If you don’t mind leftovers, you can save time by making large batches of a few meals (a breakfast, lunch and dinner option or two) and eat them multiple times throughout the week. The bottom line is, YOU are in control, so you can batch cook in any way that works for your situation.
But I Hate Leftovers!
Don’t like leftovers? No problem. You don’t have to eat the same meal every day. You can plan to use staples like grains, and legumes in different ways all week long. For example, quinoa can be added to a salad, soup, stew or buddha bowl. It can also be turned into taco meat or breakfast bowl with some added flavourings.
Then, you can choose different ones to use the following week. If there’s a meal we are loving, I will purposely change up the grain, legume or vegetables used each time (where appropriate). This allows us to add more variety to our meals while also consuming a large variety of nutrients. It’s hard to get sick of a meal that’s always changing. 😉
Benefits of Batch Cooking
By now you may be wondering why in the world you’d want to spend time in the kitchen on your day off. I get it, there is some time investment required. That can be a deterrent for some people, but the benefits far outweigh the cost. In fact, batch cooking comes with a terrific return on that time investment. I mean, cook once, eat all week? That’s an idea I can get behind.
The benefits don’t end there, let’s have a look at some others:
Take the Stress out of Dinner Time
Who wants to come home after a long day and cook something from scratch? Not me! It’s even less pleasant if you have hangry children on your heels asking when dinner is going to be ready.
Reduce Decision Fatigue
It’s been discovered that willpower is finite. We only have so much of it in a day, and the more decisions we have to make, the more it whittles away. This may seem like no big deal until you realize that we make over 200 food-related decisions a day. Having healthy meals already waiting for you helps to eliminate some of these decisions, and leaves you with more willpower.
Eliminate the Need for Take-Out
If you have a meal waiting for you at home, there’s no need to resort to a drive-thru dinner. This will help you save money as well. The best part is, the food waiting for you at home is so much better than any fast food.
Avoid Processed Convenience Food
Busy lifestyles tend to drive us to highly-processed convenience foods that are lacking in nutrition and formulated to be addictive. You can avoid them completely when you have a fridge (or freezer) stocked with delicious and healthy meals that are just as convenient.
Stay on Track With Your Health Goals
If your meals are prepped ahead of time, there’s no room for emotionally-driven decisions that you may regret later. The easiest option is the delicious food that’s already cooked and waiting for you.
Batch cooking can help you avoid food waste and take-out meals which will save you a ton of money. When you plan your meals, you’ll stop wasting money on food items you don’t need that week. You can also have a look at the flyer for your local market and plan your meals around what’s on sale. We’ll get to more money-saving tips later in this post.
What Can I Batch Cook?
As I mentioned earlier, you can batch as much or as little as you like, depending on what works best for your situation. Here are some great batch cooking ideas to get you inspired.
If you prefer having components that you can pull together all week, here are some suggestions.
- Dips and spreads – Things like hummus, or bean dip for veggies and sandwiches.
- Salad dressings – Making your own salad dressing is easy. It also allows you to make them oil-free, dairy-free and preservative-free.
- Sauces – These can be used to top pasta, noodles, roasted or steamed veggies, buddha bowls and more.
- Grains – Whether it’s a batch of breakfast oats, some rice, quinoa or pasta salad.
- Roasted veggies – Good to have on hand to use as a side, or a component in a salad or bowl.
- Legumes – A great source of protein and other minerals. We should be eating these gems daily, but many don’t due to the cooking time required. Squash that excuse, and have a batch ready to eat in your fridge.
- Prepped veggies – The best way to make sure you eat more veggies is to have some ready to go. Consider chopping up some of your favourites for dipping and snacking. You can also utilize these to save time when making sides like steamed veggies or a quick stir fry.
- Potatoes / Sweet Potatoes – It’s really easy to bake up a batch of these on your day off. They can be used as the basis of quick meals all week long. Load them up with your favourite toppings, cut them into cubes to toss into a salad or buddha bowl, or slice them into sticks and bake or air-fry for quick and easy fries.
If you prefer having meals ready to go all week, here are some great suggestions.
- Smoothie bags – For those hectic mornings when you can’t even remember whether you put on deodorant. Dump the contents into the blender with some liquid and breakfast is served.
- Overnight oats – These are great to make in advance and have in the fridge. When you’re ready, heat them (or eat cold if you prefer) add your favourite toppings and dig in.
- Chia seed pudding – These are super easy to make in a number of different flavours. Great if you’re looking for a grab and go option.
- Steel-cut oats – These are my favourite but tend to be a little too chewy (for my taste) if done as overnight oats. Cook up a batch on your prep day and they can be reheated all week. They will thicken when cooled, just stir in a little plant milk when you heat them and they’re perfect.
- Vegan quiche cups – These are a delicious and nutritious grab and go breakfast. Not sure how to make these? I’ve got you covered with a recipe made from chickpea flour.
- Muffins – The muffins you make at home will always be healthier than any you find at a coffee shop. They can be made in every flavour from banana nut to orange carrot. Whip up a batch on prep day and enjoy them all week long.
- Granola – Kind of like muffins, granola is always healthier when you make it at home. Add some fruit and plant milk for a quick cereal, or add it to some non-dairy yogurt to add some crunch and texture. I’ve got you covered with a recipe for chocolate or peanut butter granola.
- Pancakes/waffles – Ditch the freezer waffles and make your own! You can store them in the fridge for the week or the freezer for long-term storage. Just defrost and pop them in the toaster for a quick and easy breakfast.
Lunch & Dinner Ideas
- Soups and stews – Always a winner for an easy meal. Consider doubling the recipe and package some for the freezer.
- Casseroles – An easy meal to heat up through the week. Help future you by making two and popping one in the freezer.
- Prepped salads – If you’re looking to eat more salad, prep the base in advance. Use hearty lettuces and greens (not spring mix), shredded cabbage, carrots, broccoli, kale slaw, cherry tomatoes and more. Just be sure to dry all components well before assembling. Then add wetter veggies and salad dressing when you pull it out to eat. You can also do this in mason jars, adding the dressing and wet veggies at the bottom, and layering drier veggies on top to avoid a soggy mess.
- Bean burgers/balls – Whether to enjoy as is, or chopped up to top a salad, pasta or grain bowl, these are always handy to have around. Consider making a large batch and freezing some for later.
- Potato/pasta/bean salads – These make an excellent side for dinner or even a quick lunch for a busy day.
- Chickpea smash – Mash some cooked chickpeas with vegan mayo, mustard, spices and chopped veggies. Perfect for sandwiches or wraps.
- Curry – Another great batching option. Serve this flavourful meal over potatoes, rice or any grain for a quick and easy meal.
You can use some of the previous ideas for quick and easy snacks. Things like prepped veggies with hummus or bean dip, small smoothies, chia seed pudding or muffins. Or, you can prep some of the following:
- Washed/prepped fruit – It helps to wash and prep fruit before putting it away. That way, when you’re short on time you have something healthy that’s grab-and-go.
- Bliss balls – These are a popular snack for added energy throughout the day.
- Fruit leather – This kid-friendly snack is always healthier when you make it yourself. Use a dehydrator or your oven on low heat to make your own combinations.
- Trail mix – This is a popular snack at my house. My girls love to make their own trail mix blends to snack on when hunger strikes. Include things like nuts, seeds, granola, and dried fruit for a nutritious snack.
How to Batch Cook
Now that you have some meal ideas and inspiration, let’s go through the process.
Before you start, you should take some time to make a list of all the things you want to prepare for the week. Whether they are meals or meal components, have an idea of what you will eat each day and how much prep you want to do at mealtime.
Are you super busy and less likely to eat a salad if you have to put it together? If so, maybe you want to prep salads, just leaving off wet components like tomatoes and dressing. If you have a little more time, maybe you would rather prep some salad fixings so you can pull it together quickly at mealtime.
Are there days that you won’t be home for meals? Plan for that so you don’t waste food. Are there recipes you want to double for freezing? Plan for that too so you don’t fall short on ingredients.
Want to make the planning process a breeze? Sign up to get my FREE batch-cooking workbook. It will guide you through the whole process in a way that will save you time and money.
Once you have your plan, it’s time to go through your fridge and cupboards to make a list of the things you need from the store. Make sure to go over any recipes you may be using so you don’t miss anything. It’s definitely not fun to get halfway through your cooking and realize you’re missing an important ingredient.
Timing of this is up to you, but I generally like to do my shopping the day before I plan to cook. This way, I wake up refreshed and my kitchen is fully stocked and ready to be rocked.
Consider washing and drying all of your produce before putting it away to make it easier on yourself when it’s time to cook.
Now it’s time to prepare all of your ingredients for the recipes you’re about to make. If you didn’t wash your produce when you got home from the store, now is the time. Wash, peel, chop and measure your ingredients.
- Prep all ingredients in advance – Go through your recipes and find out exactly what needs chopping. If you will need 4 onions, you may as well dice them all at once and portion them out for your recipes. This way they are ready to go and you won’t need to stop in the middle of your cooking to chop another onion.
- Use a food processor or mandolin – If you have these tools, now is the time to use them. It will help you get through the prep phase in a fraction of the time.
- Measure your spices – When you’re making multiple recipes, it can be helpful to have your spices measured out in advance. Then you can simply add them to the dish at the appropriate time instead of juggling 6 different spice jars over a simmering dish.
Time to Cook
Showtime! Grab your partner or a buddy (if possible), crank up the tunes and get cooking! It helps to have some music, a podcast, or even a show or movie on in the background. Especially if you’re not a big fan of cooking, this can help break up the monotony. Netflix and batch my friend.
Multitask – Plan the order in which you want to cook things. Set longer cooking items up first, so get your veggies or potatoes into the oven for roasting. While the oven is in use you can start grains, legumes or soups on the stovetop or in the instant pot. Once those items are simmering and need less attention, you can make any dressings or sauces that require the blender. The idea is to avoid losing too much time while waiting for items to finish cooking. If you’re moving from task to task efficiently, you’ll finish in a fraction of the time.
Double it – Whenever you make a commonly used item or recipe that freezes well, double or triple your batch. You’re already spending some time in the kitchen, might as well make it count. Not sure what freezes well? Check out the batch cooking for the freezer section below.
Once your cooking is complete, it’s time to transfer your food to some storage containers to be put away. Remember to allow items destined for the fridge or freezer to cool before you put them away. Don’t leave them out on your counter all day (unless you’re into food poisoning) but don’t put them away hot either. Especially if you’re storing in glass containers with airtight lids.
How you choose to store things depends on how you plan to use them. Some people like to package meals up in individual portions, while others will package by item and serve it out through the week. Whatever works best for you is the way to go.
Food Storage Tips
Label it – It helps to label your storage containers before packing things away in the fridge and freezer. Especially when you have sauces or dressings of similar colour. There’s nothing worse than playing ‘what’s this?’ when you need to get a meal on the table in a hurry.
Date it – While you’re labelling your containers, pop the date on there too. This way you won’t have to wonder if something in the fridge is still good. You’ll know exactly how old it is.
Save your toppings – It’s usually best to refrain from adding your toppings until you serve the meal. This is especially true for ingredients that spoil quickly or won’t tolerate being heated with the rest of the dish. (Avocado, I’m looking at you.)
Thickening – Certain foods will thicken as they cool. This is perfectly normal. For soups and stews, you can stir in some additional veggie broth on the day you eat it. For dressings and sauces, you can just stir in some additional water until you reach the desired consistency.
If you’ve got food destined for the freezer, check out the batching for the freezer section below for more food storage tips.
Batch Cooking for the Freezer
If you’re feeling really keen, you can go beyond batch cooking for the week, and stock your freezer too. Having some emergency meals to fall back on can be a lifesaver.
You don’t have to slave away all day to this all at once. It can be as simple as doubling some recipes or staples when you make them each week. Then you’ll have some extra to add to your freezer stash.
What Can I Freeze?
You might be wondering what you can freeze. The answer is, probably more than you think. Let’s go over some common batch cooking foods that freeze fantastically.
- Beans and legumes
- Cooked grains
- Bean burgers
- Bean balls
- Sauces – may need a quick blending once thawed
- Bliss balls
- Citrus zest and juice
- Perogies and more!
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a good guide to get you started. You can also freeze ingredients like nuts, seeds, fruit and veggies. Just avoid freezing fruit or vegetables with high water content (like cucumber and watermelon). It won’t be the same once defrosted.
Allow Meals to Cool Before Freezing
Popping a hot dish in the freezer may cause foods around it to partially thaw and refreeze. A recipe for freezer burn and potentially food poisoning.
Leave Room for Liquids
Liquids will expand when frozen. When packaging soups, broths, or any watery item, leave some space at the top of your container for this inevitable expansion.
Remove as Much Air as Possible
Unless it’s a liquid, remove as much air as you can to reduce freezer burn. You can do this the low-tech way, sucking excess air out with a straw, or invest in a vacuum sealer.
Thaw in the Fridge
Practice some food safety and thaw your dishes in the fridge. You can make a habit of transferring a dish from the freezer to the fridge before you leave for work, or the night before you plan to eat it. Some dishes can be cooked from frozen, just start with a cold oven (skip the pre-heat step) and add some additional cooking time on the back-end.
Before you pack your freshly batched food away in the freezer, take a moment to consider the portion sizes you will use. If it’s not a family-friendly dish, perhaps individual portions would be best. Cooked 8 cups of beans? Freeze them in 2 cup servings (equivalent to a can of beans) so you don’t waste a bunch of them once thawed.
Utilize Ice Cube Trays
Ice cube trays can be really handy for freezing foods. Use them for portioning out tomato paste, chilis in adobo sauce, excess lemon or lime juice you’ve squeezed, citrus zest, herbs and more. Once they are fully frozen, you can pop them out and transfer to a freezer bag.
Muffin tins are great for freezing individual portions of grains, beans, oatmeal, etc. Once frozen, you can pop them out and transfer to a freezer bag.
When packaging up your foods, consider using reusable containers or bags instead of disposables. You can even get reusable silicone freezer bags made by brands like Stasher and E-Z Seal.
Helpful Equipment for Batch Cooking
You don’t need a ton of fancy equipment to have a successful batch cooking session. There are some tools that will make things a lot easier for you though. Let’s go through some of those now.
Extra Measuring Cups and Spoons
It helps to have some spares so you don’t have to continually wash the same ones as you prepare multiple recipes. If you don’t have extras, keep some warm soapy water in the sink for a quick wash between uses.
These aren’t necessary, but will really help avoid strain in your back, knees and feet. If you don’t have a mat, consider wearing some cushy slippers of a pair of indoor sneakers.
Food Storage Containers
I always prefer glass, especially for anything that I will be heating. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive either, mason jars work really well for most things. If using plastic containers (no shame in it, I still have some kicking around my kitchen), aim for BPA free and transfer the contents to another dish for heating.
Some people like to get fancy here and order re-usable labels to put on their storage containers. If that’s you, have fun with it. If not, masking tape and a marker work just as well. Just be sure to add the masking tape to a dry container after it has cooled or the condensation will keep the tape from sticking. (Learned that one the hard way 😉)
I truly feel that a blender is an extremely valuable tool in any plant-based kitchen (mine gets used multiple times a day). Use it for making dressings, sauces, dips, soups, smoothies and more.
Instant Pot/Slow Cooker
Having an appliance that allows for hand-free cooking is really helpful when batch cooking. It takes some of the pressure off of you as the cook. You can just set it and forget it while you move on to the next task.
These can make quick work of the chopping and veggie prep. If you don’t have one of these, be sure to have a good quality knife and a sharpener so the task doesn’t feel overwhelming. I speak from experience here. Chopping vegetables with a crappy knife is a time consuming and torturous task.
These will be dependent on the recipes you are making. It’s handy to have a pot for soups and stews, some cookie sheets for roasting/baking, and a pan for sautéing. A spatula for scraping sauces out of your blender is also super handy.
Batch cooking is a great way to save money on your food budget by avoiding take out, expensive convenience foods and reducing food waste. To save even more money with your batch cooking practice, implement some of the tips below.
Have a Plan
Meal plan, that is. Be sure to look closely at the meals you intend to make that week. How many will net leftovers to have for a second night or for lunch the next day? Keep this in mind so you don’t buy more than you need for the week.
Before you set to work on your meal plan for the week, check out your local flyers. Make note of the items that are on sale and plan your meals around those for extra savings.
Stick to Staples
Plant-based staples are super cheap. Build your meals around simple ingredients like beans, lentils, potatoes, oats, rice and other grains. You can jazz up these staples with your use of vegetables, herbs, spices and sauces.
The more ingredients you use, the more you will spend. Try to plan meals that utilize some of the same ingredients to keep costs lower. Maybe using one grain and one legume in different ways throughout the week. You can even do the same with vegetables. If you’ve got 5 recipes that utilize 4 different greens, try sticking to two different ones and substitute them into those recipes. You can always rotate these ingredients each week to make sure you’re still getting a good variety in your diet.
Eat Your Batched Food
This should go without saying, but still. The only way you’ll save money by batch cooking is if you actually eat the food you made. If you let it go bad in the fridge while you order pizza instead, you won’t be saving anything.
The Bottom Line
Batch cooking can make your life easier in so many ways. If you’re looking to eat healthfully, batch cooking can help you stick with it. The more you can avoid impromptu take-out and processed foods, the better you’ll feel. While it does require some time investment, you’ll save that time on the back-end when you’re spending just a little time heating and prepping a meal rather than cooking it from scratch every day of the week. Now you’ve got all the tips and info you need to batch cook like a pro. Why not give it a try and let me know how it goes down in the comments?
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