Do you feel overwhelmed by the thought of cooking dinner all week when you’re stretched for time?
With batch cooking, you can prepare complete meals or prep components of meals and store them for quick meals later. Bulk cooking and prepping ahead means less clean-up and less decision-making and cooking on busy weeknights.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about batch cooking from planning and organizing your meals to practical tips for efficient and stress-free meal prep so that you can save time and money in the kitchen.
The best batch cooking strategy is the one that fits your schedule and cooking style. For years, I did once a week cooking when I worked full-time. Once I had children, spending Sundays in the kitchen meant time away from my family. Eventually, I settled on batch cooking and prepping components of meals throughout the week piggybacking prep for future meals as I cooked.
If you opt for a combination of strategies, I suggest using the weekend to bulk cook meals that take longer to cook such as soups, casseroles and slow-cooked meats. Then, during the week plan quick meals and prep ingredients when you have time.
If you’re worried about getting bored with eating the same meals all week, here’s a solution.
Instead, of cooking complete meals, prep components of meals and assemble them into lunches and dinners. Bulk cook grilled chicken, vegetables, rice, quinoa, and roasted potatoes and cut and wash leafy greens. Then, mix and match ingredients into sandwiches, salads, wraps and grain bowls.
Try a few different techniques and see which works for you. You may find a combination of all three will help you get ahead of a busy week without batch cooking feeling like a burden.
With this method, you plan one day a week when you have time to prep meals, wash and chop vegetables, pack individual lunches and prep breakfast granola and snacks.
Once a week batch cooking can take around 3 hours, depending on how much cooking you have and how complicated the recipes are. If you’re only prepping ingredients or preparing simple lunches, it should take less time.
As you establish a workflow in the kitchen you’ll get faster. Experiment with new recipes. You’ll learn which meals are fast and easy to cook and don’t require a big cleanup.
Start with recipes you’re familiar with and can prepare without a recipe or running to the store for new ingredients. Introduce one new recipe a week as you discover what your family likes and whether the new recipe works within the timeframe of your batch cooking sessions.
This method can be a great time saver but you’ll need to be more strategic when planning meals. The first step is to look for recipes that share ingredients.
For example, mashed potatoes lose their appeal when they’re reheated. Refrigerating cooked potatoes changes the starch’s structure and the consistency won’t be the same as freshly mashed potatoes. Adding more milk and butter before reheating helps, but morphing the leftovers into mashed potato pie or shepherd’s pie is tastier.
Cooked chicken, rice, and roasted vegetables are a few other ingredient ideas that are good reheated or repurposed. Chicken is one of the most flexible meats. Roasted chicken leftovers can be used in tacos, stir fry, casseroles or entre salads for the rest of the week.
This is an excellent batch cooking strategy if you don’t have several hours to spare on one or two days a week. Meal prep is seamlessly weaved into your daily routine, sparing you from the marathon cooking sessions.
Think of this method as the “chop once, use twice” method–a smart, time-saving approach to stay a few steps ahead of dinner that fits within your schedule.
As you cook meals throughout the week, take a few extra minutes to prep additional ingredients that can do double duty in other recipes. For example, if you’re chopping onions for tonight’s stir-fry, why not slice a few extra for tomorrow’s pasta sauce or chop and wash lettuce for tomorrow’s lunch while the cutting board is out?
Before diving into batch cooking, have a plan in place to avoid food waste and wasting your precious time and make sure you have the right tools and equipment. While I like to keep my cabinets and gadget drawer relatively clutter-free, I’ve learned that a few essential tools make batch cooking sessions quick and easy and are worth the investment and space they take up.
Now, let’s put it all together and create a meal plan and one-week batch cooking schedule based on the double-up and repurpose method.
Step 1: check your calendar
Check your schedule for busy nights when you won’t have time to cook dinner. Block out those meals on your meal planning calendar and write down alternate meal plans. Here are a few ideas for meals on nights you don’t plan to cook:
- Eat out
- Order in
- Freezer meal
Step 2: choose recipes
The dishes should include similar starches, meats and vegetables that you can repurpose and build new meals throughout the week.
Step 3: schedule batch cooking sessions
Choose a day when you have a few hours to spare and won’t be rushed. Clear your schedule, turn on some relaxing music, and get ready to make the rest of your week easier.
Here’s a one-week meal plan showing a few scheduled batch cooking sessions using the double-up method throughout the week and meals with repurposed leftovers.
Here are some tips to safely store, organize and reheat your meals so that you can maintain a well-stocked freezer and a stress-free mealtime routine.
Choose airtight containers to prevent moisture and air from affecting the food’s quality. Glass containers are my favorite. They’re durable and can be used for both storage and reheating.
If you need lightweight and portable options, especially for children, BPA-free plastic containers are a good alternative. Always make sure that the containers you choose are labeled as safe for use in the freezer and microwave.
Containers for batch cooking
Look for stackable containers to maximize your storage space. Multi-compartment containers are convenient for keeping different components of a meal separate, preventing sogginess or flavor transfer. These are especially great for packing to-go lunches during the week or storing single-serve meals for quick dinners.
Plastic storage bags can be used for prepping ingredients again and portioning meats to freeze in smaller batches.
Clearly label each container with the meal’s name and date of preparation to track freshness. Use removable labels or dry-erase markers on glass containers for easy updating. Once ingredients and meals are labeled, remember to rotate containers in the freezer and refrigerator so the older foods are moved to the front and used up first.
Allow hot foods to cool before placing them in the freezer. Divide large batches into smaller portions for quicker freezing and more manageable portions.
When thawing, gradually thaw in the refrigerator or submerge the bag or container in a bowl of cold water. Avoid thawing at room temperature to prevent bacterial growth.
Containers for Microwave-Safe Reheating
Microwaving meals is a convenient way to quickly enjoy your batch-cooked creations, but not all containers are created equal when it comes to microwave safety. Here’s a guide to help you choose and use the safest containers for reheating:
Pros: Generally considered microwave-safe, glass containers are durable, non-reactive, and won’t leach harmful chemicals into your food. Glass containers don’t hold odors from the previous food it held and it’s easier to clean after storing greasy food than plastic.
Tips: Check for a “microwave-safe” label and avoid sudden temperature changes, such as placing a cold glass container directly into a hot oven or placing a hot container directly in the refrigerator and freezer.
Pros: Many ceramic dishes are microwave-safe, making them a good option for reheating meals. They retain heat well and provide even heating.
Tips: Check for a microwave-safe label or look for dishes labeled as oven-to-microwave. Ceramic holds a lot of heat so use caution when removing the plate from the microwave.
Microwave-safe plastic containers
Pros: Choose containers labeled as “microwave-safe” or those with the microwave symbol. BPA-free plastic containers are preferable for health reasons.
Tips: Make sure all components of the plastic container are microwavable.
Wraps and covers
Pros: Covering food with a microwave-safe wrap or cover can prevent splatters and allow the food to heat evenly.
Tips: Make sure the wrap or cover is labeled microwave-safe and doesn’t contain any metal.
Avoid metal and non-microwave-safe plastics
Avoid using containers with metal trim or foil, which can cause sparks and damage your microwave. Also, avoid plastic containers that aren’t labeled as microwave-safe. They may release harmful chemicals into your food when heated.
Tip: If you’re uncertain about the safety of a container, transfer the food to a microwave-safe dish before reheating.
Here’s a summary of key tips to make sure you get the most out of your batch cooking sessions.
Ready to save time, money, and stress with batch cooking? Grab my free meal planning templates to help you organize meal planning!
Do you have any batch cooking tips? Let me know in the comments below.
About Jennifer Messineo, MS, RD
I’m a food loving Registered Dietitian. I help families plan meals, reduce food waste and save money on food!