How to Save Time with Batch Cooking

When talking with others about my eating habits, one of the first questions they ask me is: “How do you have time to do it all?” Granted, it sounds like a lot. Everyone would love to prepare nutritious, wholesome, nutrient-dense, traditional foods for themselves and their families, but who has the time?

First, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Are you ready? It doesn’t really take that much more time at all. Making kombucha, for example, represents about 5 minutes of real work a week. The rest of the time, I’m just waiting. The same goes with any traditional food preparation technique. Most don’t require a lot of time doing things; they require a lot of time waiting on things. They require planning.

And what better way to plan ahead than to cook ahead?

It’s called batch-cooking, and it’s how I keep myself from going crazy.

The trick is to just double or triple recipes as you make them, then set the extra portions aside for later use (usually by freezing in serving-sized portions in something like a plastic freezer bags).

Making a loaf of bread? Why not make 2? Or 4? Or 6?

Making a pound of taco meat for dinner? Why not make 3 or 4 pounds and save the rest for quick and easy use later?

Making a casserole? Why not double it?

Making a week’s worth of yogurt? Why not make 2 weeks worth? It keeps remarkably well.

You get the idea.

Batch cooking means that you’ll have a freezer full of meals ready to whip out when you’re too exhausted to cook, that you’ll be able to easily give a meal to someone recuperating from an injury, that you’ll have more time to do other things because you’re not spending so much time in the kitchen.

Hey, it works for me.

Speaking of which, this post is part of two blog carnivals — the Works For Me Wednesdays at We Are THAT Family and Real Food Wednesdays at Kelly The Kitchen Kop.

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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15 Responses to How to Save Time with Batch Cooking
  1. Anna
    March 4, 2009 | 1:51 am

    I agree completely! We are a family of only three, so it’s pretty easy to make a batch of something large enough to morph into another meal or two, saving effort, time, and energy. And those long-cooking dishes allow for other activities, making these perfect for weekend cooking or slow-cookers when one needs to be away from the kitchen. I have a flexible schedule, so I’ll often make them during the week, too, starting earlier in the day.

    Or I’ll cook two dinners in one night – I get one of these long-cooking dinners into the oven, then make an easier dish for our dinner, like a frittata and salad. The long cooking one comes out of the oven later, cools off a while, then it’s into the fridge before I go to bed. The next night while it’s reheating in the oven, I make a salad and veggie and we’re set.

  2. Stacey
    March 4, 2009 | 7:46 am

    Great tips! I didn’t know yogurt would keep that long — it’s on my to do list to start making yogurt in my crockpot, so it’s good to know I can just make a massive batch. I think I’m still in the mindset of pasteurized foods where I want to toss something after a week. For some reason, I’m not as scared of my raw milk products. I have friends who still don’t understand that. :)

    Stacey

  3. mama2tlc
    March 4, 2009 | 9:43 am

    Yes! Here by WFMW…thanks for sharing the other carnival too!

  4. Local Nourishment
    March 4, 2009 | 10:36 am

    I used to do that when I had a spare freezer. I’d make two 9×13 casseroles and freeze one right in the dish. When it was frozen, I’d take it out of the dish and put it back in the freezer. Now my 9×13 pan is ready to use again, the casserole I take out of the freezer will fit right back into the pan for baking, and the pre-made casseroles line up on the freezer shelf like a row of books. Rats. I really miss that freezer.

    Local Nourishment

  5. Michelle @ What Does Your Body Good?
    March 4, 2009 | 10:57 am

    I always, always double recipes. But I haven’t been freezing portions for later, just eating the same meal all week. Hmmm. I should go the freezer route and have more variety BUT I just can’t stand using the microwave. Any reheating tips?

    Michelle @ What Does Your Body Good?

  6. KristenM
    March 4, 2009 | 11:02 am

    Local Nourishment — I do the same thing! Flash freezing casseroles in the pan, then removing them and wrapping them in foil/plastic wrap, is a great way to keep them!

    Michelle — I always reheat in the oven or on the stove. Don’t know what to tell you other than that, it just depends on what I’m re-heating.

  7. KristenM
    March 4, 2009 | 11:07 am

    Anna — Very smart about cooking 2 dinners at once!

    Stacey — Yes, yogurt keeps for a loooong time. I’ve sometimes made a gallon at a time and taken 4 weeks to eat it. Granted, the fresher it is, the more enzymes it has and the more nutrient-dense it is. But, if you’re really pressed for time, cooking it this way can keep you from going nuts.

    Mama2tlc — Thanks for visiting! Hope you stick around. :) Did you know I’m giving away Grass-fed beef steaks and burgers right now? Just look for it under Recent Posts if you want to enter!

  8. Susan Echaore-McDavid
    March 4, 2009 | 2:23 pm

    I used to roll my eyes at my mom, who would steam, boil, and roast two to three chickens at a time, cook a huge potful of pancit or adobo (2 Filipino dishes), and so forth. Most of the food went into freezer bags and containers for me to take home, which being a young do-do, I didn’t appreciate or really felt like eating over and over. Many years later, I’m now living with my 87-year old mom and cooking for her, my husband, and myself. So, what do I do? I cook extra to freeze or to turn leftovers into other dishes during the week. By the way, my mom likes to remind me that I save energy by cooking more than one chicken at a time. :-)

    Susan Echaore-McDavid

  9. KristenM
    March 4, 2009 | 6:59 pm

    Susan — My oh my. How we learn! Our parents always told us: “one day you’ll understand.” And we’re like: “No way. Not. Ever.” And then one day we’re grown up a bit more and it hits us. We really did learn from them!

  10. Betsy
    March 5, 2009 | 4:49 am

    Michelle, I do the same thing. I cook for myself (DH won’t eat what I cook). Mostly that’s for dinners at home. I’ve pretty much given up having hot food for lunch at work. Can’t seem to make a thermos work, except sometimes for soup, and there’s nothing at work except a microwave. TWO microwaves at that, since another group moved onto our floor. I’d request (or buy!) a toaster oven, but I’m pretty sure they’re against the rules.

  11. Diane
    March 5, 2009 | 7:41 am

    Kristen,
    love your tips. I try to do batch cooking also. My problem is my family is so large that their isn’t much for another meal.
    Case in point: I make a huge stockpot of soup once a week. We manage to get a Sunday meal out of it (when all the family is over) and there might be enough left over for a couple of son’s lunches. That’s it.

    Diane

  12. Tamara
    March 5, 2009 | 8:18 am

    I REALLY need to start doing this, really. Its just me and my hubby, but we rarely have any leftovers anymore (we gobble up everything i cook nowadays :D ).

    last night i doubled my meatloaf and mashed potatoes so now i have lunch today and possibley dinner again tonight :)

  13. vehement flame
    March 6, 2009 | 10:01 pm

    Nice tip. If I batch cooked I’d eat the whole batch though. I wish I had some back up batches tonite- we have had a rough week and cooking was not high on my agenda!

    vehement flame

  14. Marg
    September 3, 2009 | 9:02 am

    I’m really enjoying your site, Kristen. I’m joining the movement to real food but am finding the changes so overwhelming! I appreciate posts like this and hope I can get my act together and make this work for me and my family.

  15. Bill Speer
    December 12, 2012 | 12:59 pm

    If you really want to go all out, after making your larger batches, use a vacuum sealer to seal up all but one other serving and stash those bags in your deep freezer. Build up a selection so you’re not tired of the same old thing in too short of a time. The sealed meals will keep for months and maybe even a year or two for some items. Can’t recommend this method enough! I seal and freeze various sizes so I have the correct amount depending on how many people I need to feed.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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