How to save time and money with batch cooking, whether your’re vegan or vegetarian or paleo. These helpful tips are great for beginners and experts alike!
Every year I try to make small goals that help my family in our real food journey. This year, one of my goals is to use my freezer more.
So far, I’ve done two official freezer cooking sessions under my belt (9 breakfasts in one hour and 10 dump dinners in one hour) AND I’m intentionally freezing something leftover from dinner almost every night of the week.
I’ve learned a lot, especially how batch cooking can save you time and money. Because we’d all like a little more of both, right? So let’s talk about it!
What is Batch Cooking?
By definition, batch cooking is cooking food in batches. Now, I know it’s not appropriate to use the same words you’re defining in the term itself, so let’s use a very simple example of rice.
Instead of making rice every night for dinner, batch cooking would mean making enough at the beginning of the week for the whole week, and re-heating whatever you needed for your meals later.
I view batch cooking in three different ways.
1. You can batch cook whole meals, COOK THEM, and then freeze them.
This is probably what most people think about when they hear the term batch cooking, and it’s idea is pretty straightforward. You make a whole meal and cook it, but instead of eating it, you freeze it. Then later on when you do want to eat the meal, you pull it out to thaw and you reheat it in the oven.
I’ll be honest, though – this type of batch cooking wasn’t on my radar much when we lived in California. We had the world’s smallest freezer, and in order to fit a 9” x 13” glass pan, I had to remove a whole shelf!
In that season, batch cooking cooked meals wasn’t an option. So let’s talk about another way you can batch cook.
2. You can batch cook whole meals and freeze them WITHOUT COOKING.
This is similar to the cooked method, except you have more wiggle room with your storage containers.
I’ve done this recently in my One Hour Freezer Cooking Session: Dump Dinner Recipes, where you put the entire meal into a freezer-safe container (I use gallon plastic bags) and freeze it. Then when you want to cook, you thaw the meal in the fridge and cook as desired.
Meals like classic slow cooker roast beef or sausage and peppers and onions or homemade hamburger helper are great options for this method of batch cooking. These meals are all cooked differently – slow cooker, sheet pan and stove-top, respectively – but everything from the container gets dumped out and cooked at the same time.
Because the storage method of the meals is flexible – meaning I can use freezer bags instead of actual baking dishes – I can fit these types of meals into my freezer more easily.
3. You can batch COMPONENTS of meals, cooked or uncooked.
This is my favorite method for batch cooking because it gives the greatest flexibility in both freezer storage AND what you’re eating for dinner.
In this method, you’re not freezing whole meals at all. Instead, you’re freezing just PARTS of a meal.
Meal components like brown rice or beans or lentils or quinoa or shredded chicken or ground beef or crumbled breakfast sausage are perfect for the freezer. You can make a lot of them at once, portion them out into servings that best fit your family (more on that below), and then simply pull out what you need for a meal later on.
If you’ve ever bought a big pack of pork chops or chicken from the store, brought it home and separated everything into bags before freezing, you’re practically batch cooking! Simply toss some marinades in those bags and you’re done!
Which type of batch cooking is best?
The best type of batch cooking is whichever method you’ll actually use. I use a combination of all three methods, depending on what the food is!
Batch cooking can save you enormous amounts of time, but it can also save you a lot of money too.
Let’s talk about the money aspect first.
How to Save Money with Batch Cooking
Batch cooking lets you shop in bulk.
Shopping in bulk is a proven method for saving money on real food, and batch cooking is a great way to take advantage of this. It doesn’t matter if you watch the weekly circulars and stock up when there’s a sale, or you buy in bulk from a local co-op, or you buy in bulk from a warehouse store… it’s all buying in bulk and all of these methods save you money!
Batch cooking is cheaper than buying the foods individually.
Take beans for example. I did an in-depth study on whether canned beans or cooking dry beans from scratch was cheaper, and dry beans won.
When I batch cook beans, I know right off the bat that it’s cheaper than if I were to buy a can of beans from the store.
Plus, when you stack this with shopping in bulk, you can REALLY see the savings add up!
Batch cooking keeps you out of the grocery store.
You know as well as I know that anytime you go to the store for just one item, you ALWAYS leave with more.
One of my own personal shopping strategies (and one that I teach in my course Grocery Budget Bootcamp) is to be intentional with your shopping trips. By default, it means not going to the store for just one item.
When you batch cook and you have food ready to go in the freezer, you don’t have to stop at the grocery store nearly as often!
Pay attention to things you normally pick up at the grocery store that you could make ahead of time and freeze. For example, if you normally pick up a rotisserie chicken for shredded chicken, make Instant Pot whole chicken yourself, shred the meat, portion it out and freeze it!
Batch cooking keeps you from ordering take-out or going through the drive-thru.
You know you have “something” in the freezer. It might not be glamorous, but you know you easily pull out some rice and a protein and vegetables of some sort and have a healthy dinner on the table FASTER than it would take the delivery guy to show up. And you certainly would feel better later on than if you had gone through the drive-thru!
How to Save Time with Batch Cooking
When you batch cook, you don’t have to make everything, every night.
Let’s go back to the rice example I shared earlier. I use my Instant Pot for a ton of different things, but if I only ever used it to make brown rice, it would still be worth every penny.
Any time I don’t have rice in the freezer and I need rice for dinner, I make no less than 6 cups of brown rice (measured dry) in my 8 quart Instant Pot DUO (like this one). We’ll use some that night, and then I measure out the rice in 4 cup portions and freeze it in freezer-safe bags.
By doing this, I don’t have to cook brown rice again for at least 3 more dinners and it saves me a TON of time!
Note: I’ve found that 4 cups is just about right for my family right now (two adults, one pre-teen and one elementary). Freeze in whatever increments you want, but you do want to make sure it’s enough to cover your needs.
For example, my husband ALWAYS takes leftover dinner to work the next day for lunch. If I serve rice at dinner, I need to have enough for us all to have dinner (plus maybe seconds) AND his lunch the next day. When in doubt, over-estimate – and this goes for whatever you’re cooking. The whole goal here is to intentionally cook a lot so we don’t have to cook the same thing again next time. If you make too much rice, all you have to do is freeze it!
When you batch cook, you don’t have to spend time coming up with dinner ideas.
Instead of wasting time or energy browsing Pinterest or cookbooks trying to figure out what to make for dinner, just look in the freezer!
Batch cooking can give you whole meals, ready to go, that you can simply pull out the night before to thaw and put it in the slow cooker (or Instant Pot or stove top or sheet pan or whatever the recipe calls for) in the morning.
Batch cooking when you’re pregnant or during a busy season in life is a great way to save time!
Anyone who has children knows that those first few newborn weeks are bliss. But the days go fast and often if doesn’t feel like you have time (or energy) to cook a decent dinner.
Similarly, the same thing goes when you’re driving your son around to soccer practice three nights a week.
Or when your daughter has multiple dance practices for a recital.
Or you’re going out of town in a few days and the to-do list is growing exponentially.
Or you’re working full time and going to school and finals are coming up and you need every spare second to study.
Batch cooking is a massive time saver when you’re in a busy season of life, regardless of what that season actually is.
Is Batch Cooking Healthy?
I know this is a funny question, but people ask me this often! Freezing food doesn’t change the nutritional value. The texture might change, but that doesn’t make it less healthy for you. If anything, batch cooking can help you eat even better!
When your freezer is full of meal components that are ready to go – literally, all you have to do is heat them up and eat – it makes the drive-thru or take-out seem a bit silly. I mean, you already HAVE the food, right? And it’s already cooked! It would take longer for the delivery guy to show up at your front door than it would for you to re-heat what’s in the freezer!
Batch Cooking: How Do You Do It?
There’s no right or wrong way to batch cook.
- Some say to spend all day Sunday getting ready for the week ahead.
- Some say to do it while the kids are napping.
- Some say to spend just one hour on Saturday morning getting some of the basics out of the way.
Again, the best way to batch cook is the way that works best for YOU. I personally don’t want to spend a whole day in the kitchen, on the weekend. As much as I love cooking and baking, I need some time away, too!
I like to maximize the time I’m ALREADY spending in the kitchen, so that’s when I batch cook.
- If I’m making beans for dinner on Tuesday, I make a lot of beans.
- If I’m making waffles for breakfast on Saturday, I make a lot of waffles.
- If I’m cooking a whole chicken in the oven for dinner on Thursday, I’ll cook two or three chickens at the same time.
No matter how you approach it, batch cooking can save you time and money. You just have to do it!
P.S. If you like to learn more about saving time and money on cooking real food and shopping for groceries, check out Grocery Budget Bootcamp– relaunching April 2019!
CLICK HERE to to learn more and get on the waiting list – you’ll be the first to know when it opens up!