Have you ever wondered how restaurants prepare elaborate meals so quickly? It’s because to one degree or another they all implement a technique called batch cooking and the concept translates well to home cooking, saving you time and effort. Batch cooking is preparing a quantity of food ahead of the time you intend to use it — perhaps on a Sunday afternoon for the coming week. You can batch cook entire meals, meal components, and snacks.
Some people find it most beneficial to prepare all of their meals and snacks for the week, putting them into designated and labeled containers which makes eating well during the week nearly effortless. Personally, I don’t take batch cooking to that extent, instead I like to make meal components which allow more flexibility with meals while still saving a tremendous amount of time and energy.
When first starting out with batch cooking, I recommend picking an item or two that you know you’ll be able to utilize during the week and that holds well in the refrigerator. Focus on developing the habit of making a couple of things once a week and then expand from there, increasing the number and complexity of the items as you gain confidence with this technique.
I often spend some of Sunday in the kitchen batch cooking. I’ll crank up some dance music and commence shimmying, singing, chopping, stirring, and popping things in and out of the oven — filling the house with soulful aromas (and questionable vocals).
A few staples I make frequently are:
- Roasted Sweet Potatoes
- Roasted Cauliflower or Broccoli*
- Roasted Veggies: Brussels Sprouts, Sweet Potato, and Beets
- Sautéed Kale*
- Cauliflower Coconut “Rice”
- Quinoa, rice, or lentils*
- Caramelized Onion, Kale, and Black Beans
- Boiled eggs
- Overnight oats
- Chia Pudding
- Cornbread Scones
- Protein Pancakes
- Roasted Chickpeas
- Rustic Dukkah
*In the coming week(s), I’ll add recipes for these items.
In addition to batch cooked meal components, I keep key items on hand for quick meals:
- Eggs — fried, scrambled, boiled, or poached, you can’t go wrong putting an egg on just about anything. You know that line from the show Portlandia “put a bird on it”? I say, “put an egg on it!”
- Salad greens — obviously great for salads, but also as a bed for vegetables and eggs, fish, curry, or burrito bowls. Josh and I regularly carry “pocket greens” (a baggie or container of baby kale, spinach, or broccoli sprouts) with us to local quick-service restaurants for an extra punch of nutrition. Yes, we’re those people — we own it & are healthier for it.
- Salad dressing — keep one or two high quality and delicious dressings in the fridge (look for olive or avocado oil in the ingredients and avoid canola oil).
- Frozen fruit and vegetables — great for a quick smoothie, smoothie bowl, stir-fry, or curry.
- Coconut milk — add to smoothies for creaminess and healthy fat, a simple curry, or batch of Thai Peanut Sauce.
- Curry paste — you can’t go wrong with quickly stir-frying tons of vegetables in a wok and then whipping together a sauce with some coconut milk, curry paste, and a little lime juice.
- Nut butters — I keep almond butter & cashew butter made by my friend Bridget in the pantry at all times, as well as peanut butter. Ella and I both love swirling a spoonful of cashew butter into steaming bowls of oatmeal.
- Kefir — I turn to plain Greek-syle kefir for an added-sugar-free megadose of gut-friendly probiotics and protein.
- Cheese — Although cheese isn’t for everyone, I love having a small stash of pungent cheese in the fridge (aged blue cheese, chèvre (soft goat cheese), parmesan, and the sharpest cheddar I can find). I’ll add cheese to egg and vegetable dishes, cut a small amount up to pair with fruit and vegetable snacks, or crumble some onto salads.
- Fresh vegetables & fruit — I always have apples, oranges, bananas, carrots, and bell peppers on hand for quick snacks.
I also batch cook and freeze things like sauces, pestos, and compound butters which I can then yank out of the freezer and quickly thaw under hot water to add to a meal. A few of my go-to meal enhancers:
Still not convinced? Harness some of the benefits and ease yourself into this new behavior by simply doing some vegetable prep. Sometimes when I’m unsure what I want to batch cook, I’ll whip out my knife and hack up a head of cauliflower or broccoli (since they’re both great raw or cooked, it’s nice to have them cut up in the fridge). After that I’ll fill up the sink with cold water to clean and cut up greens for the week — kale, collards, and beet greens are favorites. With that light prep done ahead of time we have produce for easy snacks or to quickly add to any meal.