Nutrition Articles

Save Time with Big Batch Cooking

Tips for Meal Planning

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Eating healthy takes some effort, no doubt about it. Let’s face it, today we might be excited to make a tasty, creative recipe that’s good for our waistline, but tomorrow may not bring the same enthusiastic mood. So we slip for the next few busy days and grab something more convenient, with higher calories and much less nutritional value.

What if we chose one weekend out of the month, the weekend when our stars aligned and we actually felt enthusiastic about shopping for the right ingredients and cooking them up? We’re talking about some big batch cooking. This is a strategy that lets us take advantage of when we feel high energy and we’re determined to do something productive for ourselves and our family. Big Batch Weekend is devoting several hours to meal preparation so that meals become healthier and convenient for weeks to come. It means making a big batch of something today and freezing it in meal-size portions so that we can pull out easy-to-reheat lunches and dinners time and again. It takes the thinking out of making healthy choices when you need a ready-made meal.

How about making a big batch of healthy soup, stew, or a casserole for convenient freezing and reheating? Not only will it be a time-saver, but it’s more economical as well. Why pay for all those low-calorie frozen dinners that cost $3-6 when we’re perfectly capable of creating our own for much less per meal? Some recommendations for big batch freezing are listed below along with maximum storage time in the freezer.

Combination Dishes
(Storage time of 3-4 months)
Bean dishes
Spaghetti or rice dishes
Lasagna (with meat or vegetables)
Casseroles
Chow mein
Soups (lentil, split pea, black bean)
Stews (beef, veal, vegetarian)
Stuffed peppers
Eggplant dishes
Meat pies
Meat loaf
Chili (lean beef or chicken)

Breads
(Storage time of 1-2 months)
Whole Grain Muffins
Fruit bread
Whole-wheat waffles or pancakes

Some foods do not freeze well and do not retain good quality after thawing. These include: cabbage, celery, lettuce, parsley, radishes, cooked egg whites, cream or custard fillings, milk sauces, sour cream, cheese or crumb toppings, mayonnaise, salad dressing, gelatin, and fried foods. Depending on the meal you’re freezing, some of these items can be added in fresh after heating up your batch.

Here are some tips to remember as you start implementing your regular Big Batch Weekends.
  • Choose recipes that are conducive to cooking in large quantity and freezing.
  • Have the right containers on hand that are appropriate for the meal size you'll want later. For example, if you want reheatable single-serve lunches or dinners, choose small plastic containers with lids or resealable baggies.
  • Use containers or bags that are easy to label. Write the date on your frozen food portion. You’ll want to reheat most foods by the third or fourth month at the latest.
  • Rotate the placement of foods in the freezer so that you’re eating the oldest ones first. First in, first out.
  • Always cool foods properly before freezing to help retain flavor and ward off growth of bacteria. Never leave prepared food at room temperature fir longer than two hours. When you defrost, do not leave food at room temperature. This encourages bacteria growth and uneven thawing. Instead, defrost on a tray in the refrigerator or in a microwave on a low power setting.
  • Trim the fat from meats and do not season prior to freezing. Seasoning before freezing shortens the storage life. Wrap meats and poultry in aluminum foil, pressing out excess air.

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Member Comments

  • I do big batch cooking a lot of the time. It is so nice to go to the freezer pull out something good to eat. The next day heat it up and eat, saves a lot of eating out, which is hard to get healthy food. Try it you will like it too.
  • I ALWAYS aim to cook once and eat at least 2-3 times. I cook for 2. Even if you have people that don't like leftovers... they will appreciate the same meal again in a week or two! We batch grill hamburgers that are plump instead of flat. I freeze them on a cookie sheet and then line them up in a wide mouth canning jar with wax paper between. Such a fast meal to plop a couple out, add veggies for a side dish and off we go. Being low carb, these work for any meal of the day! I have a chorizo recipe I make and fry up 4# into the same size patty and freeze in the canning jars as well. THIS is what we call fast food at our house! I always make soup in large batches and freeze in meal sized containers. Makes clean ups easier and there is never a reason to get take out!
    Debbie
  • We are a family of two but make chili; legumes (freeze well); soups; and pasta sauces in quantity and freeze them. We also freeze fresh fruit (berries and cherries and bananas) and many seasonal veggies - some you need to blanch but then they are good for 6 months. It helps so much with planning when the entrees are almost "table ready" in the evenings. Lunch the next day - leftovers of course : -)
  • I make my lunches for a whole week on Sundays!
  • TEXASTOPAZ15
    For economic labeling of freezer bound meals, use masking tape. A roll of 1" wide tape, costs about a dollar, and will last for months. (any pen will work, or use a Sharpie for best results.)
  • ETHELMERZ
    I make big batches of food for our freezer, but it's not always "good for you" meals, it's "taste good" foods that everyone enjoys. If everyone in the family or your circle of friends enjoys healthy foods at all times, this is a good idea though. In a perfect world, it would be a terrific idea.
  • Living alone I rely on big batch cooking. I work long hours sometimes and cant be bothered cooking when I get home so would ALWAYS head to the takeaway joints. I bought myself a deep freezer (friends/family were initially like "why on earth do you need a freezer for just yourself?") and batch cook loads of meals. So simple in the mornings - take out my prepared lunches/dinners/s
    nacks to defrost and Im away. I always make sure I have some meals in there I can reheat in oven directly from frozen too in case I forgot to get them out in the morning (Im not a fan of microwave defrosting)
  • I agree with KIMBERLYSWEET.
  • I do a little bit of this...I will make chili and freeze half, or sometimes I will brown ground beef with some celery and use it for sloppy joes later. I have also done this with chicken. I even have frozen turkey burgers to eat at a later time. I make egg muffins to freeze for breakfasts at work. I work a lot and have a lot of hobbies. Doing this sort of thing helps us to eat healthy meals instead of grabbing something bad.
  • Great tips, I have been doing this for years. It is a great way to always have nutritious meals for our family.
  • DATMAMA4
    When we make lasagne, it's a family event. Each of the kids has an assignment (cheese, noodles, sauce, meat, etc.), as do my hubby and I. We make about six to freeze, plus one for that night's meal & leftovers. Line up all the pans on a table, each person adds whatever "their" layer is, and we just keep rotating around until all the layers are finished.

    It goes quickly and we all feel great about doing something together that we can enjoy in months to come.
  • Great article. I do this when I make salsa and marinara sauce. I make a big batch, 3 gallons or so, and put them in canning jars and a 45 minute water bath in a canning pot. I'm not sure how long the shelf life is but at least 6 months, and it is all used for meals by then anyway.
  • SHELBRUK
    I work 12+ hours a day, six days a week, and I tend to sleep more on the only day of the week I have off. But I really like to cook as many meals as possible when I'm going to be in the kitchen!

    I never knew the freezer life of foods, so I did learn something new from this article. Thanks!
  • PIXIESTIX6669
    Ugh, I agree...veal is NASTY...
    I don't eat any meat that's not organic...it's all really disturbing if you know where industrialized meat comes from and how it was raised...check out Food, Inc. to learn more...
  • PIXIESTIX6669
    Big batch cooking is the secret to consistently eating healthy...I spend an afternoon each week cooking for the week, and it's a lifesaver...when coming home after a busy day, all I have to do is heat and eat...way healthier than commercially frozen frankenfood or take out...ew!

About The Author

Laura Bofinger Laura Bofinger
As a freelance writer, Laura uncovers some kind of inspiration every day when she writes about health and fitness.

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