6 Simple Secrets to Batch Cooking
The definition of batch cooking is…preparing and cooking a whole bunch of awesome food all at once so you have many options ready and waiting for quick, go-to meals, at any time of the day or night. OK, OK, that’s not like a Webster’s dictionary definition or anything, but rather the Vegan It Real version.
When I became a plant-based eater, batch cooking became my friend. And, when I took Rouxbe’s plant-based culinary course and realized there was a whole unit focused just on batch cooking, I knew that for plant-based success, batch cooking was a must. For those vegans out there, I am pretty sure you have heard of batch cooking, but, for you vegan-curious folks you may not understand the importance behind this much talked about meal prep.
You see, when you transition to a plant-based way of life, it can be super-easy to fall back on old eating habits at the first sign of a challenge. Think about it. You are too tired to cook and you’re hangry. You have to take the kids to soccer. Your dear love invited his friends for dinner, or worse, his boss. Whatever the case may be, you don’t even want to have to think about what to feed those hungry faces! You want to pull out your plan and execute, without a thought!
This type of meal prep seriously gives fast food a whole new meaning and instead of running out to the drive-thru those busy nights, walk into the kitchen and pull out some of your faves instead!
I know, I know…you’re like, “Um, hey, Jennifer? Where do I begin in this big, vast batch cooking universe?”
Have no fear…I have put together 6 of my easy peasy, simple secrets to batch cooking success. Arm yourself with these tips and tools, and your fridge will give you your answers the next time they ask “what’s for dinner?”.
1) Take time to research and shop smart.
Not just the food…the deals. I originally poo-pooed a discount grocery store when they first came to town but since then, I have found Aldi is my favorite store to find tons of deals and bargains on organic, plant-based foods. I regularly look at their weekly sales fliers and make note of any exceptional prices on fruit, veg, and whole grains.
For instance, their organic nut milks are on average $1 cheaper per 1/2 gallon than other leading grocers in my areas, and they have super-cheap, organic canned beans. And, my all time fave…the lowest priced avocados in town. In addition, Walmart has been carrying a lot of organic and well-know vegan brands such as Bob’s Red Mill, Gardein and Kind. Become familiar with your favorite stores’ sales schedules and try to shop when you’ll get the most bang for your buck, literally.
2) Buy in bulk and take advantage of two-fors.
Another store that I have near me and that I love is Bulk Nation. After doing some research I found that this store carries a lot of responsibly-sourced, and organic products. Yes, they have a lot of candy and “junk food” but, I can find an awesome selection of nuts, seeds, grains, teas and spices.
Find the stores that offer bulk items in your area and start comparing the prices (see #1). Buying rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and frozen berries in bulk, (just to name a few), typically saves money and time, making it a super important step in the batch cooking kitchen. Also, anytime I see a 2 for 1 deal on something I love, I always buy either 2 or 4 of that product. Chances are if you are buying one, and you are becoming a batch cooking guru, you’re gonna need it.
3) Clean out and properly stock your spice cabinet.
There are endless flavor combinations in the plant-based kitchen and I have found that the more spices and herbs I have on hand, the more combinations I can make spontaneously. For instance, I have the spices to make Spanish lentils or Ethiopian Lentils. I have spices for Cuban beans or Mediterranean Bean Stew. Get out of the garlic and onion powder trap and throw some real spice in your life.
Here are some of my favorite spice to have on hand: oregano, red pepper flakes, sweet basil, paprika, smoked paprika, Italian seasonings, yellow curry, red curry, cumin, coriander, berbere, cayenne, taco seasoning, ginger, allspice, and cinnamon.
4) Mise en what?!
One technique that Rouxbe taught me was the importance of the mise en place or set up. Basically, having all your ingredients ready before you start cooking. When you batch cook, you are trying to make the most of just a few hours, so, it is an important step to clean and prep and chop your ingredients, prior to turning on the stove or oven!
Use little bowls or cups for your diced onions and carrots, your soy sauce or spices. It may seem a little time consuming to get everything prepped and ready first, but, once you start cooking you will be so happy things are at your fingertips, ready to toss-in and stir.
5) Adapt, don’t quit.
Adjust recipes for what you have on hand. I’ve seen enough episodes of Chopped to know that something can be made from nothing. If you are working off a recipe and it calls for white onions, just use a yellow onion. If you need a cup of almond milk but you only use soy milk, then use the soy milk in the recipe. And, if you don’t have something to substitute, it’s OK to leave an ingredient out, if it’s not going to change the flavor profile.
One of my favorite Indian lentil recipes typically calls for diced potatoes but I didn’t have any potatoes on hand. I had all the other ingredients, so, instead of throwing in the towel and trying to figure out a new dish, I just left the potatoes out and added extra carrots and onions. Batch cooking can handle a little out-of-the-box thinking…I promise!
6) What to cook.
These are the meal prep dishes that I batch cook the most and that can be used and re-purposed in multiple meals throughout the week: spaghetti sauce, best beans ever, chickpea salad, roasted potatoes (see pic above), spiced apples, plain quinoa, farro, basmati rice, steamed broccoli, edamame and baked sweet potatoes.
I will also use my batch cooking time to make a whole meal that will last at least two nights, like a big pot of soup or chili, or a casserole pasta bake.
See? I’m telling you. Batch cooking doesn’t have to be complicated or scary.
It can actually be fun, and if you have curious kids, why not get them in on the dicing, chopping, and measuring? With a little planning, smart shopping and a little dedicated time just one day a week, you can make enough food to give you (and the many mouths you may be feeding), plenty of healthy and nutritious choices to keep you on your plant-based path.
So next time you are rushed and deciding that Taco Bell just may be a quicker solution, remember all those beautiful beans you prepped just days before. They are screaming from your fridge…” don’t eat out…cook in!”.
Certified Plant-Based Chef and Holistic Nutritionist veganizing the planet one meal at a time. Bringing fans vegan food, brand, travel & lifestyle news while offering clients personalized vegan chef services in the Tampa Bay area. For the health of it! View all posts by Jennifer