(Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is from an in-real-life friend of mine and I am so happy she agreed to write on batch cooking today! A Texan turned Seattleite, Christie Ellis is a wife, mother of two, and author of the food blog, Pepper Lynn. She confesses to having spent the first few years of her marriage stressing about flawless entertaining and trying to impress others with her complicated cooking, but her world turned upside down when she became a mom in 2010. Without the time or energy to fret over perfect meals, she discovered that fresh food is delicious all on its own. Now, she focuses on using high quality ingredients to create simple, nourishing meals for friends and family).
About five years ago, I made a commitment to start eating more healthily, reducing the amount of refined foods in my diet and instead choosing simple meals made from whole foods. I’d always enjoyed cooking so the work that was involved in creating nightly scratch-made dinners for me and my husband was no trouble at all. My food magazine subscriptions provided endless culinary inspiration, and though I went in and out of seasons of meal planning, I managed to make a tasty, nutritious meal every night.
Little did I know it at the time, but this idyllic existence wouldn’t last forever. In 2010, my daughter was born, and my sweet son also joined our family in January of this year. I now have two wee ones in my charge, and while it is my joy and privilege to care for them, the task leaves me with little time, energy, and creativity to devote to extravagant meals. We spent an appalling amount of money eating out at restaurants in the few months following my son’s birth, but now that we are getting more established as a family of four, I am working to streamline my processes in the kitchen to ensure that we are consuming meals that are nutritious, affordable, and amenable to our lifestyle.
Enter our weekly cook day. For me, the pressure of creating a full meal at the end of a long day can be overwhelming, so I’ve lightened my load by completing some of the pre-work in advance. I set aside a few hours each week to prepare wholesome items that can be incorporated into breakfasts and lunches as well as things that can serve as the basis for various evening meals (this usually happens on a Saturday or Sunday for me during a time that my husband is available to help with the kids).
I’m continually learning how to become more efficient and productive during my cook days, but here are some of the guidelines I’ve found useful:
- Keep it simple. In order to maximize this time, I don’t spend hours working on complicated dishes.
- Use the slow cooker. Things can get hectic if there are too many pots on the stove, so I use slow cookers (I have two!) to prepare soups, stews, or long-cooking meats.
- Don’t overdo it. Sometimes in my zeal, I end up making more food than my family could eat in a single week. It usually works fine for me to freeze it for later or share it with friends, but I’ve tried to be more mindful about making accurate quantities.
Pictured above is some of the food I made on a recent cook day. About three hours of active cooking were needed to prepare the following items:
- Crustless quiche with zucchini, onions, and feta – perfect for protein-rich breakfasts and can be paired with a fresh salad for an easy dinner.
- Browned ground beef – it takes very little time, but having this step already complete makes preparing tacos and spaghetti a breeze.
- Black bean soup with bacon – it’s a simple soup, but when we serve it with fresh pico de gallo, avocado, shredded cheese, sour cream, and warmed tortillas, it’s absolutely fantastic!
- Slow-cooked beef roast- shredded and ready to be transformed into barbecue sandwiches.
- Vegan white bean chili – we serve this as a soup with all the fixings, but it can also be used as a filling for burritos or enchiladas.
- Whole grain muffins – I’m always changing up which recipe I use, but I’m definitely partial to these Apple Carrot Muffins.
- No-bake granola balls – various similar recipes have been circling around the internet for a while now, and though they are a fairly recent addition to our home, they are certainly here to stay!
In addition to these types of dishes, I’ll sometimes include prepared vegetable or fruit salads or no-knead bread dough into my cook days as well. The list is different every week based on what I’m craving, the time I have available, and the seasonality of ingredients.
My husband will testify to the fact that I am a very messy cook, so I’m sure you can imagine how crazy it can get cooking so many items at once. It usually takes me a good hour to get things back in order, but I’m so grateful to not have to deal with those messes throughout the week.
Oh, and one unexpected benefit of employing this advance cooking method? It’s empowered me to be more generous with food. I am equipped to feed my family meals that will truly nourish our bodies, and because there is usually prepared food in the refrigerator at any given time, I am more able to share and help others who are ill or who might be encouraged by us bringing them a meal.