Prepping a big batch of something (chili, soup, pulled pork…) and then eating off it all week is a great way to save time, save money, and plan ahead for all the little emergencies that inevitably pop up during the week. You can make a week of breakfasts on the run and then just grab something from the fridge instead of worrying about cooking in the morning. Even if you don’t need to bring breakfast or lunch to work, it’s nice to have pre-cooked meat to quickly throw in a soup or stir-fry for an easy dinner.
But bulk food prep isn’t something everyone can just do intuitively. So here’s a guide to mastering the art of once-a-week batch cooking.
- What kinds of things can/should I make in batches? What about fragile things like salads?
- How can I avoid getting bored of eating the same thing all week?
- What kinds of tools and equipment do I need to do this?
What to Prep in Batches and How to Do It
If you think of a Paleo meal, it really has four parts:
- Required: meat or other animal protein (e.g. eggs)
- Required: fat (this might be provided by your protein source, e.g. bacon, but if you’re cooking lean protein you need to add some).
- Required: non-starchy vegetables.
- Optional: starchy vegetables, fruit, and/or nuts.
Typically, when you batch cook, you’ll be cooking one of these three parts. Many people only batch-cook protein – this doesn’t completely eliminate meal prep, but it makes everything a lot faster. Protein is typically the longest part of the meal to cook, so you’ll get the biggest time savings here.
You can eat the batch-cooked protein on its own, or throw it into soups, stir-fries, salads, and all kinds of other meals.
Other people batch prep vegetables as well. This can get tricky because you do have to make sure to use up all the vegetables before they go bad, but it’s definitely possible, especially if you choose wisely.
For a good batch-cooking recipe, you want something that’s easy to make in large quantities, keeps well for several days, and ideally tasty with a variety of different sides so you can mix it up.
If you only prep one thing ahead, make it your protein. Cooking a big batch of meat or eggs at the beginning of the week can save you incredible amounts of meal prep time. Here are some ideas:
- Meat: chili (pork or beef), shredded pork or beef, chicken breast, steak, any kind of roast, meatballs, or meatloaf.
Non-starchy vegetables can get a little tricky to prep ahead because they can easily get slimy or gross – especially salads.
One great trick with salads is to keep the dressing separate. Wash your greens, chop them up, and mix all you like; just leave the dressing in a separate container until you’re ready to eat it. It also helps to layer your salads – put wetter things at the bottom so the juices don’t get all over the greens. Another tip is to prep salads for the beginning of the week and prep hardier vegetables for the end – or just have a second mini-prep day in the middle of the week where you make another batch of salads.
- Vegetables that keep for 1-3 days: fresh vegetable salad, fruity coleslaw, most steamed or roasted vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, squash, etc.), most leafy salads if you keep the dressing separate.
- Vegetables that keep until the end of the week: roasted squash, cooked beets, chopped carrots or bell peppers. You may also have luck with coleslaw or other uncooked vegetables, depending on how fresh they were when you bought them.
If you’re batch-cooking breakfast, there’s a good chance that it’s because you need something to eat between the gym and the office – and in that case, you’ll want some starch with that. Here are some ideas for batch-cooking starchier foods:
Or just add some starch to your protein, like these twice-baked sweet potatoes.
How to Keep it Interesting
You’ve cooked up enough pulled pork to feed the army with leftovers to spare. If the apocalypse happened tomorrow, you could subsist on pulled pork until you died of natural causes. But halfway through your week of pulled pork bounty, you realize that you’re so incredibly bored of it you don’t want to take another bite.
Here are some strategies for preventing that in the first place or fixing it if you’re stuck there:
- Batch cook two main proteins and freeze half of each. Basically this puts you on a two-week batch cooking schedule instead of 1 week. So for example, instead of cooking just pulled pork, cook pulled pork and beef chili. Freeze half of each dish for next week. That way you’ll be able to rotate between them and you won’t feel like you’re eating the same thing every day.
- Use the protein as a base, not the final product. Put your batch-cooked protein in salads, stews, curries, or stuffed potatoes. Dress it up with different spices and seasonings. Chop it up and stir-fry it. Put an interesting sauce on it to add a new flavor. Here are 17 ideas to keep it interesting, and here are three soups that put a different twist on leftover meat: coconut lime chicken soup, ham and pumpkin soup, and winter vegetable soup.
- Rotate different proteins and side dishes together so you can get some variety on your plate even if you’re eating the same meat.
Useful Tools and Equipment
You don’t need a lot of special tools to get started with batch cooking. But it does help to have…
- Containers and a label system for storing the food once you make it. If you’re prepping grab-and-go meals, just put everything into meal-sized containers as soon as it’s done cooking for maximum convenience.
- A slow-cooker for cooking big cuts of meat painlessly while you do other things.
You can absolutely do batch cooking without a slow-cooker, though; you’ll just have to find a time when the oven is free.
Summing it Up
Batch cooking is an easy way to save yourself some time and make Paleo cooking possible for busy families. Some people cook all their breakfasts or lunches in advance for the whole week and just grab them out of the fridge as they go. Other people just cook their proteins and then use the cooked meat to make quick weeknight dinners like stir-fries and salads.
Either way, batch prep is a very useful shield against the lure of takeout and vending machines: find a recipe that looks tasty and give it a try!