Since I developed a habit of meal planning, then nailed down my system of rotating meals to save even more time– I’ve still been looking for ways to cut down time on the actual cooking itself.
I love eating home-cooked meals, because they tend to be so much healthier and save SO much money. However, time in the kitchen can never be short enough, am I right?!
In order to minimize your cooking time and maximize your output, I’ve found 4 powerful ways to batch, prepare, or freeze food:
- Multiply and freeze meals.
- Prepare mostly-done meals.
- Cook or prep “input” ingredients.
- Make side items or snacks ahead of time.
Whether you are preparing for a baby, getting ready for back-to-school, or just tired of being in the kitchen for hours at a time, these time-saving techniques can be a huge help!
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Ideas for Batch Cooking & Freezing
There are several different approaches to batching and/or freezing:
Double-time your meals.
One obvious way to save time is to double any recipe, and freeze the second portion! Using containers like these makes it easy* to throw in the freezer to store and warm up in the oven when you’re ready to eat it, since the food will already be cooked. Plus, you can wash and reuse the containers over & over!
Prepare “dump” meals.
Many recipes that are written for one-pot, crock-pot, or instant-pot meals can easily be prepped ahead of time! Typically, it’s best to combine all the ingredients uncooked in a plastic bag or storage container and freeze. When you’re ready, thaw it out the night before, then either drop it in the crockpot in the morning or throw it right into the pot on the stove (or instant-pot) and let it cook while you get other things done!
Cook or prep individual ingredients.
Identify a list of ingredients that you can cook/prep at the beginning of the week or month that will go into meals you have planned. You get the biggest “reward” if you can do this with items that take a long time – like brown rice, dry beans, or large portions of meat. In our house, we start the month off by cooking batches of several types of beans, shredded chicken, and bacon (for fresh bacon bits!) and freezing them to use as needed. If we made these each time we needed them, it could easily add 30-minutes to 1-hour additional cook time!!
Make side items or snacks.
Another way to utilize “batching” but not necessarily freezing is through meal prep, like all the photos you see on Pinterest! Make a week’s worth of salads, breakfast, or snacks to grab-and-go through the week. For us, we always make a big pan of roasted potatoes to go with our breakfast each day.
While you definitely don’t need to overthink it to get it started, I have learned a few lessons so far that are worth sharing 🙂
Have enough storage containers.
This is one thing that is absolutely essential! As I mentioned above, having reusable aluminum containers* that move from freezer to fridge to oven makes things so much easier! You’ll also need freezer bags*, most likely in gallon-size (for storing “dump” meals) and quart-size (for storing individual portions of ingredients like rice, beans, etc.)
Label and date your food.
Sometimes, it’s not as easy to tell what the meal is once it is frozen, and it’s never a good idea to rely on your memory for when you froze it – especially if you’re doubling meals and freezing them along the way. Use a label & a Sharpie, or write directly on the freezer bag, and you’re good to go!
Choose one method, or rotate a few!
Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do every type right away. Choose the one that (1) feels easiest to you or (2) will benefit you the most right now. Once you get comfortable with one, then you can decide to add another, or you can change your approach if one way isn’t working for you.
Keep in mind that some foods freeze better than others.
In my experience, I don’t notice too big of a difference in the quality of the meal if I’m freezing meats, hardier veggies, beans, rice, etc. in them. More “fragile” vegetables like tomatoes (unless they were already canned) or lettuce shouldn’t be frozen just because they lose their texture so much. Lastly, pasta can work if it’s in something like lasagna, but otherwise, it’s probably best to make the sauce/substance of the meal, then cook the noodles right before serving.
Lastly, to help you get started, I wanted to share some of the meals that are on my “get ready for baby” list – and can be on your rotation, too!
Casseroles or fully-baked freezer meals:
- Three-Cheese Lasagna
- Black Bean, Corn & Zucchini Enchiladas
- Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli & Rice
- Chicken Fajitas
- Broccoli & Cheddar Soup
- Chili Cornbread Skillet (keep the cornbread separate 🙂 )
- Italian Lentil Soup
Dump meals for crockpot/instant pot:
- Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Small porkloin with potatoes, carrots, & onions
- Curried Chickpea & Vegetable Soup (*just don’t add the coconut milk – make a note to yourself on the plastic bag to add it once everything is cooked!)
- Split Pea Soup
- White Chicken Chili
Bonus points if you recognize many of these meals from my Top 10 Easy Meals for Beginners or Top 10 Meals to Take to Others favorites 🙂 If you’re looking for more ideas for make-ahead meal recipes OR what ingredients to freeze & how to use them, Pioneer Woman has some wonderful ideas here! (Doesn’t she always, though?)
What do you think?
Which one sounds easiest to use? What are your favorite make-ahead tips & tricks?
For more meal planning help:
► Related Resource: 7 Essential Strategies to Get Better at Meal Planning (+ templates)
► Related Resource: Your Guide to Reusable, Rotating Meal Plans (+ free workbook!)