Monday Health Basics: a weekly blog post where we explore simple things to add, in order to support ourselves to aim for optimal health. If you're new to the blog, or curious to peruse the other posts on the subject, might I recommend you click on the tag at the bottom that says “monday basics”? Good fodder there to get you started.
This week's idea is one that I have implemented in my weekly approach to making meals an easier and more attainable task, and has evolved over time. In the last six or seven years, I have slowly winnowed out packaged and prepared foods from our family's regimen and have been aiming for more and more whole foods from scratch. It all started with my few years of working in the kitchen at my daughter's school, helping to prepare the school's hot lunches. Batch cooking is really at the heart of making meals for large groups, and some of these tenets can be taken into your own kitchen, albeit on a much smaller scale. Let me save you that five years' of ruminating I did, and skip to the good part.
The concept of batch cooking might not be as foreign to you as you think. Some people call it The Big Cook, others get a gaggle of friends together to make a shwack of meals (yes, that's the technical term) for everyone to divvy up and take home. I participated in one of these group sessions for meal making, and it was a breeze. We decided on the recipes before hand and sent our grocery list to the woman hosting, and then spent that whole day assembling meals in foil containers and freezer bags. We each took home two full family-sized servings of every meal that was pulled together that day. It was amazing! I can't imagine how much organizational work went in to it on behalf of my superstar friend organizer Cindy, but it truly brought such a fabulous group of women together, and we all ate better for those next few weeks, let me tell you. It was a gargantuan grocery bill as you can imagine, but we all divvied up the cost and the labour, and if you can add 40 family-sized meals to your freezer for the coming days and weeks with only one day's work, I'd say you're way ahead of the game. Thank you for that memorable day, Cindy.
I have joined with friends since then to do mini versions of this big cook idea, and had great success. It really does make meal prep in the ensuing weeks immensely easier. I'm up for anything that takes a load off and makes things easier.
I don't know about you though, but I can't sustain a day or a full afternoon of batch cooking every few weeks. I simply don't have the time, unfortunately. And so I have winnowed this idea down over the course of these last few years, to make it an accessible task for myself when it comes to meal prep for our family.
I aim to do one batch cook prep item per weekend for the week's meals ahead.
How I come to choose which item, well that depends on a few things. Some weeks, I will pick an easy enough condiment that will be the base of many of the coming week's meals. (Mayo anyone?) I have been known to prepare big batches of lentils, nuts or seeds and allowing them to pre-soak in order to deactivate anti-nutrients. Doing a whole shwack (see a pattern?) means I only do it once for a bevy of meals down the road. And yes, I have two freezers.
When out for groceries for the week's meals, I sometimes come across some incredible savings on produce and so stock up. Once back at home, I tuck these discounted veggies into bags destined for the freezer. Other weekends I may have a pot of meat stock happily bubbling on the stove for meal plans in the week ahead. It really all depends what I have going on, or what kinds of things I need to stock up on.
And so today, my food-loving friend, I wanted to offer my suggestion on how to make this whole-foods journey a bit easier, and a more manageable task. Every weekend, I think of one thing I need to make in order to make the coming week's supper time a more manageable task when it comes to preparing food for my family. Below, you will find my list of ideas; click on the titles to find spots online for recipes or how-to.
To be clear, just choose one thing to make on the weekend!
Next weekend, it will be something entirely different. But slowly, over the course of time, you will be building your resources and stock piling some delicious offerings that will help make mid-week meal prep an easier task. I'd love to hear what kinds of tips you can share that have worked for you!
Easy One Batch Cooking Ideas
for weekend planning to ensure ease of meal making in the week ahead (click on items that interest you for full instructions and how-to)
- Pre-soak 8 cups of lentils for 12 hours along with 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar, drain then cook 40 minutes or until cooked to desired consistency. Tuck in smaller portions in freezer bags for future quick protein for salads, soups and lunch bowls. (Follow this link to find more info on how to properly soak & cook beans and legumes)
- Make a big batch of pizza sauce and freeze in ice cube trays for easy retrieval on pizza night
- If you are planning to order a side of beef or pork, ask your farmer if they would sell you the fat from the animal and intend to make a batch of lard or tallow (couldn't be easier!)
- Make a curry paste from Jamie Oliver's fab set of recipes, and intend to use it up in myriad ways in the coming weeks
- Have milk going bad soon? Make your own yogurt!
- Go the easier route with dairy that is going off (or that 50% whipping cream at the grocery store). Make a big batch of creme fraiche! It will extend the shelf life of your dairy by at least 3 weeks.
- If chicken is on sale, consider throwing it all in your slow cooker with a 1/2 cup of water for 8 hours on low. Shred the meat off of the bones and tuck in freezer bags for quick protein additions to later meals, and save the stock that has gathered. Delicious.
- Make a batch of meat stock - great base for all kinds of meals.
- Make a homemade ketchup or BBQ sauce (bonus points if you try your hand at fermenting them!)
- Homemade bread is so much better than store bought. Whip up this batch of Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day, and it will keep in your fridge for up to 12 days. You need only pull out enough to make a loaf, tuck the rest in the fridge for later that week.
- Double or triple a big batch of soup or chili on the weekend, and tuck into individual-sized containers in to the freezer for quick lunch grabs or dinner re-heats on hockey night.
- Greens getting wilty in the fridge because you never got around to them during last week's dinner intentions? Get some fresh herbs and make some pesto or chimichurri by replacing half of your herbs for those wilty greens
- Making your own mayo is infinitely easy and serves as a great base for flavours in this week's meals. Look for some great alterations to standard mayo recipe to dress up the next days' meals here.
- Found some zucchini on sale this week? Shred it and tuck into smaller plastic bags in the freezer for later retrieval. Kale was deeply discounted and looking a bit sad? Snip and freeze! Overload of collards on a good deal? Dehydrate them til crispy, and then chop in a food processor to tuck in a glass jar in the pantry, to increase the nutrient density of meals.
- Make a double batch of granola for breakfasts ahead
- Make a big batch of easy homemade kale chips
- Pre-soak and sprout one kind of nut or seed at a time, and dehydrate. Do this in as big a bulk you can afford and have room for, and tuck in freezer bags in to the freezer for easy retrieval.
- Buy three or four vegetables for the meals coming up. Wash and peel if necessary, and chop into individual containers in the fridge for quick add-ins to the meals you have in mind. Cuts down on your prep time during busy weeknight meals!
- Roast a half dozen sweet potatoes while prepping Sunday night's dinner, and keep them in the fridge again for easy suppers mid-week.
Keep it simple
There you are. Just a few ideas to get you started. My idea here is to offer some ideas on doing one good thing a weekend to prep for meals coming in the week ahead. As you build on this one-thing-a-weekend, soon your pantry and freezer will be loaded with quick things you can add to your week's meals. At the core of it all, I want to underline the word simplicity. Keep it simple. Good-enough-meals are just what should be on the table. No company is coming over, nothing fancy nor drastic is required. Just simple, and good enough.
Please go play with your food. And comment below with ways you keep it simple and tasty!