Constantly going going going? Or in a period of your life where it’s non-stop? The last thing on your mind when you’re super busy is what you’re going to make for dinner when you get home, am I right? Well, I’m going to share two simple practices that can actually be the saving grace of your week.
Ladies, meet Meal Planning + Batch Cooking. These two things can radically help you free up time during the week – giving you time to squeeze in a short break or catnap to recover from life’s madness. Meal planning and batch cooking take most of the thought process out of dinner and can keep you eating healthy and safe from the clutches of a drive-thru or food that will make you feel blah later.
Batch cooking is the biggest part of this time-saving-duo during the week. Essentially how it works is on a weekend or quiet day before the busy week begins, you cook as many meals as you can for the week. You can also cook all of the ingredients and then assemble the day of the meal itself.
For a lot of people, batch cooking can feel a bit overwhelming. Like they’ll have to set aside a whole day (or more) to be in the kitchen. Luckily, it doesn’t have to look like that. You can start small with one or two meals and ease your way into batch cooking. And trust me, once you start, you’ll wonder why you haven’t done this sooner!
Grab your calendar and look at what you’ve got going on in the next 6-7 days. Do you have any appointments, meetings, or social engagements that would make cooking a meal that night tough? Choose one or two of those nights for a pre-made dinner.
Decide on what you’re going to cook for those meals. To make things easier, I would recommend choosing dishes you make all the time. Check your pantry and get your shopping list together. Once you’ve got that, decide on a day to shop and cook these meals.
When cooking day arrives, make it as fun as possible. Turn on your favorite podcast, playlist, or audiobook to give you something to listen to. Maybe invite a friend over to hang out and catch up while you cook. If they want to help, even better!
You have two options when batch cooking: you can either cook the entire meal on cooking day and simply reheat and eat. Or, you can cook all the components and assemble your meal the day of. If you’re making a curry, casserole, soup, or one dish meal, it’s easier to make the dish on cooking day. If you’re got a meal that’s got a protein with a side dish of grains or a salad of any kind, you can make all of the components and assemble later.
Before you start cooking, take a moment and think over how you will cook both dishes. This is the key to making batch cooking feel more manageable. What equipment do you need for both? Do both dishes need an oven? Rice cooker? Same pots or pans?
Combine duties and make the dishes simultaneously, if you can. Cut all your vegetables at the same time and place them in individual bowls or combine a few in little piles on dinner plates to keep your cutting board clear. If you need to roast a few vegetables, one tip is to make aluminum foil boats to keep the vegetables and seasoning separate and to maximize your oven time. Sauté one group of vegetables at a time (if they’re being used for different meals) and just rinse and wipe out the pan and sauté the other group.
If you have things that run on their own, like rice on the stove or a rice cooker, start that first so it can just go on it’s own while you’re doing something else. Got some one dish meals? Prep all the ingredients for both dishes and cook one, then cook the other right after.
Saving the ingredients to assemble later? Store them separately in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.
If you made your meal completely, you have two options for storing. Depending on how many people you cook for, you can either portion everything out and put the entire meal in one container, or you can store all your like ingredients together (all your roasted chicken in one container, grains in one, vegetables in another). The portioning is great for a smaller table and if you’ve got to take this meal outside of the house, like if you’re making a meal for lunch or a dinner shift.
If making two dishes at the same still feels a little overwhelming, just start with one meal and see how much time it saves. Try that for a week or two and then add one more meal to your weekly cooking roster.
When you feel more confident with cooking two dishes for a few weeks, ask yourself if you want to bump that up to three. By building this skill over time and keeping up the habit, moving from cooking one meal to three will feel much less daunting.
No matter how many meals you cook ahead per week, know that by planning ahead and putting in a little extra time during your off hours, you can set up your week and your health for success.
How do you prep during the busy week? Do you like to batch and cook meals ahead to keep your healthy eating on track? Share your tips with us in the comments below!