You've had a crazy day at work, and cooking dinner is the last thing
you want to do when you come home exhausted at night. But you don't
have to go to the nearest drive-through to grab a meal if you learn the
secrets to batch cooking. Preparing multiple servings of meals in advance
makes assembling dinner (or even breakfast and lunch) a snap. Follow these
five tips for successful batch cooking:
Carve out the time. Batch cooking does involve some work--the key is to do that work when
you have the time and energy, such as over the weekend. As you plan your
meals, allot enough time for cooking and packaging the food for storage
in the freezer. One way to do it: make a double or triple batch of a meal
on Sunday afternoon, serve part of it for dinner that night and freeze
the rest for use another day.
Map out meals. There are many choices when it comes to batch cooking recipes. There are
one-dish suppers such as chili, soups, casseroles or stews. You can also
freeze different components of a dish--grain, sauce, protein, produce--that
can be combined during reheating. (Make a few of each kind and you can
mix and match for more variety.) If mornings are more hectic than evenings
for you, make and freeze muffins, oatmeal, or homemade pancakes or waffles.
Keep in mind that some ingredients don't freeze well, such as flour-based
sauces, potatoes, watery produce such as lettuce and dairy products such
as sour cream and cream cheese, which can change texture after freezing
and thawing. Undercooking pasta by a couple of minutes may prevent it
from turning mushy when reheated.
Be prepared. Obviously, you'll want to have all your ingredients on hand before
you start cooking, so creating a shopping list is a given. But you'll
also need to have the necessary storage supplies ready so you're not
scrambling to find the matching lid to your container (see below). And
don't forget this crucial step--make sure there's enough room
in your freezer to store the meals if you won't be reheating them soon.
Package food properly. There are many supplies you'll find helpful in batch cooking. Glass,
aluminum or freezer-safe plastic containers with lids in various sizes
can store large quantities of soups, stews or casseroles. To create individual
portions, freeze food in muffin tins until set, then transfer the servings
into a gallon-sized, freezer-safe plastic bag for storage so they can
be reheated as needed. (Ideally, the bag should have a label where you
can write down what's in the bag and the date the food was cooked.)
Storage bags are also good for holding components of dishes, such as veggies
or grains; just make sure to press excess air from the bag before sealing
it tightly to prevent freezer burn. Even ice cube trays are useful when
you want to freeze small portions of sauces, such as pesto, or chopped
herbs. Whichever method you use for freezer storage, hot food should first
be cooled down in the fridge or in an ice bath so food-borne bacteria
can't flourish and the hot food won't make other items in the
freezer too warm.
Defrost wisely. If you're pulling something out of the freezer to eat, it's imperative
that you thaw it properly to avoid bacterial growth, which can happen
when food reaches temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees. Food can be
safely defrosted in the refrigerator overnight; bagged items can sit in
cold water to thaw, which usually takes a couple of hours, with the water
changed out about every 30 minutes. Microwave defrosting is fine, too,
but the food must be cooked immediately after it thaws so its temperature
doesn't stay in that bacterial breeding ground. (The same goes for
food thawed in cold water.) Under no circumstances should food be left
to thaw on a counter at room temperature.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.