Invest some time cooking one weekend and have healthy meals for a month!
Imagine being able to have dinner readily available every night for a month. If you have some extra time, you can batch cook and freeze a month’s worth of meals!
As a personal chef, I used to help new moms by providing meals for their family every night. You can use the same techniques so that you always have a meal waiting for you at the end of the day. It's a great way to make weeknight cooking manageable!
The benefits of batch cooking include saving money, wasting less food and spending more time in the evenings with your family.
My approach is to prep over two days and to have a longer third cooking day. Once a week, usually on Sunday when there is more time to cook, I prepare a roast that will turn into two other meals.
I mix up the month with a variety of meals that include chicken or meat frozen in a marinade and ready to cook. I also brown several pounds of ground beef and freeze in one-cup portions. These packages are great to take out for easy meals. Sprinkle on pizza, add to spaghetti sauce or layer with mashed potatoes and corn for a shepherd’s pie.
Choose two or three marinade recipes that will work with beef, chicken or pork. This Spicy Orange Marinade can be used with chicken or beef. You can find other marinade ideas here.
Ready to get started?
Take out a calendar and build a menu plan. I look through my cookbooks and magazines for inspiration. I keep recipes that I have pulled out from magazines or printed from online sites in file folders, which are organized by season.
Gather all the recipes you have chosen for the month and place in a three-ring binder. This makes it easy to go back and forth to recipes during the cooking process. Compile a grocery list. See what you have in your pantry and determine what you will need for each recipe.
I also like to map out a cooking plan by looking at the recipes and finding common ingredients. For instance, make note of what recipes call for diced onions, so you can do all the onion cutting at one time.
Gather your freezer containers. I use freezer bags and foil containers that can go from freezer to oven. Keep in mind that freezer bags take up less room in the freezer.
Shopping and Prepping
Take the list and go shopping for groceries. When you come home, it is time to prep. First, clean and dry all the fruits and vegetables. Cut them up according to your recipes and then divide into freezer bags or containers for each recipe. Remember to date and label the packages.
Batch-Cooking Tip: To get a jump on cooking, prepare one of the slow cooker recipes.
Meanwhile, cook a large batch of rice. Package in containers for freezing. Cook your ground beef and place one-cup portions in freezer bags.
Group all your ingredients by recipe so that you can quickly move through the cooking. Start with the recipes that will take the longest to cook and then move on to the quicker recipes.
Batch-Cooking Tip: If you clean as you go, it will be less overwhelming and the counters will be available to prep the next round of recipes.
When I am going to place multiple items in a freezer bag (such as meat and marinade), I place the bag in a bowl to make it easier.
Seal the bags, removing all the air for a tighter seal. Date and label the bags.
Cool items to room temperature. To avoid contamination, don’t leave food out for more than 2 hours.
Double recipes for marinades/sauces and divide in half. Cover the meat with half of the marinade and freeze the other half separately. When ready to cook, discard the sauce used to marinate the meat. Heat the other sauce packet, thicken with cornstarch and serve with the meat.
Batch-Cooking Tips: When recipes call for adding sour cream, do so in the reheating process, not before freezing.
For items like meatballs or rice, spread on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for 15 to 30 minutes. Remove and place in plastic bags. This allows for individual freezing, which is great because portion sizes of recipes can change based on who will be home for dinner.
Batch-Cooking Tip: Divide large casseroles into two smaller containers in case you’ll be feeding less people.
Use containers that can go from freezer to oven. I like the foil containers with covers. Place the containers in plastic bags and label before freezing.
You can read more tips on freezing and reheating here.
Month of Recipes
Here is a month’s worth of recipes to get you started. If cooking for a month overwhelms you, start with a few dishes a week.
Day 1: Slow Cooker Pot Roast
Day 2: Spicy Orange Chicken Stir Fry
Day 3: Pot Roast Pot Pies
Day 4: Grilled Chicken Wraps - Use leftover chicken from Day 2.
Day 5: Sweet and Sour Meat Loaf - Stir pineapple into one of the containers of rice. Serve with broccoli or carrots.
Lasagna #1 - Make with 5 cups of prepared spaghetti sauce and skip the first 8 ingredients.
Day 7: Barbeque Chicken Tortillas - Use one package of cooked shredded chicken.
Day 8: Roast Chicken
Day 9: Taco Soup - Use one package of cooked ground beef.
Day 10: Chicken Lettuce Wraps - Use one cup of chicken from Day 8. Combine with carrots, red peppers and your favorite peanut sauce.
Day 11: Slow Cooker Italian Vegetable Soup
Day 12: Lemon Broccoli Chicken Rigatoni
Day 13: Grilled Mango Chipotle Sirloin
Day 14: Leftovers of Slow Cooker Italian Vegetable Soup from Day 11
Day 15: Slow Cooker Italian Sausage and Peppers with Rotini
Day 16: Roasted Vegetable Pizza
Day 17: Chicken Marinade Packet cooked on the grill or in a grill pan
Day 18: Baked Potato Bar & salad
Day 19: Southwestern Chicken Salad
Day 20: Beef Stir Fry - Use one package of marinated beef.
Day 21: Crunchy Fish Tacos
Day 22: Spaghetti - Use one package of cooked ground beef and one package of prepared spaghetti sauce. Serve over spaghetti with Parmesan cheese.
Day 23: Chicken Tortilla Soup - Use one package of cooked shredded chicken.
Day 24: Spaghetti Tacos - Use leftovers from Day 22.
Day 25: Meatloaf #2
Day 26: Leftover Chicken Tortilla Soup from Day 23 & salad.
Slow Cooker Italian Sausage and Peppers with Rotini
Day 28: Chicken Caesar Salad
Day 29: Grilled Steak Salad - Use one package of marinated steak.
Day 30: Lasagna #2