This invitation was music to my ears. I was totally tickled when they asked me - not only do I LOVE food, cooking, and good cooking tools, but I LOVE learning to do things better and more efficiently. I'm a huge believer that by teaching something, you come to learn it better. As an aside - I honestly think that thinking of the laziest way to do something is often a great creative exercise. It lets you explore new ways of doing things.
My learning journey about bulk cooking started with a love of cooking, a desire to do things better, and eat healthier. I found it was better to cook one healthy meal, portion it out, and just grab it in the morning for my lunch, or warm it up for dinner. Do this with a few meals, and you get ease, variety, and healthy eating all in one easy package. Sure, there is up front work, but you can do that on your day off, and coast for the rest of the week.
Following are the thoughts I shared with the group, and some elaboration on each point.
How to be a Ninja in the Kitchen
Bulk Cooking - The concept of making a lot of food at once, in the hopes that it makes your life easier later down the road. The most crucial part of this all is to find a method that works best for you, then work it!
|This stuff is amazing. Garlic scapes are only available for few weeks during the year, so bulk and freezing are a must.|
What is bulk cooking?
Double-Batch Cooking - this is where you double a single recipe, typically on a night you will eat it anyway. Chili is a great example. Make a double batch of chili, then portion out the rest into individual servings, and freeze. This allow you to pull out a meal when you need one.
Once a Week Cooking - Cooking for the whole week on one day. This requires stamina, dedication, and determination. It also requires a lot of planning. You'll need to plan your meals out for the week, shop for all the ingredients, and then cook everything that needs cooking. Finally, you'll store it in the fridge. Mason jar salads are a good example of this for lunches.
Once a Month Cooking - This is exactly what it sounds like. It requires stamina, dedication, and determination - but all on steroids. This is way out of my leauge. I'm in an apartment, don't have a deep freezer, and can't be that decisive about what I want to eat three to four weeks out. I suggest browsing Pinterest, google, and the various blogs out there that specialize in this. Double-batch cooking is to Once-A-Month-Cooking, as a 'Oh, this coupon is taped to the front of this package, I guess I'll use it' type of person is to this type of person.
How to do bulk cooking? Let's be proper about it. Doing things right will help things turn out successfully - which to me equals happily. Making sure you have all the ingredients you need before starting to cook, double checking you have enough storage containers and place to put them once filled, and making sure you've got enough clean space to work with are all things that make bulk cooking enjoyable, rather than stressful.
Proper tools: Large pots, measuring cups, portioned storage containers
Proper work space: clean your kitchen before you start, collect your tools and ingredients. Yes, put everything on the counter to make sure you have it. If you don't, go buy it.
Proper storage: Make room in your freezer!!! Cool hot items to room temp before portioning and placing in the freezer. Make sure you have enough bags, containers, boxes, etc, to put all your food in once it's cooked.
Make it fun: put on good music/favorite sermon, wear comfortable shoes, and eat a good meal before you start (eating fast food is 100% acceptable if needed).
What to bulk cook?
This depends on what you like to eat. Don't get wrapped up into what someone else is doing. Know what you and yours will eat, then mega size it. You can also cook part of a meal and use it later in the week. For example, cook two pounds of ground beef - one to use tonight, and one to use later in a taco salad or something similar. You can also cook components of dishes and then freeze them for use later - such as freezing pesto and grilled chicken, then making pasta the night of Chicken and Pesto Pasta (recipe coming soon!). Frozen components allow for more flexibility.
WHY!?!? Why on earth should I bulk cook?
Save money - buying in bulk is usually cheaper, as long as you use what you buy and don't throw stuff away.
Save time (in the long run) - yes, it's a time and energy sink to begin with, but it pays off
Waste less food - cooking in bulk, then freezing, and actually eating what you cook will help you save a lot of left overs (in bulk cooking, left overs are intentional) that would other wise get thrown away.
Eat healthier - By bulk cooking, I've found that I eat significantly less processed foods and incorporate more vegetables into what I eat. Sure, I may be eating 'freezer meals', but they're not pumped full of preservatives and who knows what else.
Making entire meals and freezing them is not my specialty at all! However, just like the insane "Once-a-month" cookers, there are people who master this and love it. Go find them! They will teach you their ways. Here is what I know:
Types of Freezer Cooking
Whole meals - the idea behind this is that you simply take it out and heat. Think Casseroles. I'm not sure I've ever done this except for store bought frozen lasagna.
Individual Servings - This is basically great for healthy grab-and-go lunches, and is at the heart of double-batch cooking. You simply need to freeze out individual portions after batch-cooking and heat upon destination for an instant and healthy lunch.
Partial/Pick Up meals - This is where you cook part of a meal, such as a sauce or meat, and then add fresh ingredients to it the night of use. This is also similar batch-cooking. If you've making a Chicken Caesar Salad one night, and Chicken Fajitas another night, make the chicken you need for all of that and cook it all at once. I bulk cook pesto sauce (recipe coming soon), chili, soups, rice, and breads.
Freezer to Crock Pot - I don’t know much about this but the internet does! Again, Go find them! They will teach you their ways!
General Tips and Tricks:
Start Small - Don't batch cook a recipe that you haven't tried yet. I like cooking the original sized recipe twice before I double it. Cooking something you don't love will just lead to waste.
Shop one day, cook the next - Trying to shop AND cook in one day, especially when you're trying to bulk cook can be exhausting.
Plan, plan, plan - especially if you’re monthly/weekly cooking. First, start with a meal plan. Not everything needs to be a freezer meal, or even a home cooked meal, but having a menu plan will save you hundreds of dollars. Use your plan to make your grocery list, and then refer to the plan as needed while you cook.
Also, double and triple check how much you need for recipes - especially if you're doubling things. Make sure to buy accordingly.
Only cook what you eat - just because someone else likes something, doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for your family. Try a recipe before you bulk cook it. This is very similar to starting small, and I said it before, but don't get wrapped up in what other people are doing. Even is someone else thinking making Super Energy No Cook Freezer Bon-Bons is a good idea - it may just be a waste of money for you.
Always keep learning - internet, bloggers, friends, Pinterest. Basically, make it a hobby! The ability to share idea's is one of life's greatest gifts. It can also lead to great friendships, new tastes, and fun experiences. Some information is more important that other, so use your critical thinking when hearing something new and think through the process before you take on something new.