Times are changing here at Natural Comfort Kitchen. I’ve returned to the site after giving birth to two amazing children and an extended maternity leave, and I understand up close and personal what it’s like to parent kids when they need you the most, and to try get healthy, homemade dinners on the table at the same time. Our family has grown by two, but along the way we also lost my dad to cancer less than a year after his diagnosis. His heroic fight inspired me to finally tackle my last decade of “vegan curiosity” head on, and to make the shift to a plant based diet that I believe is the most longevity and health promoting. My husband finally took the leap of coming along for the ride, and our kids, well, they don’t have a choice at one and four. Since September 2020, the animal food in our diets has decreased dramatically, and I might even be declaring myself vegan before long.
So basically, Natural Comfort Kitchen has become a plant based, batch cooking website, here to serve your needs for plant based meal planning and prepping, no matter what kind of eater you are, and without judgment (it did, after all, take me ten years to fully commit to dropping animal products from my diet).
But before we really hit the ground running on this new journey together, it’s crucial to cover the basics of batch cooking. Meal prepping can be effective, but for me, batch cooking is what really revolutionized my meal planning and prep, FINALLY getting me to stick to a system, stick to a new way of eating, and still love cooking week after week after week.
Let’s dive in!
What Is Batch Cooking?
You might have seen all sorts of batch cooking info floating around on social media and the internet, and for good reason: it gets you more home cooked dinners with less time and fewer dirty dishes. It’s kind of like meal prep, but instead of making five of the same lunch servings, you’re making double (or more) of the same dinner recipe. It’s really that simple.
If you double the recipe or dish you’re making for dinner tomorrow night, you’re officially batch cooking. This is the definition that the meal plans on this site focus on: a “3 by 2” strategy, making three different dinners, each eaten twice during the week. To help explain more about batch cooking, let’s use a sample weekly menu:
- Recipe 1: Mac and cheese with butternut squash sauce
- Recipe 2: Black bean and butternut squash veggie chili
- Recipe 3: Quinoa and black bean stuffed peppers
We’ll assume we plan to serve four adult servings at every dinner. I understand that this cookie cutter assumption is not the norm, but more on dealing with smaller households and leftovers below. If you’re dealing with a bigger family, you can simply multiply out the recipe (and the cookware size) to fit your needs.
Batch Cooking Variations
Before we go on, let’s note that there are a couple other common forms of batch cooking. I may incorporate these in my prep to some extent, but the focus of my batch cook meal plans is the one described above.
Batch Cooking Components
A more flexible way to batch cook is by making or buying big batches of your “macros” to use in different ways throughout the week. This might include cooking a big batch of brown rice or baked potatoes, roasting multiple sheet pans of veggies, stocking up on pre-washed salad greens, cooking or portioning out your favorite proteins, and making sure to prep or purchase plenty of your favorite sauces or toppings. All of these could be used in many ways, most commonly in bowls or salads, but also over pasta, in burritos, or to round out a prepared food entree picked up on the way home from work.
Batch Cooking to Freeze
Another batch cooking method, more similar to the one I’ll feature in meal plans on this site, is to make that double or triple batch of a recipe, but instead of eating it throughout a single week, you eat it for dinner one night and freeze the rest. This allows for a little more variety during any given week. As you build up your freezer stock, you can pull out something different EVERY night of the week. If you want to use the meal plans on Natural Comfort Kitchen but prefer this type of variety, you could easily freeze half of each recipe in the plan, then pull three different dishes out of the freezer, which would give you six DIFFERENT dinners in one week, while still only cooking three recipes. This would be a really simple modification once you built up a bit of a freezer supply (it does assume you have adequate freezer space).
How to Plan Your Weekly Menu
Using the sample menu above, there are no set rules on how to fit the six dinners (two of each recipe) into your week. I don’t usually have the time for one big prep day, so I try to fit all the cooking in early in the week–a huge reason I batch cook is to keep my weekends mostly free of time in the kitchen, allowing me to enjoy more family time. By the time we get to the weekend, we typically have PLENTY of leftovers around to cover lunch and dinner. Here’s what the plan above might look like for us:
Even within this sample prep plan, there’s lots of flexibility. I also don’t usually have big blocks of time in my weekdays, so I’ll prep in bits and pieces throughout the day. If I need uninterrupted time for cooking, I’ll pray that my kids take a good nap, or I’ll prep the next day’s dinner after they go to bed. It’s what works for our family, but everyone’s lifestyle and commitments are different (especially during the pandemic we’re currently in), and you can almost certainly fit batch cooking meal plans into your own schedule.
However, the menu format and specific dishes in the meal plans on this site are chosen so you could tackle the entire week of cooking in one morning or afternoon. There are really lots of possibilities, depending on your schedule. The most important thing is that you do commit a few minutes to planning every week, so you know what you’ll be eating each night and when you’ll be preparing it. A little planning time is what allows batch cooking to be the powerhouse of efficiency that it is.
Batch Cooking and Freezing
The goal of the meal plans on Natural Comfort Kitchen, using the “3 by 2” strategy described above, isn’t to create a freezer stockpile. However, most of the time the recipes featured will freeze well if:
- You’re only cooking for one or two, but you make the batch size shown in the meal plan.
- You go off plan for a night and for some reason won’t get to eating a dinner you prepped.
- You decide to make even more of a recipe so you can stock the freezer.
All the meal plans on the site will come with helpful hints for freezing, and the info below about food storage will also be help determine how to freeze your recipe.
Prior to going plant based, I cooked with a lot of dairy. I felt great about freezing meals because dairy-laden dishes often freeze the best! When we went plant based, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to freeze as many meals for those crisis nights (theoretically they shouldn’t happen if you’re following these plans, and yet sometimes life gets the best of us!). I shouldn’t have worried. So many vegan foods, from soups and stews, to vegan mac and cheese, to all. the. beans., to grains, to pizza dough are AWESOME to have in the freezer!
Food Storage for Batch Cooking
Since you’re cooking two nights’ worth of dinner at once, you’ll be refrigerating some or all of the food for later, depending on when you prep it. When it comes to food storage, work with what you’ve got. I use mostly leakproof glass containers, but I didn’t get there overnight. I spent years using disposable or sturdy plastic food storage, and I transitioned my collection as things wore out and as I realized how much advance prep and batch cooking I was doing. There isn’t usually one best way to store a recipe. If a recipe requires baking or you prefer to warm food in the oven, foil or glass is ideal–you can thaw and bake in the same dish, with no extra dirty pans. And as much as I hate the environmental impact, I always have quart and gallon plastic freezer bags on hand–they can’t be beat for awkwardly shaped items, like the stuffed peppers in the sample menu above. I’ll be the weirdo who washes the bags for a second use, in an effort to minimize plastic waste (feel free to join me).
Since the dinners cooked are for multiple nights, I like to store each nightly portion separately, so it’s easy to see what I need on a given night and just pull it out of the fridge. This isn’t essential to successful batch cooking, but I’d highly recommend it. Although the portions are generous, it also ensures that you won’t eat too much food on the first night, and not save enough for the second time that dinner is scheduled. On that note, you’ll quickly learn yours and your family’s appetite’s as you batch cook. If you’re consistently coming up short using the prescribed recipe multiplier, you’ll know that you need to make an extra batch to satisfy appetites, or that you should go heavier on the veggie or grain side dishes.
That’s a Wrap
So there you have it! There are, of course, more details we could discuss about batch cooking basics, but they would likely take us beyond the basics, and we’ll save them for future posts. The info here is really all you need to know to get started following batch cooking meal plans on this site or on my Instagram, or even to plan a batch cooking menu of your own, with your family’s own dietary needs in mind.
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