When I was about twenty-five weeks pregnant with Fred, my friend Jenni and I got together to cook. She had her six month old daughter playing nearby and we managed to shop for and cook twenty eight portions of food (four different recipes!) in an afternoon. I have always batched cooked, but we currently have a tiny freezer in the top of our fridge so I've felt a bit limited with it. As far as space goes, I really shouldn't feel limited - I have the scope to do so much when it comes to preparing meals in advance, as do you and here's how:
Why batch cook?
Batch cooking for me ensures that I always have a healthy meal on hand and ready to go. I can host toddlers for tea or a friend for dinner at a moment's notice. I rarely ever have to make a dash for the shops in the rain, with a baby strapped to my chest and a wilful toddler asking constantly for chocolate cake. Making things like sauces and pesto means that my cooking time during the evening is drastically reduced and I have more time to play cars on the kitchen floor. It means that my husband (or the person who doesn't normally stock or run the family kitchen) can serve my kids healthy food that they enjoy without having to think about it and the whole thing reduces kitchen induced stress dramatically!
- Gather your team
Maybe it's because I've always cooked in big family kitchens or restaurant kitchens but I like cooking in a team. Find some other like-minded friends, or mums who have kids the same age as yours (similar portion sizes) and cook together! This is especially great in Paris because we don't all have fully equipped or big enough kitchens. Choose the friend with the biggest and most equipped kitchen and get together.
- Menu plan
I never batch cook for the whole week ahead as we dont have the space, but make things that I use a lot of (the seven veg tomato sauce - recipe below), meals that I know are always a hit when I do them (the fish pie - recipe to come next week), or things to bring out in a no food in the house crises (meatballs, fish fingers, crackers, pesto, soup etc). Be sensible about what you're actually going to use or you'll end up with a freezer full of bone broth because you've read about how awesome it is for you but you'll realistically never use.
To save time when I batch cook I make sure to shop somewhere that will definitely have everything I need, which is not as easy as it sounds in Paris. When I do our weekly shop I go to the market/cheese-monger/butcher/baker etc. but for batch cooking I head straight to the supermarket. The list is split into the ingredients for each meal and whatever containers I'm going to need to store them.
Generally I try to eliminate plastic and disposable containers as much as possible using mason jars and IKEA glass storage boxes. However, we do use ziplock freezer bags for the soups and sauces as they freeze flat and save us so much space. I've also just found some excellent toddler portioned size foil ramekins.
Some general advice to consider:
- Rather than cooking one recipe at a time, I like to wash, chop and cook all the veggies first. Especially if I'm doing seven veg tomato sauce or a vegetable soup. That way I can get the sauce on the go quickly while the onions and leeks are sweating in olive oil for the fish pie.
- This doesn't have to be your technique. Once you've done it a couple of times you'll find your own rhythm and flow for the process.
- I like to clean as I go, it keeps me calm as I cook and means that you don't extend your cooking time with clean up.
Seven Vegetable Tomato Sauce
We use this sauce as a base for practically everything. I keep it un-seasoned in portioned bags so that it can be transformed easily into soup, pizza base, pasta sauce, curry, tomato base for chilli and spaghetti bolognese or anything else that calls for a can of tomatoes.
Two 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 leek
- 1 onion
- 2 large carrots
- 1 courgette
- 1 red pepper
- 1 small sweet potato
Roughly chop all the veg into cubes.
Fry the leek, onion, garlic and carrots in a glug of olive oil over a medium heat until they start to soften.
Add the rest of the veg and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Add the cans of tomatoes. Fill each can up 3/4 of the way with water, swish around and add to the pot too.
Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer for an hour or until the vegetables are soft.
Blend the sauce with a stick blender, divide into portions, let cool and freeze for up to three months.
The fish pie, meatballs, pesto and crackers are all recipes I'll be putting up on the blog in the next couple of weeks, so keep your eyes peeled on instagram and Facebook!