Cooking in bulk – making large amounts of food at once and then storing it for later use – is a time-honored way to save yourself a lot of time and energy during your busy week. It can also be very cost-effective, since many stores offer significant discounts for buying food in larger quantities.
If you have never cooked in bulk before, getting started may seem a little daunting. However, if you break the process down into steps, and allow yourself proper time for each phase, with a little practice you will be a pro in no time.
Decide which meals you will be making – breakfasts, lunches, dinners or snacks – and how long you plan to cook. If you are a beginner, it is best to start by choosing one meal, such as dinner, and making enough for a week or two to start. As you get more comfortable, you can add in snacks, lunches and breakfasts, and even plan meals ahead a month in advance.
Decide where you will shop for your ingredients. For this purpose, a membership at an organic bulk retailer is a sound investment. Before you go on your shopping adventure, check the store website, or call if they do not have a website, to see if any ingredients are on special.
Many store websites have coupons periodically, so be sure to do your research to get the most bang for your buck. It is a good idea to plan your meals around discounts on certain ingredients, especially ingredients that will be featured in a number of recipes.
Choose recipes for the meals that you will be creating, and write out a shopping list, making sure to add the quantity of each ingredient that you will need. Start with simple recipes, and those with overlapping ingredients, to save yourself both money and prep work.
Also, choose recipes that freeze well, such as soups and stews. Many salads and dairy-based foods do not freeze as well, but you can prep ingredients (such as pre-chopping vegetables) to save yourself time making these throughout the week.
Make sure that you have enough fridge, freezer and shelf space for the meals you will be storing. If you plan to cook in bulk often, a chest freezer may be a worthwhile investment.
Don’t forget to add storage bags or storage jars to your list, and the quantity needed for each. To minimize your use of plastic freezer bags, many meals can be frozen in glass mason jars. Glass jars are also a great way to store pantry items.
Set aside a full day – or a weekend – for prepping, cooking and storing your meals. If you can, enlist some family members or friends to help. This can be an especially beneficial learning experience for older children. Once you gain a bit more experience with bulk cooking, you will have a better idea of how long everything will take you, and can plan accordingly.
When you are ready to begin, it will save you a lot of time to cook using multiple methods at once. Make full use of your oven, stovetop and slow cooker simultaneously. Decide which recipes can be prepped and cooked at the same time as others before you start.
Chop all of your veggies at once, mix, and freeze together to add to stir frys. You can also create salad mixes and refrigerate them, but be sure to use these within a couple of days, to get the most nutrition out of your veggies. For simple snacks, combine nuts and dried fruits, and set aside in your pantry in jars.
When freezing soups, stews, curries and sauces in mason jars, be sure to leave a bit of room at the top of the jar, as some foods expand as they freeze. Also, don’t freeze meals when they are piping hot; allow them to cool until they they cross the threshold from hot to warm before you place them in the freezer. Make sure not to leave them out past this point, however, as this can lead to bacterial growth.
To save time on seasoning your meals, create your own spice packets. You can purchase fresh herbs, and dry them for later use by hanging in your pantry. Check out our previous article or a few simple spice mix recipes.
Make sure you label everything you freeze (and store on pantry shelves, for dry and canned items) with the date it was made, as well as the expiration date. To find out how long certain foods can remain in the freezer, consult this chart, compiled by The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
If your first time cooking in bulk doesn’t go exactly as planned, have no fear. It will get easier and easier the more you do it, and in no time, it will become second nature.
-The Alternative Daily