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Food & Cooking Articles   |  Cooking Tips & Techniques

Save Time with Big Batch Cooking

Tips for Meal Planning

-- By Laura Bofinger, Staff Writer

Eating healthy takes some effort, no doubt about it. Let’s face it, today we might be excited to make a tasty, creative recipe that’s good for our waistline, but tomorrow may not bring the same enthusiastic mood. So we slip for the next few busy days and grab something more convenient, with higher calories and much less nutritional value.

What if we chose one weekend out of the month, the weekend when our stars aligned and we actually felt enthusiastic about shopping for the right ingredients and cooking them up? We’re talking about some big batch cooking. This is a strategy that lets us take advantage of when we feel high energy and we’re determined to do something productive for ourselves and our family. Big Batch Weekend is devoting several hours to meal preparation so that meals become healthier and convenient for weeks to come. It means making a big batch of something today and freezing it in meal-size portions so that we can pull out easy-to-reheat lunches and dinners time and again. It takes the thinking out of making healthy choices when you need a ready-made meal.

How about making a big batch of healthy soup, stew, or a casserole for convenient freezing and reheating? Not only will it be a time-saver, but it’s more economical as well. Why pay for all those low-calorie frozen dinners that cost $3-6 when we’re perfectly capable of creating our own for much less per meal? Some recommendations for big batch freezing are listed below along with maximum storage time in the freezer. <pagebreak>

Combination Dishes
(Storage time of 3-4 months)
Bean dishes
Spaghetti or rice dishes
Lasagna (with meat or vegetables)
Casseroles
Chow mein
Soups (lentil, split pea, black bean)
Stews (beef, veal, vegetarian)
Stuffed peppers
Eggplant dishes
Meat pies
Meat loaf
Chili (lean beef or chicken)

Breads
(Storage time of 1-2 months)
Whole Grain Muffins
Fruit bread
Whole-wheat waffles or pancakes

Some foods do not freeze well and do not retain good quality after thawing. These include: cabbage, celery, lettuce, parsley, radishes, cooked egg whites, cream or custard fillings, milk sauces, sour cream, cheese or crumb toppings, mayonnaise, salad dressing, gelatin, and fried foods. Depending on the meal you’re freezing, some of these items can be added in fresh after heating up your batch.

Here are some tips to remember as you start implementing your regular Big Batch Weekends.

  • Choose recipes that are conducive to cooking in large quantity and freezing.
  • Have the right containers on hand that are appropriate for the meal size you'll want later. For example, if you want reheatable single-serve lunches or dinners, choose small plastic containers with lids or resealable baggies.
  • Use containers or bags that are easy to label. Write the date on your frozen food portion. You’ll want to reheat most foods by the third or fourth month at the latest.
  • Rotate the placement of foods in the freezer so that you’re eating the oldest ones first. First in, first out.
  • Always cool foods properly before freezing to help retain flavor and ward off growth of bacteria. Never leave prepared food at room temperature fir longer than two hours. When you defrost, do not leave food at room temperature. This encourages bacteria growth and uneven thawing. Instead, defrost on a tray in the refrigerator or in a microwave on a low power setting.
  • Trim the fat from meats and do not season prior to freezing. Seasoning before freezing shortens the storage life. Wrap meats and poultry in aluminum foil, pressing out excess air.
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