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As a busy mom, I sometimes feel like I spend hours in the kitchen each day and that I finish cleaning up from one meal just in time to prepare the next.
I’ve learned that a little careful meal planning can greatly reduce the amount of time I spend figuring out what to cook and buy at the store. Plus, it’s saved a lot of time in the kitchen!
Here’s how I’ve started batch cooking on the weekends so I spend less time on dinner during the week. Here’s how you can do the same.
What Is Batch Cooking?
The idea of batch cooking is as simple as the name suggests: it’s just doing a week’s worth of meal prep in one go, so that serving individual meals does not take as long to prepare.
I prefer to do a big batch of meal prep on Saturdays, when the kids are happily playing in the back yard with friends and I have a few hours to spare.
In addition to saving time, I’ve found that batch cooking really increases the chances of sticking to a meal plan. You definitely won’t want to waste those healthy meals you spent time preparing!
Note: I did not include breakfast on this list, since we have a simple 4-day rotating breakfast meal plan that involves various proteins and vegetables and I make those each day.
Batch Cooking Meal Plan Menu
Batch cooking takes a little trial and error to get used to, but once you give a try, you’ll love the time you save and the simplicity. Here’s a sample meal plan to get you started!
Lunch: Chicken salad over lettuce with carrot sticks
Dinner: Shrimp stir-fry
Lunch: Leftover stir fry wrapped in romaine leaves
Dinner: Sliced chicken breast served with sliced peppers, onions, and baked butternut squash, reheated on a greased cookie sheet. Serve with a salad.
Lunch: Reheat leftover chicken from last night, wrapped in romaine leaves and served with avocado and cilantro.
Dinner: Chili with sour cream and cheese (both optional) with a side salad
Lunch: Leftover chili
Dinner: Eggplant pizza with a side salad
Lunch: Leftover eggplant pizza or chicken salad
Dinner: Fajita salad
Lunch: Fajita tacos (using leftover fajita meat) wrapped in romaine with avocado, salsa, cheese and sour cream
Dinner: Reheated meatballs and salad
Lunch: Tuna salad on spinach or carrot sticks.
Dinner: Whatever is leftover!
When you’re in need of a quick snack, reach for one of these ready-to-eat nibblers:
- Deviled eggs
- Sliced cucumber, celery sticks or carrot sticks with cream cheese or a healthy hummus
- Tuna salad
This grocery store shopping list will give you a rough idea of what to buy for a week. Adjust as necessary. It is designed for two people, so just double (or triple or quadruple) depending on family size.
- 2 avocados
- 2 heads romaine lettuce, kale, or other greens
- 1 big bag spinach
- 4 large sweet peppers, any color
- 1-3 lb bag onions
- Fruit, like berries or grapes
- 2 zucchini or summer squash
- 1 bag carrot sticks
- 2 cucumbers
- 1 large eggplant
- 1 butternut squash
- 2-3 dozen eggs
- 1 lb butter
- 1 container (8 oz or bigger) of full-fat, plain organic yogurt (either Greek or regular)
- 1 package cream cheese
- 1 block of your favorite cheese (this is optional on everything, so just get what you want)
- Sour cream (optional)
(If you’re wondering where I draw the line on dairy, see this post.)
- 1 can (organic) diced tomatoes
- 1 BIG (15 oz or bigger) can of tomato sauce
- 1 can salmon or 2 cans tuna
- 1 jar of pasta sauce (check ingredients, no added sugar or grains)
- 1 jar salsa (check ingredients)
- 1 lb frozen shrimp (or fresh, just pre-cooked)
- 1 package bacon (optional)
- 2 lbs ground beef or turkey
- 5 chicken breasts or boneless thighs (I get all meat I can’t get from local farms from ButcherBox)
- 2 (1 lb) bags frozen broccoli
Batch Cooking: Prep Day Instructions
It will simplify your life tremendously (and make it easier to stick to a healthy eating lifestyle) if you can pre-cook your family meals in one or two big batches. I try to prep everything on Saturday so it is ready for the week, but you can do simple ingredient prep first and save meal assembly for later.
- Cover the chicken breasts in butter and spices and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Cube two of them and slice three.
- Hard boil 6-8 eggs (per egg eater in family).
- Pre-cut zucchini, squash, onions, peppers, cucumbers, and other veggies. Store in separate containers or bags.
- Cut the butternut squash in half and discard the seeds. Cover in 1-2 tablespoons of butter and spices. Bake open side up on a cookie sheet at 325 degrees until soft (usually about 45 minutes). Store in foil for re-heating.
- Peel the eggplant and cut into ½ inch slices. Cook on a greased cookie sheet at 375 degrees until well browned on both sides.
- Make the salmon or tuna salad by mixing well-drained fish with ½ package of cream cheese and spices like dill. Store closed in fridge.
- Shrimp Stir Fry. Heat butter in a skillet and add 1 pre-cut onion and 1 pre-cut pepper, cook 2 mins. Add pre-cut zucchini or squash and cook 2 mins. Add 1 lb frozen broccoli, cook 2 mins. Add frozen shrimp and cook until veggies are tender and shrimp is heated. Add desired spices (garlic, basil, salt, pepper, etc). Right before eating, add ½ package of cream cheese and stir until melted (optional). Here is the full recipe.
- Chicken Salad. Use part of the cubed roasted chicken and combine following this recipe. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
- Chili. Combine 1 pound of the ground meat with 1 can diced tomatoes, ½ can tomato sauce, 1 chopped onion, cumin, and other spices to taste. Find the recipe here.
- Eggplant Pizza. Top the cooked eggplant slices with a small amount of tomato sauce, spices, cheese, chopped onions, peppers, or whatever other toppings you like. Store in foil to re-heat. This is also fast to make fresh if you don’t want to make it ahead! So simple I don’t have a recipe for it!
- Meatballs. Roll up the meatballs using 1 pound ground meat, Parmesan, garlic, basil, or whatever you prefer. You can also try these Greek meatballs. Bake for about 30 minutes at 350, then coat in pasta sauce. Store covered in the fridge.
- Fajita Salad. This one you can prep right before you eat! Heat your remaining sliced chicken breast with remaining sliced onions and peppers in a greased skillet. Season with cumin and serve over greens with avocado, salsa, cheese, and sour cream (optional). Save the recipe to use again and again here.
- Deviled Eggs. Carefully slice the hard boil eggs lengthwise and remove the yolks. Mash the yolks with ½ an avocado and season with mustard, dill, or other spices to taste. Scoop the filling back into the eggs and top with bacon crumbles (optional). You can also follow this easy deviled eggs recipe.
Note: The above meal plan is great for any time of year, but I recommend sticking to whatever is in season whenever possible. I talk about my seasonal meal plans in this podcast.
How to Customize Your Batch Cooking Meal Plan
The sample meal plan menu above has worked great for me, but you might not be a fan of all of those options. In that case, you can always customize to create a meal plan you’re excited about! The more you enjoy the meals you’re making, the more likely you are to stick to the plan.
Here are a few other ideas for batch cooking for those busy weeknights:
- Make use of your slow cooker or pressure cooker. You can set these up the night before, or have dinner ready super quick in the pressure cooker. Try adding this chuck roast or meatloaf to the rotation! You can also check out these freezer-friendly slow cooker recipes. (If you haven’t tried an Instant Pot yet, you should!… I give my full review here.
- Grab a bunch of sweet potatoes. Roast them ahead of time, and then you can slice them for breakfast, stuff them with avocado, of even whip up this sweet potato casserole.
- Grab a head of cauliflower. This is another great versatile veggie perfect for meal prepping. Pulse it into cauliflower rice, or roast it in spices ahead of time.
- Get basil and make pesto. It only lasts a few days in the fridge, but it makes a great accompaniment to whatever you’re cooking up. This is my basil pesto recipe and I also make pesto with cilantro. Bonus, as a pesto these herbs lasts for up to two weeks without going bad, unlike fresh herbs on their own which only stay fresh a few days in the produce drawer.
- Make (and freeze) a big batch of pasta sauce. It’s great for veggie pizzas. You can also use up some ground meat by making it into a bolognese! Get my homemade pasta sauce recipe here.
- Got a hodgepodge of food leftover? Make burrito bowls with cauliflower rice, meat, avocado, cilantro, or whatever you have on hand.
- Make grain-free paleo muffins! They’re great to have on hand for breakfast, as a snack, dessert, or even as a side dish. I make these grain-free apple cinnamon muffins regularly as well.
Cookbooks That Help
A good cookbook is worth its weight in gold. I use a combination of the following for batch cooking:
- The Wellness Mama Cookbook: These are my best 30 minute, 1 pan meals!
- Cook Once, Eat All Week: I love these recipes. It gives adaptations for grain free, gluten free, or dairy free diets and has shopping lists and step by step prep lists that my husband or kids can follow. (Have kids take the Kids Cook Real Food e-course first for knife skills, etc.) Tip: I usually double the veggies called for when I use this cookbook.
- Real Plans: This app takes the place of my cookbooks most weeks, since it contains all of my recipes and other healthy recipes from some of the bloggers and chefs I love most.
I’ve found batch cooking to save me hours of time each week. If you’re as busy as I am (or even if you’re not but still want to save time!), I definitely recommend giving meal planning and bulk cooking a try!
Also try my batch cooking meal plan for vacation!
Have you ever tried batch cooking? Do you know any time-saving cooking tips? Share below!