TIPS FOR FAMILY COOKING
Research has shown that time spent making family meals takes on average 38 minutes, so by simply making extra portions for the freezer, you can relax knowing that a meal for another time is already sorted.
Batch cooking is a staple for anyone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen, preparing meals for a large family. But it doesn't have to entail a herculean effort involving hours of planning, shopping and prepping. Our tips below will allow you to be more efficient with your time, creating a good stock of healthy meals for your family for when you don’t have the time (or inclination!) to cook.
The secret formula of batch cooking is: Get a friend, put on some good tunes (we recommend the Piccolo playlist ;) ) and arm yourself with a serious amount of clingfilm or Tupperware...aaah Tupperware. Then set aside an afternoon to crack out enough meals to feed your family for weeks. This is a big thing in America, and it is a great idea. It is so much more fun to do it with someone else, it means the initial cost is halved and you end up with a lot more bang for your buck, not to mention different meals.
Make a plan: Decide on the four or five recipes you’re going to make in one session, and grocery shop everything at once. Double-check that you have all the spices and kitchen cupboard items your recipe requires; last-minute supermarket runs are the worst.
To prepare for your batch cook
- - Plan out the meals that you want to make and draw up a shopping list. We recommend setting aside an afternoon and attempting to prepare 3 recipes in one session.
- Choose the right recipes: Don’t go too experimental when it comes to freezer meals. Prepare meals you’re familiar with, and ones that are popular with the family. Look for recipes that use inexpensive cuts of meat (shoulder, thighs, ground meat etc.) as these meats freeze best. Stews, soups and casseroles are great freezable dishes.
- Work out exactly what you need to buy - Don't just head to your nearest store and panic! There are some great online resources that can help with meal planning and what food you need to get such as www.lovefoodhatewaste.com and BBC Good Food on Batch Cooking
- You will need a fair bit of freezer space, so make sure you plan to use up some of the forgotten peas that have been lurking in the back of your freezer for months. If you are super organised, use this time to clear out your freezer and clean it out if you have ice build-up.
- - You will need freezer bags (Ziplocs are the easiest), aluminium trays with lids and foil or plastic pots. Where possible, freeze in containers that the meal can be thawed and reheated in.
- - Do all the same jobs at once. i.e. do all the veg peeling (have a big bowl for food waste next to you so you don’t keep having to go to the bin), then the veg cutting etc etc. It may seem tedious, but it saves hugely on time. If you have a blender or food processor, use it!
- - When pouring liquid and food in the zip lock bags, stand the bags open in a measuring jug or glass with the bag folded out around the lip of the glass to stop spilling. You can either freeze them with the glass to hold the shape of the glass and remove once frozen, or for max freezer packing organisation, freeze the packs between a flat baking sheet so they freeze flat and then you can stack!
- - For soups and stews, slightly under-cook your vegetables. They are going to get a second round of cooking when the meal is prepared, so you don't want to overcook.
- - Don't over-season: when doubling recipes, take care not to add too much spice. Add seasoning moderately, tasting as you go.
- - When you freeze your dishes, make sure they have come to room temperature before and then freeze immediately to avoid any bacteria growth.
- - Unidentifiable tupperware lurking in the freezer is no fun. Label with name, date and any recipe directions you may need once thawed.
- - Freeze in usable portions: There’s no point freezing 4 litres of chicken stock in one solid block, unless you intend on using it all at once. Instead, work out the portion size you will need for a meal and freeze it in appropriate containers.
- - If making lasagne, soak the dried sheets of pasta in a bowl of hot water for ten minutes (making sure they don’t overlap and stick together) while you are making the sauces. This can cut the cooking time down by around 20 minutes. Instead of making a white sauce you can just use cream fraiche and a bit of grated cheese.
- - Large jars of fruit puree such as apple (with no added sugar), are great for adding to puddings and cakes to naturally sweeten them, porridge or soaked oats for breakfast or to thicken out crumbles. These are not widely available in supermarkets but you can get online or in international supermarkets.
Good Freezer Recipe Ideas
- - Mince: make a base (see recipe below) that can be split into Shepard’s pie, Bolognese and Chilli
- - Chicken Pie filling (with a puff pastry or mashed potato topping)
- - Fish Pie (don’t put in egg if freezing)
- - Basic tomato sauce (freeze in portions for quick pasta sauce, baked eggs, make a quick Bolognese)
- - Vegetable soups (soups freeze brilliantly)
- - Meatballs and burgers. If you are making a batch of these, it is always worth making extra and freezing the for another day (if you freeze them separated on a tray first, then once frozen pop them into a ziplock bag, they won’t stick together.