Batch Cooking for Busy Seasons

It’s almost December, one of the busiest months of the year. With Christmas parties, shopping, family visits and so on it can feel like your to-do list is longer than Santa’s list of naughty or nice. I find that many people (myself included), find that one of the first things to go when life gets crazy is self-care, specifically in the area of home-cooked meals.

As you may know, when we choose to dine out rather than cook at home, our intake of salt and fat skyrockets. While there is a place for the occasional meal on the run, I find that in order to keep myself feeling balanced and fueled it is essential I make cooking at home a priority. I have found that batch cooking not only reduces the stress I feel to feed myself, but also ensures I am making healthy food choices during the day when I may not be home for 10 to 12 hours.

Lately, the most effective way for me to batch cook has been to split my prep food into components that make up a healthy meal so I can mix and match different proteins with grains, and add a side of vegetables or a fruit. Here’s how I break it down:

 

Grains and Starches

Keep in mind that not all grains will be as palatable once they are cooled after cooking. The starch found in certain grains such as rice, tends to coagulate once it’s cooled and would not be ideal for keeping for more than 1-2 days. Quinoa is an excellent whole grain alternative to batch cook and use a staple grain in your week. Each cup of dried quinoa results in roughly 3 cups of cooked quinoa: to make one serving, start with roughly ⅓ of a cup. Try boiling your quinoa with low-sodium broth, or adding garlic and green onion for extra flavour. Alternatively to quinoa, try soaking and boiling dry chickpeas or lentils. Not only do these options provide you with carbohydrate, but they also take care of your protein needs for your meal! If you’re a My Viva Plan member, try the delicious Chicken Chickpea Coleslaw in your Recipes as a beginner’s introduction to chickpeas.

 

Meats and Alternatives

The key with batch cooking meat is to ensure you do not overcook it. One strategy I prefer with chicken breasts particularly is to heat up a frying pan and sear both sides of the chicken for 2-3 minutes. From there, I transfer the chicken into an oven-safe dish with 1 inch of broth, and bake for 30-40 minutes at 400°F or until your meat thermometer reads an internal temperature of 165°F. Refer to the Government of Canada’s cooking guide to use a meat thermometer rather than relying on the appearance of your meat—this will reduce the risk of over-cooking your meat, and allow it to last longer in the fridge or freezer.

 

Vegetables

I prefer my vegetables to remains as crunchy as possible throughout the week. When I prepare a large batch of mixed vegetables, I blanch them. Blanching refers to the process of plunging raw vegetables into boiling water for 1-2 minutes and then immediately transferring them to an ice bath to stop the cooking. Not only does this method preserve more nutrients over time, it also ensures the vegetables keep their structure for a more enjoyable meal experience. Alternately, it can be convenient to roast 3-4 sheets of vegetables for the week. Simply wash and chop up peppers, mushrooms, cauliflower, carrots etc. and drizzle with oil and bake for 20 minutes at 375°F.

By batch cooking each of these dish categories separately, you can easily assemble balanced lunches or dinners by combining various grains, proteins and vegetables together!

 

Looking for specific recipes? Check out our meal prep section on My Viva – any recipe in this category can easily be made ahead of time or if needs specific instructions will have a meal prep tip after the preparation.

 

 

By Barbara Winzeler – Registered Dietitian (Nutritionist)