Written by: Cally Worden
The benefits of home-cooked food are well known, but many of us simply don’t have the time or energy to cook from scratch every single night. When you stagger home after a hard day at the mill the kitchen stove is not always going to be top of your list of most-desired destinations. The sofa wins that one. But as a responsible parent you know that providing regular, healthy meals for your brood is a high priority. But seriously – every night?
We all need the odd night (or three) off; this dream can be yours guilt-free if you embrace the batch-cooking culture. Batch cooking simply involves making more of a meal than you need, freezing (or otherwise preserving) the surplus for use at a later date. On those nights that you can’t face cooking you can dive gracefully to the freezer instead and whip up a delicious, nutritious feast with minimal effort. Here are our top ten meal suggestions for batch cooking.
1. Chilli Con Carne – this mince-based delight is a fabulously versatile addition to your freezer. Serve with rice as a traditional chilli dish, or with tacos or tortillas and a salad for a flash of Mexican variety. It even tastes great on a jacket potato
2. Tomato Sauce – this one is a personal favourite of mine. Use fresh tomatoes if you can, but tinned do the job just as brilliantly and can work out cheaper. Cook your tomatoes with onions, garlic, and a little olive oil, tomato puree, oregano, sugar, salt and black pepper, and then blitz in a blender or with a handheld whizzer into a smooth sauce. This can be frozen and then served with pasta on its own, as a sauce for meatballs, a saucy addition to any oven-bake recipe you care to try, or as the base topping for a pizza
3. Homemade Meatballs – these are so easy to make, for a veggie variety you can simply substitute red kidney beans for the meat. Finely chop a variety of veggies, such as carrot, leek, onion and celery into tiny pieces and fry gently in a little oil to soften them. Then mix in a large bowl with breadcrumbs, minced meat of your choice, a beaten egg to bind, and herbs to add flavour. Form these into meatball shapes, or burger patties and freeze uncooked. They can then be cooked from frozen in about 40 mins in a moderate oven and served with pasta, rice or potatoes and veg
4. Spaghetti Bolognese Sauce – this has to be one of the easiest cook-ahead meals ever. Next time you make this meal, double or triple your ingredients and bag it up for the freezer once the excess has cooled
5. Corn and Cheese Chowder – this delicious, thick, cross between a soup and a stew is packed with fresh vegetables and has a moreish cheesy flavour that will have the whole family asking for more. Experiment with variations to find a recipe you like, then prep it, bag it and freeze it
6. Soups – there are times when the supermarkets have various veggies on offer, you can snap up armfuls of delicious fresh produce for very little cost. Capitalise on this by knocking up a batch of homemade soup that you can serve quickly anytime with crusty bread
7. Dahls – lentil and pulse-based Asian dishes that are packed with protein, dahls are simple to make and ideal for freezing. They can be served with rice or bread as a thick soup, they also work brilliantly as a side or main dish in a curry feast
8. Cheese Sauce – oh-so simple to make, the humble cheese sauce is another of those batch-cooking essentials. You may need to add a little milk to loosen your sauce up when you defrost it, but that’s no big deal. Use your cheese sauce as a base for quick macaroni cheese, a variety of other pasta bakes, or add to tuna, pasta and sweetcorn for another quick and healthy tea for the kids. You can also serve it with nachos, tacos and baked spuds
9. Chicken Curry – or any meat curry for that matter. Most will freeze well, so ramp up the portions as your cook your next spicy dish and you’ll be able to wow the family with a delicious and quick treat mid week, the only effort is boiling up pile of rice to go with it. Simples
10. Lasagne – this can be a bit of a faff to make, but does freeze really well so it’s worth making the time to create more than you need. There are so many variations on a theme for this recipe that you need never get bored – from traditional mince lasagne, to tuna and tomato, or spinach and parmesan, this will quickly become a freezer staple
There are so many ways to batch cook with relatively minimal extra effort when you are busy preparing a meal first time around. If you have other suggestions to add to this list we’d love to hear them.