Have you tried batch cooking (or advance meal prep)? There are several potential advantages to preparing your meals in advance, 5 of which are discussed below:
- You save time
- It’s Healthier
- You save money
- You Learn a New Skill
- You Gain Confidence
What is Batch Cooking?
Just to make sure we are all on the same page, we need to ensure we understand what batch cooking actually is. Batch cooking is investing time into preparing a recipe or meal, where at least some of the portions of the meal/s will not be consumed straight away. This generally means refrigerating and/or freezing portions to eat at some point in the future.
Benefits of batch cooking: It saves you time
One of the great things about batch cooking is that can save you time overall. Of course, this does involve an initial time investment so you are front-loading the preparation and cooking time at the beginning. This also allows you to prepare your meals when you have extra time available. You may be in a rush during the week between work and after work activities, but you might have a few hours to spare on a Sunday morning.
If you’ve just spent 90 minutes in the kitchen preparing your dinners for the week, it might not feel like you are saving time, so you need to compare this time investment against the time taken to prepare the meals individually.
If during those 90 minutes you prepared 9 portions (Sunday lunch + 8 portions for lunches/dinners during the week), the time taken per portion is 10 minutes. If you add 5 minutes for reheating future portions, then that’s 15 minutes per meal.
To prepare a meal yourself is likely to take at least 15 minutes, and many meals take a lot longer. Even throwing a pizza in the oven involves waiting for 10-15 minutes.
When working in an office setting, I find that even popping out to grab a sandwich takes around 20 minutes, by the time you walk there and back, wait in the queue and wait for your order to be prepared.
So overall, batch cooking can save you a lot of time. There may not be much of a difference compared to throwing pre-prepared meals into the oven but if you are preparing meals from scratch yourself and chopping veg etc, the time savings can be significant.
Benefits of Batch Cooking: It’s Healthier
These days we are preparing less and less foods ourselves. There is an increase in the consumption of processed foods and ultra processed foods. We are eating out more, eating more takeaway foods and eating more pre-prepared foods such as pizza and ready meals.
Less people are taking the time to prepare their own meals at home. Not having enough time is often given as a reason for this. Some of us have kids to provide for after work, we may have things to do in the evening, and we may be just too tired or not have the inclination to start cooking meals from scratch in the evenings.
Preparing meals in advance when we are less tired, less busy and have more time available means that we have something quick to re-heat from the fridge or the freezer. This means we have an alternative to the take away menu if we are too busy or tired to cook. This is generally the healthier choice.
When you prepare your own meals you control what goes into them and they are generally healthier. Home made meals are often healthier than takeaway versions, with less salt, less added fats and oils and usually more healthier ingredients such as vegetables and whole grains.
Pre-prepared meals that you throw into the microwave or oven often have lots of added ingredients such as preservatives, colourings, flavourings etc that keep them edible for longer and have better visual and taste qualities. They also tend to contain more cheaper and refined ingredients.
Preparing meals from scratch yourself is usually the healthiest option. Of course, just because you make something at home doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest and it depends on the recipe you are following. These days however, there are an abundance of resources available for healthy recipes based around whole unrefined ingredients, including the ones available on this website.
Benefits of Batch Cooking: You Save Money
I don’t think this point is too controversial but if you are preparing a batch of meals at once, you are probably going to save some money. This can actually be quite a significant amount if the alternative is getting take out or eating out.
If the choice is between batch cooking meals at home and cooking individual meals at home then there may not be a significant difference, although there may be some energy savings in making better use of the oven, if you’re using it to cook multiple portions of a meal and using more of the oven space at once.
If however you are likely to be too busy, tired or don’t have the resources to prepare all your meals individually (eg if you’re at work), and the alternative option is eating out or grabbing a takeaway, then the savings can be huge.
For some basic maths, lets say you are preparing your own lunches instead of grabbing something pre-made near your place of work. If you’re spending €10 per day and your home made lunch is costing €3 (a lot of meals can be made for a lot less per portion), then that’s 7 per day, or €35 per week. Over the course of 48 weeks (let’s allow for some holidays) that’s a saving of €1,680 Euro (or a similar amount in dollars) per year. This is in addition to the other benefits.
Benefits of Batch Cooking: You Learn a New Skill
If you are generally busy during the week, you are probably less likely to have the time to prepare a meal that takes a bit of time to make and involves some ingredients you might not have at home.
If however you have set some time aside during the weekend to prepare your meals for the week, you have more time to go to the supermarket and get the ingredients you need including any herbs and spices that you might not have at home.
If you have more time to spend preparing a meal, you can take the time to try out some recipes that you usually wouldn’t have the time to prepare. You have more time to try out different recipes and different cuisines.
Once you have tried some recipes successfully, you can tweak them and experiment a bit, and over time you can build a portfolio of recipes that you can put together without even looking at a recipe book.
Benefits of Batch Cooking: You’ll Gain Confidence
OK, this might be a strange one but stay with me here. It’s a bit like that advice to make your bed in the morning because it builds the discipline and mentality to adopt other good habits in your life. If you are preparing your own healthy meals, saving time and money, it might encourage you to start some other positive habits like going for a run or to the gym. Or making your bed.
Batch Cooking Ideas
Meals that you cook in a pot are especially suitable for batch cooking. Meals that you cook in the oven in a big dish also work well. You just need to calculate the ingredients required based on the number of portions and maybe use a bigger pot or dish.
Below is just a sample of my recipes (some others work great too) suitable for batch cooking. For each recipe you can also adjust the number of portions and the ingredients will adjust accordingly, saving time on manual calculations.
- Easy Red Lentil Dahl
- Mixed Bean Chili
- Low Calorie Spinach Chickpea Potato Curry
- 10 Minute Chickpea Curry
- Easy Lentil Potato Stew
- Easy Chickpea and Red Lentil Soup
- Leek and Potato Soup (Low Calorie)
- Veggie Shepherd’s Pie with Lentils
- Lentil Bolognese
- Tomato and Hidden Vegetable Pasta Sauce
There are lots to potential benefits batch cooking. Like with so many things in life, the key is in the organisation. I’ve based the discussion on a single person preparing their own meals in advance, but if you are preparing meals along with a partner, there may be even greater benefits when you take into account the division of labour. Why not set some time aside and give it a try.