“My kids and hubby are meat lovers, but I prefer fish, tofu or beans with my meals.” Sound familiar? It is really hard to enjoy family meals together? I come across this situation many times with my clients, friends and peers. This situation is very common and often it is also complicated by the fact that many families are busy during the week and it is hard to eat together as a family. When you do eat together as a family you want everyone to be happy and to enjoy a peaceful dinner. How can you solve the dilemma of serving healthy meals that appeal to everyone?
Batch cooking is the practice of cooking large quantities of foods ahead of time so that during the week you can easily assemble and reheat meals. Once you get used to planning your meals in batches, the practice is really quite simple. For my family, I set aside time on Sundays to batch cook grains, pasta, veggies and meats. I also take time to make 1 or 2 bean salads as well. I find that batch cooking saves me a lot of time during the week, and I feel good about serving my family healthy nutritious meals that meets everyone’s preferences.
Simple Meals to Please Everyone:
Pizza: Each person can prepare their own half or ¼ of a large pizza with toppings that they prefer. If you don’t have time to make homemade pizza crust, you can purchase plain pizza shells at the grocery store. Some grocery stores even have pizza dough for sale that you can take home and roll out into your own crust. To plan for this during batch cooking, simply cut and prep any veggies for toppings for the pizza and have turkey pepperoni or deli ham that is free of nitrites and nitrates in your fridge.
Stir-Fries: when you desire to have a stir-fry, prepare your veggies and stir-fry sauce during batch cooking. You can also take time to saute any meats or seafood or tofu that you wish to use as a protein source in your stir-fry. When you choose to have the stir-fry dinner, you can simply reheat the veggies, sauce and protein source to meet everyone’s food preferences. Serve over brown rice that you cooked during your batch cooking session.
Pasta: this is one of the versatile starches, so make it work for you. Simply boil the pasta during the time you are batch cooking and place into an air tight container to store in the fridge. You can make ahead of time a large quantity of homemade bolognese sauce. Spaghetti sauces freeze well, so don’t forget to use your freezer when you batch cook. On the night of your pasta dinner, thaw out your sauce and meatballs and purchase a tossed salad bin. By planning and making foods in bulk, you have an Italian meal in a snap during the week.
Tacos/Burritos or Nachos Grande: these foods are so easy to batch cook. Simply grill some chicken over the weekend or prepare taco meat with ground turkey and store in air tight containers. Prep your veggies and beans during your batch cooking. Stock your fridge with whole wheat tortillas and stock your pantry with whole grain tortilla chips. When it is taco night, simply pull out all the “fixings” and allow family members to assemble their tacos, burritos or nachos to their liking. For dessert, be sure to have some pre-cut fruits such as mango or pineapple to complete the meal.
Grilled Foods: grilled foods are amazing to cook in batches. Use your grill to prepare favorite grilled meats and veggies ahead of time. Since many grills are large, this is an easy way to batch cook some wonderful combinations of grilled veggies and meats and seafood to enjoy later in the week. Pair the grilled veggies and meats/seafood with whole grains such as bulgur or farro to make a satisfying meal that is sure to please everyone in your family.
Stews and Soups: preparing these sorts of meals in bulk is a huge time saver. Most stews and soups freeze well, which helps to make them even more convenient to make ahead of time and thaw on an as needed basis. Some of my family’s favorites include Chicken a la King and Mushroom, Lentil and Barley Soup. Their recipes and some other easy batch cooking recipes are below.
Blog’s Featured Recipes:
Basic Pizza Dough
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 ¼ tsp bread machine yeast
- 2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ c whole wheat flour
- 1 to 2 Tbsp. wheat germ
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- In large bowl, combine 1 cup all-purpose flour, ½ c whole wheat flour, 1 to 2 Tbsp. wheat germ, 2 ¼ tsp. bread machine yeast and 1 cup of warm water. Mix until well blended.
- Add oil and salt and mix until well blended.
- Gradually add remainder or all-purpose flour and mix with large wooden spoon until it becomes less sticky. Once dough is formed and is no longer sticky, begin to knead dough until it is smooth and elastic, for about 5 minutes. If dough becomes sticky, add a little bit more flour and keep kneading.
- Cover bowl and cover with saran wrap and let the dough sit until it has doubled in size about 30 to 60 minutes depending on temp (will rise faster in summer than winter). It is at this time, you can prep any toppings or sauce needed for the pizza.
- Once dough has risen, punch the dough down and knead for about 2 minutes, set aside.
- It is now ready to be transferred to a lightly floured surface and rolled out into a pizza.
- Roll the dough out to the size you wish to have for your pizza.
- Lightly dust a pizza stone with corn meal, and then transfer the rolled out dough on top of the stone. Continue to roll out the dough until it completely covers the stone. Trim excess dough, or gently fold it on top of the stone to form “thicker” crust.
- Top with pizza sauce, cheese, and toppings
- Bake at 475° for about 15 to 20 minutes, checking periodically for desired cheese “toasting”.
Homemade Stir-Fry Sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ ground ginger OR 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped fine
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- ½ cup chicken broth, vegetable broth or even water
- 1 Tbsp. sriracha
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
- Combine all ingredients in a small bowl or Tupperware and mix well
- Stir fry about 4 cups any combination of diced vegetables and/or seafood, chicken or beef
- When just done, add 1/2 to 2/3 of sauce, mix and let thicken slightly – about a minute and serve
Homemade Bolognese Sauce
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow or Vidalia onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
- 2 large carrots, finely chopped
- 1 pound 93% lean ground beef or 93% lean ground turkey
- 2 (28 ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
- ½ cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
- ½ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
- ½-1 tsp. black pepper
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Heat olive oil in medium pot over medium heat.
- Add onion, garlic, celery, and carrots. Cook until veggies are soft; about 5-7 minutes.
- Add ground meat to veggie mixture and cook until meat is done.
- Add crushed tomatoes and tomato paste to mixture and stir until consistency is even throughout pot.
- Add seasonings and let the mixture simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Add cheese to sauce and stir until it is melted.
- Serve over favorite pasta and enjoy.
- To quickly finely chop onion, celery and carrots, consider using a food processor.
- This sauce freezes well
Chicken a la King
- 2 c chopped cooked chicken breast
- ½ c fat-free milk
- ½ c frozen green peas
- ½ tsp pepper
- 2 (10 ¾ oz) can reduced-fat, reduced-sodium cream of chicken soup, undiluted
- 2 (6 oz) jar of sliced mushrooms, drained and rinsed
- 2 (2 oz) jar of diced pimento, drained and rinsed
- ½ c low-fat plain Greek yogurt
- Paprika to taste
- Combine first 7 ingredients into a large saucepan; cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
- Remove from heat.
- Stir in sour cream.
- Sprinkle with paprika.
- Serve over cooked rice or bulgur.
Mushroom, Lentil and Barley Soup
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 large celery stalks, chopped
- 2 large carrots, chopped
- ¾ cup quick pearled barley
- ¾ cup brown lentils
- 2 quarts low-sodium beef broth or vegetable broth
- ¼ tsp. dried thyme
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- ¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups sliced button mushrooms or baby bella mushrooms
- 2 Tbsp. red cooking wine
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add onion and cook and stir until onion is limp and translucent, about 5 minutes. Mix in celery and carrot, and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Stir in the barley and lentils and mix to coat them in the oil and to “toast” them before removing items from the skillet, about 3 minutes.
- Place into a large crock pot, the onion, celery, carrot, barley and lentil mixture.
- Pour in the beef broth, and add the spices (thyme, pepper, parsley and bay leaf), and then mushrooms.
- Cook on high for at least 4 hours or on low for 8 hours.
- 5 minutes before serving add the red cooking wine.
Note: If you do not wish to use a crock pot, then simply cook the veggies, lentils, and barley in a large soup pot. Add the broth and seasonings and bring to a boil and then simmer covered for 25 minutes. Add the mushrooms, cover and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. 5 minutes before serving add the red cooking wine.