Eating healthy can feel like an impossible challenge as our lives get busier and the prices of healthy options at the grocery store seem to keep going up. “Batch cooking” for meal prep is a simple and sustainable way to solve both problems at once! By taking advantage of local produce, bulk quantities, and smart preparation, you can eat healthy meals throughout the week—all while saving money.
Basics of Meal Prep
Meal prep might sound like just cooking up five pounds of vegetables at once and stashing it all in your fridge or freezer, but that’s not what it’s all about! Batch cooking and meal prep are intended to make the most of your time and money, which means shopping smart and planning your prep work. Luckily, these basics don’t have to be complicated either.
Start by shopping with the seasons! Seasonal produce is not only tastier than its out-of-season and imported counterpart, but it is also much cheaper due to growing in abundance. Buying seasonally also means you can purchase from local farms, which offer even cheaper and fresher produce. This is also a natural way to mix up your meals—try out new recipes with new ingredients each season!
Next, plan your meals before you shop. Planning ahead not only ensures you create healthy meals, but is also the key efficiently meal prepping. Buying ingredients that you can use in two or even three dishes allows you to buy and cook in bulk. Without planning, you might return to the kitchen three separate times to dice tomatoes for one dish, roast them for another, and peel them for a third. If you know you’ll use tomato as an ingredient throughout the week, you can get all your prep work done at once (and with one set of dishes!).
Most importantly, only purchase what you need. If you’ve planned out your meals, this part becomes a lot easier, as you’ll have narrowed down your shopping list to exactly what you need. Going to the grocery store without a plan—or worse, on an empty stomach—can lead to overbuying. As a result, you might choose unhealthy options or even buy unnecessary ingredients that sit in your crisper drawer until they’ve gone bad. That’s exactly the kind of waste batch cooking is meant to prevent.
Meal Prep in Action
Griffin’s Executive Chef Daryeal Murphy offered a few expert tips for meal prep like partially cooking vegetables with a high water content before freezing them. Freezing raw produce will cause water particles to expand, damaging other cells and leading to a loss in flavor and texture when eventually cooked. Chef Murphy also recommended using a simple seasoning of salt, pepper, and olive oil when batch cooking. This seasoning will bring out the natural flavors of the produce, but be neutral enough that you can still take your dish in any direction when it’s time to put it all together!
But what exactly should you be prepping? Meal prep won’t help you eat healthy if you’re whipping up big bowls of cookie dough after all! Griffin’s registered dieticians recommend prepping three main items ahead of time: proteins, vegetables, and carbohydrates. For example, you might grill some chicken, roast a sheet pan of broccoli, and cook a big batch of brown rice. With these healthy staples prepared, you can quickly combine them into various dishes with your choice of flavors!
Here’s just a few ideas:
- Grab some fresh spinach and toss it together with the chicken, rice, and your favorite dressing for a quick salad (bonus points for adding grape tomatoes or other salad staples).
- Stir fry the chicken and broccoli with your choice of seasoning and serve over a bed of rice.
- Make an easy chicken sandwich with whole grain bread, lettuce, tomato, and your choice of sauce.
- Chop up the chicken and broccoli to use as the base for a chicken salad mix.
The possibilities are endless—all starting from just a few prepared ingredients!
If you’re ready to give batch cooking a shot, try searching for local farms where you can find affordable and delicious produce. For more tips on batch cooking and meal prepping, check out our meal prep guide on YouTube.