By spending an hour or two doing meal prep on the weekend, you can create quick and easy dinners all week long. Below I will share tips for how you can do a quick batch cooking session, prep meals, and save time cooking supper on busy weeknights. I will use a variety of appliances to cook as many things as possible in as little time as possible.
When I use a slow cooker to cook some of the ingredients, it technically takes longer than an hour to complete my batch cooking session. However, it only takes a few minutes to toss things in the slow cooker. I time it so that whatever is being cooked in the slow cooker will be done some time during my one-hour batch cooking session. So that the longest part of the process, shredding and storing the meat, is done during the batch cooking session.
Weekly Meal Prep with Batch Cooking
With prep-ahead meals, you spend 1 – 2 hours batch cooking the primary proteins, such as chicken, beef, pork, beans, and rice. After batch cooking the key ingredients, you store them in usable portions to be used in recipes. A meal prep session can also include chopping vegetables for recipes, grating cheese, and making homemade dressings and sauces. Then you use those precooked and pre-measured ingredients to quickly create recipes throughout the week.
In my cookbook Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch, the first 4 chapters focus on a primary protein (chicken, beef, pork, and rice and beans) and include 4 – 6 different ways to batch cook that main ingredient. This allows you to choose a batch cooking technique that fits into your schedule and uses the appliances you already have in your kitchen. The batch cooking instructions are followed by 20 recipes that use the batch cooked ingredient to make a quick and easy meal.
You can prep-ahead all 5 proteins for a wide variety of meals or just focus on 2- 3 to mix and match throughout the week in recipes. I tend to make my decision based on what I find on sale that week at my local grocery store. This week I found great deals on boneless, skinless chicken thighs and ham. I picked up 6 pounds of chicken that I cooked in a slow cooker and then shredded. I bought a large ham that I will use in 2 recipes this week. I will dice the rest and freeze it to use in recipes throughout the month.
1-hour Prep-Ahead Session
- Batch cook 6 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs in a slow cooker for 4 hours on high. Directions on page 12. (4 hours on High).
- Cooked 1 pound of Garbanzo Beans in a Pressure Cooker. Directions on page 114. (30 minutes)
- Cook 2 pounds of bacon in the oven. Direction on page 47. (20 minutes)
- Batch bake 3 cups of Basmati Rice in the Oven. Directions on page (30 minutes)
- Dice ham.
- Chop broccoli, cauliflower, and onion.
- Slice carrots, celery, and mushrooms.
- Make a large salad.
- Grate cheese.
- Make dressings used on salads.
How I organized the batch cooking session and vegetable prep:
- Start the chicken thighs in the slow cooker 3 hours before I plan to do the rest of my batch cooking.
- Start the garbanzo beans in the pressure cooker.
- While the beans are cooking, chop and slice the vegetables.
- Remove the bacon from the oven, blot the grease, crumble and store.
- Batch bake the rice in the oven.
- Make a large garden salad to use as a side dish throughout the week.
- Make dressings to use on salads.
- Grate the cheese.
- Let the beans and rice cool off, then store in usable portions. I store the beans in 1 3/4 cup portions and the rice in 2 cup portions.
- Shred the chicken and store in usable portions.
I store the cooked chicken, diced ham, rice, and beans for the first 3 – 4 days worth of meals in the refrigerator. I freeze the meats, rice, and beans for meals that will be made on days 5 – 7 and future meals I pull the frozen items out to thaw in the refrigerator the night before they are needed. If I forget, I can quickly thaw them in the microwave.
Menu Using Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch
For this week’s menu, I will be able to use frozen batch cooked black beans and white beans from previous batch cooking sessions for my 3 bean minestrone soup. I batch cooked chicken, bacon, rice and garbanzo beans to use in other meals. By combining pre-cooked ingredients from the freezer with batch cooked ingredients I can create a menu with greater variety and I don't have to spend as much time batch cooking each week.
The below recipes all come from my cookbook Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch. The recipes are designed to be used with batch cooked ingredients. All of the recipes can be made in less than 30 minutes.
Sunday – White Bean and Chicken Ranch Tacos (page 30) with Southwest Rice Salad (page 131)
Monday – Skillet Mac & Cheese with Ham and Broccoli (page 50) with a garden salad
Tuesday – Buffalo Ranch Squash Boats (page 15) and Roasted Lemon-Dijon Broccoli (page 164)
Wednesday – 3 Bean Minestrone Soup (page 119) with a Garden Salad
Thursday – Chicken Alfredo Stuffed Shells with Broccoli (page 26) and Butter Tossed Brussels Sprouts (page 167)
Friday – Black Bean and Mushroom Enchiladas (page 120) with a Garden Salad
Saturday – White Bean and Ham Soup with Spinach (page 60) with a Garden Salad
There will be 4 – 2 cup portions of shredded chicken, 2 – 1 3/4 cups portions of garbanzo beans, and 4 – 2 cup portions of rice, 4 – 2 cup portions of diced ham, and a pound of cooked, crumbled bacon leftover from my batch cooking session that I will freeze for future dinners.
You can use the prep-ahead and batch cooking techniques with many recipes, but I will be sharing weekly menu plans and tips specific to the recipes in my cookbook Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch.
If you would like more batch cooking tips and menu ideas based on Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch, join the Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch Facebook Group! I will be sharing quick prep-ahead ideas, menu plans, and tips for saving money on groceries with the group.