You know the feeling: you’ve just come home from a long day of lectures, it’s dark outside, you’re tired, and the absolute last thing you want to do is cook yourself dinner. The takeaway menus are calling you, but you know you should really save some money…
Imagine how grateful you would be to your earlier self who thought ahead, and batch cooked a whole load of meals that you can simply reheat and enjoy! As well as being convenient, batch cooking is much more efficient energy-wise: using a microwave to heat something up is much faster than cooking on the hob. You can even bring your prepped meals onto campus and use one of our microwaves in LUU or the international student common room so your lunch is piping hot.
We’ve pulled together our top tips for batch cooking so you can feel inspired to fill up your freezer with delicious meals.
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1. Plan ahead
Batch cooking can be intimidating, and you might think you need fancy ingredients or equipment to do it. Not true! Anyone can batch cook. However, planning makes it much easier.
Always write out a shopping list before you go shopping. Try to stick to recipes, buying only what you need.
Balance the nutritional content of your meals, aiming for a protein (like chicken or chickpeas), starch (like rice or pasta), and vegetables in every serving.
Think about versatile ingredients that you can use in a lot of different meals: tinned tomatoes, pre-roasted meats, tinned beans and pulses.
2. Pick irresistible recipes
It sounds obvious, but if you’re putting the time and effort into batch cooking, make sure it’s something you really like. If you’re not sure about the meal you’ve made, you’re probably not going to enjoy eating it for the next week, and those takeaway menus will look more tempting than ever.
You could scale up a recipe that you already feel confident cooking, so you know it’s going to work well. If you’re missing your mum’s pasta, why not ask her to talk you through cooking it on a video call? You could even swap recipes with your housemates — it’s a great way to try something new.
3. Switch it up
If you think you’ll get bored of eating the same thing, why not switch it up? Treat your prepped meals as your starting point. If you make a tomato sauce with mince, you could have it as a spaghetti bolognese on Monday, add some spices and have it with rice as a chilli on Tuesday, and layer it up with tortilla chips and cheese as loaded nachos on Wednesday. That’s three meals for one bit of prep!
There’s no need to prep a whole meal. You could make a base curry sauce of chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices, and then add different proteins and vegetables to it — like tofu, chicken, paneer, chickpeas, potatoes, peppers, peas… Get creative and try different things.
Even just prepping a few core ingredients so you always have them on hand can simplify your cooking life. Roast big batches of peppers, onions, and courgette, and have them on cous cous with a sauce, in wraps with salsa for fajitas, or in a sandwich with hummus for a quick lunch.
4. Be safety-conscious
It’s important to be safe when batch-cooking. While most things can be frozen safely, you could risk food poisoning if you don’t do it properly. There are a few key steps you should always take when batch-cooking and storing food:
- Don’t freeze something more than once — especially meat
- Always label your containers with what’s in them, when it was made, and when it was frozen — with a full freezer, you won’t remember exactly what’s in every container!
- Check how long something can be frozen — the BBC has a great guide.
- Allow food to cool completely before putting it in the fridge or freezer — warm food can heat up other food and make it go off faster.
- Make sure food is heated all the way through before eating, and only heat it once — food should be steaming hot all the way through to make sure bacteria is killed.
5. Share the load
Cooking together is a great way to spend time with your housemates. Why not plan out a meal you can all enjoy? By splitting the time and cost, cooking at home becomes a lot more appealing.
Even if you’re not cooking together, you could team up with your housemates or friends to share shopping. Maybe you have a recipe that calls for 3 tortilla wraps, but you can only buy them in packs of 6 — you could double your recipe and save the leftovers, share the meal with a friend, or just split the pack of wraps with someone for whatever they’re making. This is a great way to reduce food waste and save money.
There are lots of places online you can find tasty, cheap, and easy recipes. Here are some suggestions:
- £1 dinners from BBC Good Food: our favourite is the tinned tomato risotto which feels super fancy and can be easily customised
- Tesco Real Food: there are so many great recipes on here, including 10 healthy meals for your freezer
- The Student Food Project has your whole day covered with breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner, and their spinach and chickpea curry is a classic
There are also loads of chefs on TikTok and Instagram sharing their favourite recipes. Just search for a hashtag like #veganrecipes, #batchcooking, or #mealprep to get inspiration.