Save money and time with big batch cooking.
By Stepfanie Romine, author of "Easy Vegan Meals by SparkPeople: The No-Stress, No-Guilt Way to Reap The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet"
I admit: Though it's my job to write about food and create new, healthy recipes, even I don't cook dinner every night of the week. My boyfriend and I have been known to split a container of olives and a bottle of wine, paired with copious amounts of carrots and hummus, on Friday nights when we're exhausted. (That's a rarity!) Once a week, it's Sam's turn to cook, which means we usually eat at Myra's, a veg-friendly, eclectic little café near the University of Cincinnati campus. But 5-6 nights a week, I'm in the kitchen, cooking from-scratch vegan meals after 9+ hours at the office, 2 at the yoga studio, and sometimes another 1-2 spent running (literally) or doing errands. Dinner needs to be on the table, pronto.
That's why I spend a few minutes each morning (usually while the water comes to boil for the French press) prepping for that night's meal. Here's what else saves time:
Make a batch of beans and grains 1-2 times a week. (If you eat meat, grill up some chicken or make a roast once a week to have extra protein on hand.) Soak the grains and beans in the morning to save time and make their nutrition more readily available. Cook them both at the same time, while you're making dinner, and you really don't have to devote much active time or attention to them.
Pre-chop aromatics for easy meal prep. Saute onion, carrots, celery and garlic in a bit of olive or canola oil for a time-saving flavor punch.
Buy prewashed tubs of greens, and chop veggies for 1-2 days' worth of salads at a time. Preportion the toppings into the containers you'll use to transport the salads (we use glass storage containers, and we either take them to work for lunch or eat from them at home), then top with delicate greens just before serving or leaving for the office.
Double up. We're a "family" of two (and one of us is a serious athlete who eats an unbelievable amount of food for someone his size) so cooking for us is like cooking for an extra person. To save time and ensure we have healthy leftovers for lunch, I cook for six, which yields two Sam-size (double) portions and two Stepfanie-size (single) portions.
Once a week, make dips, dressings, and sauces. On Sundays, I spend an hour or so whipping up accoutrements for the week's salads. Tangy, creamy balsamic vinaigrette, white bean dip, romesco dip, and pesto come together in no time when I use my Magic Bullet, and I can store each of them in the container I used for mixing, with a matching lid. No Magic Bullet? (Buy one--they're $40 well-spent!) Use the blender, and strategize: No need to clean the blender between uses if you're using similar ingredients. Start with the blandest sauce and move to the more flavorful ones, and you'll minimize cleaning between batches.
- Make a day of it. SparkPeople member MICHELLEJARV cooks quite a few basic ingredients from scratch every two weeks and freezes them in easy to use portions: brown rice, dry beans, vegetable soups, pizza crusts, and bread to keep her on track when she gets busy.
SparkRecipes.com editor Stepfanie Romine is a certified yoga teacher and co-author of "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A vegan and runner, she has lived and cooked on three continents.
She is the author of "Easy Vegan Meals by SparkPeople: The No-Stress, No-Guilt Way to Reap The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet". Click here to learn more, then download or preview a copy!