Today we bring it all together: How to cook more often, using unprocessed ingredients, and use your freezer to ensure you always have healthy meals to hand. I’m talking about batch cooking – or as I like to call it, big re-usable food.
Basically, the idea is to prepare big batches of food in advance. You then divide them into individual portions (using plastic containers) and keep them in your fridge or freezer for later. By doing this, you ensure you always have healthy, portion controlled meals to hand. You get all the advantages of making your own food – cheaper, higher in protein, more veg, less salt and preservatives – with the convenience of a ready meal. If you have no time to cook during the week, or tend to be exhausted in the evenings, taking time at the weekend to make 2 or 3 meals you can re-heat later is a life saver.
Of course, the other advantage is the cost saving. Making big re-usable food allows you to buy and make thing in bulk, which is much cheaper than buying individual portions. A typical ready meal of Thai green chicken curry with basmati rice costs £2.50, has more than 6g of saturated fat and has less than 1 serving of vegetables. But you can a big batch for less than £1.80 per portion with plenty of veg*.
You can do this a couple of different ways. One option is to spend time on the weekend making a big pot of something specifically to be stored for later. Or you can simply make double portions of your normal dinner so you purposefully have “leftovers”. For example, you could plan to have chilli for dinner on Sunday, and simply make a big enough pot that there are several extra portions.
A wide range of foods can be prepared in advance and re-heated – everything from stir-fries to casseroles. If you are planning on freezing your big re-usable food, a wetter dish, like a stew, curry or chilli, seems to work better. Sauces also work well and making your own can really improve the nutrition. For example, the most complicated part of spaghetti bolognaise is the sauce. However, sauces in jars tend to be low in protein and high in salt. Make your own, and you can add more beef, vegetables and interesting spices, while keeping the cost down.
This is a strategy we employ at lot in my house, even though my husband and I both enjoy cooking. Usually we make one or two large meals a week, eat some immediately, and store some for later. In my freezer at the moment are pots of squash chilli, farm bean stew and our version of cassoulet (a casserole using beans, chicken thighs and chorizo). I also like to batch cook a ratatouille (a tomato based vegetable dish made with aubergine and courgette) and then serve it over baked white fish and a microwave packet of lentils.
If there’s one thing you need to invest in for healthy eating on a budget, it’s Tupperware!
*All prices from the Tesco.com website and are correct as of 08/01/2020
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