5 Tips to Make Weekly Batch Cooking a Breeze

 

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If you had told me a year ago that every Sunday I would be regularly batch cooking my meals for the entire week, I would have said that you merely had a pipe dream. I assumed then that batch cooking must involve strenuous hours in the kitchen, eating up an entire day of my precious weekend. Though this length of time may be true for the first few times you batch cook, it eventually will become easy to only use a few hours to cook meals and snacks ahead for the entire week.

When I batch cook, I find that it saves me time throughout the week and I’ll naturally opt for healthier lunch and dinner options simply because they’re already prepared. Plus, when you have no real rush during cooking (unlike when your stomach is rumbling on a busy weeknight) there’s plenty of time to be creative and try new things in the kitchen.

While it might seem intuitive to just jump in and start cooking, there are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that can help you quickly begin food prepping for the week with ease.

  1. Start With a Clean Kitchen

It seems like common sense, right? But there have been plenty of times I’ve begun cooking with the sink half full of dishes and quickly regretted my decision. It’s harder to find space to drain pasta, fill up large pots, or throw your newly dirty dishes into. Just take the 15 minutes ahead of time to wash a load of dishes and wipe down the counter. You’ll thank yourself later.

  1. Strategize Your Recipes

Once you’ve chosen your recipes for the week and done all the grocery shopping, it’s time to make a game plan. You can either print out each recipe, or, like me, just have them all open on your computer. I look at each recipe, ordering them from the most to least amount of cooking times, and then figure out what needs to be started first. You wouldn’t want to begin your recipe that takes two hours at the very end of your cooking session. The easiest thing (for me) is to start my basics first (baking potatoes, cooking grains or legumes, marinating tofu, etc.) and then begin making more specific components of recipes.

  1. Wear Shoes

I feel a bit silly putting this in the list, but it’s not something I thought about when I first started meal prepping. I don’t wear shoes at home, or in my kitchen, so why start now? Well standing up for two or three hours on a hard wooden floor will definitely come back to bite you the next day. I quickly learned my lesson thanks to aching feet, and now wear sturdy tennis shoes every time I know I’ll be cooking more than one meal. For extra comfort, think about purchasing a kitchen mat too.

  1. Invest in Containers

My kitchen is constantly overflowing with colorful bowls, plates, and other fun dishes. I didn’t think I’d need to buy any containers since I’m already a bit of a Pyrex pack rat, but I quickly got tired of putting plastic wrap and foil on the many lidless plates and bowls I own. If you don’t own products specifically designed for storage, you might end up wanting to invest in some. I snagged 10 three-cup Pyrex containers during a sale at Target and they’re the perfect size for lunches. That way, between Peter and I, we have the right amount of containers to pack five lunches ahead for our workweek.

  1. Keep Yourself Entertained

If you’re a cooking novice, it might take your full concentration to make each recipe. But if you’re comfortable in the kitchen, you may find your mind wandering while you cube a five-pound bag of potatoes, or roll a dozen burritos for the freezer. Keep yourself upbeat and high-energy by listening to fun music (Disney, anyone?) or occupying your mind with an intriguing podcast. For true crime buffs I recommend The Generation Why or Sword & Scale, or for those wanting to take the foodie route, A Taste of the Past and Gravy Audio are great listens.

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How to Cook in a Hostel

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Dundee Backpackers in Dundee, Scotland

One of my favorite things about traveling is the food. After picking a destination, and maybe plotting out a few major points of interest, the next thing I do is search for the best restaurants, holes in the wall, and street vendors to visit.

While I love trying local specialties and grabbing meals around a new city, eating out can quickly add up and strain your travel budget. If you’re staying at a hostel, you’ve got the opportunity to cook for yourself and save your hard earned money for other things.

Through my travels, and the various trials and errors they have entailed, I’ve learned a few tricks for making the best of hostel kitchens, no matter how shabby or understocked:

Take Stock of the Kitchen

Before you ever make a grocery list or plan a time to cook, visit the kitchen and see what you’re working with. Check out what appliances, cookware, and tools are at your disposal. I’ve seen everything from well equipped kitchens featuring several ovens and stovetops, to a hostel that only had a single hot plate. While you’re there, see if your hostel provides a “Free Food” cabinet. Many hostel goers buy too much and leave behind their leftovers. This means you can sometimes find a wealth of staples like rice, pasta, oils, vinegars, and spices for free.

Shop With the Locals

Take notice of where the locals shop. Avoid the convenience stores usually found near tourist districts because of their lack of variety and high prices. Instead visit farmers’ markets and local grocery stores to do your shopping. One of the fun things when visiting another country is seeing all the foreign (to you) foods available. Plus if you’re choosing to cook a local specialty, you’ll have no trouble finding all the ingredients.

Avoid Peak Times

Even during off seasons, hostels can be packed with fellow travelers. This means the kitchen area will likely be full during peak eating hours around lunch and dinner. If you can, try and cook a little before or after regular mealtimes. Though cooking side-by-side with other hostel-goers can be a great way to get a conversation going, you might save yourself some time (and stress) by choosing your timing wisely.

Add Some Spice to Your Life

There’s no better way to quickly improve a meal than by adding a hearty dose of spices. Here are a few simple solutions to avoid overloading your backpack with spice bottles while still creating tasty meals:

  • Base your meal choices around the spices available in your hostel’s free pantry. This can lead to some really creative recipe creation.
  • Buy one or two spice blends (cajun, Italian, lemon-pepper, etc.) to just sprinkle on each meal for a serious flavor boost. This works best if you’re traveling for a week or less, so you don’t get tired of the recurring flavors.
  • If you know you’ll always want certain spices on hand, your best bet is to pack your favorites in a stackable pill organizer (like this one.) The screw-on top keeps the spices in place and the containers are usually easy to label.

Keep It Simple

Nobody expects you to make a luxurious five-star meal at your hostel. If that’s your thing, more power to you. But I like to stick with simple “recipes” that require little ingredients. It’s usually a good idea to create a balanced meal with about five ingredients, including a protein source, carbs, and veggies or fruit. Since I’m usually cooking for myself and Peter, and we don’t mind leftovers, most of the meals I cook makes about four servings. If you’re traveling solo, make sure you only buy how much you need for your stay. Some of my favorite simple hostel recipes include:

  • Creamy Lentil Curry: Cook red lentils in coconut milk, vegetable broth, and curry powder. Top with chopped pineapple and cilantro.
  • Shroom Pasta: Cook pasta. Sauté a chopped onion and a few handfuls of mushroom in olive oil. Toss with pasta and sprinkle with red pepper and nutritional yeast.
  • Hearty Soup: In a large pot sauté a chopped onion in olive oil. Add a can of diced tomatoes and a can of white beans. Add a chopped potato or any desired veggies you have on hand. Pour in enough vegetable broth to cover everything and simmer until veggies are tender.
  • Super Spuds: Poke a few holes in a russet potato. Microwave for 5-7 minutes, or until soft. Top with a handful of spinach and chopped green onions. Dollop on salsa and guacamole before serving.