Dear readers, this is the post that might just save your sanity! Bulk cooking is anything you do in advance to make meal time easier on yourself. It not only saves you time and eases stress, but it can also save you a good deal of money. (Well, it adds stress on the day you actually do the bulk cooking, but once it’s done, it’s easy sailing until the next time.) I can tell you from experience as a seasoned bulk cooker (bulk chef?) that there’s nothing better than having meals on hand, ready to go for those nights when you would otherwise throw in the towel and get take out. It’s also great to have fast, healthy, warm breakfasts and homemade lunch box items stocked up and ready to go in the freezer for busy (or let’s be honest lazy) days.
There are many resources for bulk cooking from books to websites, and even brick and mortar stores. I used to go to one called Let’s Dish. It was one of those social cooking places. You’d select the number of meals you wanted to make, up to 12. (For a while back in ’05-’06 I would go twice a month and do 12 meals each time.) Then you’d go to their shop, and put the meals together at stations, one station per meal. Everything would be chopped up and ready to go. You’d just measure out the raw ingredients and put them together as instructed. It would take 6 to 8 hours, but it was worth it, and it was fun. The meals each made 6 servings, and since there were only 3 of us at the time, we would eat 3 servings for dinner, then have 3 servings for lunch, making it cost effective. It wouldn’t be so cost effective now, even if I didn’t have the food allergies to worry about. I still recommend giving it a try if you have one in your area.
This month, I finally decided to give Once a Month Mom a try. It is a bulk cooking website where they have figured out roughly 16 or so dinners, 8 lunches, and 6 breakfasts, or something like that, which you prepare all in one day. I think it varies depending on the menu. (It looks like less, but you actually prepare enough of each meal to eat it two or three times throughout the month.) They do all the heavy lifting for you. They test the recipes rigorously, put together the menu, provide a shopping list which you can adjust to the number of servings you want to make, and they give you detailed instructions on how to streamline your cooking day to make it most efficient. It’s awesome. They offer a standard meal plan, a whole foods, a gluten and dairy free, a diet, a paleo, vegetarian, etc., and they put out new menus each month. I strongly encourage you to give it a shot. I did the January Paleo plan, and everything has been delicious.
Types of Bulk Cooking:
1. Precooking individual ingredients: Did you know that beans freeze really well. Yep. I like to buy dried beans, cook them in my slow cooker, then freeze them in two cup portions. Meat is great to do this way as well. I wrote a post about the easiest way to bulk cook shredded chicken and stock, but you can also do this with beef, pork, sausages, and other meats. Bacon, for instance. You can cook it in a skillet, or in your oven at 350 for about 30 minutes, then crumble and freeze. Add to soups or bean dishes later. This how I usually make my favorite potato soup.
Cook Beef Once for Four Meals: One of my favorite meats to bulk cook is shredded beef. You can use a pot roast for this, but my favorite cut for this purpose is brisket. (I buy what’s affordable.) I know that smoked brisket is amazing, but this is entirely different, and gives you a completely different result. You take your large (8-12 lb) portion of meat, trim any hard fat, then put it in a pan deep enough to cover most if not all of the meat. Salt and pepper it liberally, and add 2 onions thinly chopped, and 1-2 whole heads of garlic, minced. Add 1 cup of water, and a couple of bay leaves. Cover tightly with foil. Cook at 200 degrees for 12 hours. On the first night, shred it up, make gravy with most of the juice, and eat it with mashed potatoes and greens. Take the rest and portion into quart sized freezer bags (onions and all), with a little bit of juice. Freeze. Take it out throughout the month. Use it one night for pulled beef barbecue sandwiches. (Heat it in a pot and add barbecue sauce to taste.) Another night you can use it for shredded beef burritos or enchiladas. (I did this once with Charlie’s enchilada pasta recipe.) Another night, you can make hearty, Denver omelets.
2. Chopping raw ingredients to be frozen together and cooked later: This is what I did at Let’s Dish, and several of the meals from Once a Month Mom had me using this method. This is my favorite way to do meals, and it’s pretty easy to apply to your own recipes, especially those for the slow cooker. Just put all the ingredients together, and instead of cooking, freeze. Then thaw and follow cooking instructions. Remember to freeze sauce ingredients separately. I don’t actually know why, but this is how I always see it done, so I assume there’s a reason.
3. Cooking full meals or snacks to be frozen thawed and/or reheated: This is best with breakfast foods or snacks. Think things you will eat on the go. A healthy banana bread, muffins, cinnamon rolls, scones, breakfast burritos, etc.. I made some mini crustless quiches that taste great popped in the microwave in the morning.
4. Refrigerator cooking: Make a dozen hard boiled eggs to grab on the go throughout the week. Pre-make a week’s worth of salads in individual containers, keeping the dressing separate. If you like eating leftovers like I do, make a large casserole, hummus, chicken salad, pot of chili or some other dish that you would enjoy eating throughout the week until it’s gone.
5. Canning: If you are reading this post, there is a good chance that you know way more about canning than me. I SWEAR I am going to overcome my fear of canning and give it a shot this year. More to come on that front.
Regardless of how much bulk cooking you do, or which methods you use, it makes day-to-day life so much easier. If you’re not already doing so, I encourage you to give it a shot. Even if you are cooking for one, it just makes sense. If you are already doing some bulk cooking, please share any tips you have in the comments. I’d love to hear them.
And let me know if you try Once a Month Mom. I discovered them on my own, paid for the membership myself, and have not been asked to endorse them in any way. Now that I’ve tried it, I think it’s worth the $8 a month for all the time and money it saves me. They allow you to use any menu that is older than a year or so for free, so that’s a good way to try it out. Also, it’s easy to omit a meal that doesn’t sound good to you. I skipped 3 of the dinners, and had no trouble adjusting the list. I am thoroughly impressed with their site, and can’t express enough how useful of a tool it is. Do we not need all the help we can get in this crazy life? As my great grandma used to say: And how.