It’s easily done, isn’t it? You spend 5 hours on Sunday doing your bulk-cooking for the week ahead, but you are missing out on all the wonderful quality time you could have spent with your children. When I first started bulk-cooking, it would take me about 4-5 hours in the kitchen and have the same result: I’d resent the time spent cooking instead of spending time with my family – something I may just as well have left to the week days. But that’s not the point of bulk-cooking. You started it, because you wanted to save some time. And there are ways to do so. I have just spent 2 hours cooking 4 meals. Each meal on its own would have taken about an hour, so that’s 2 hours saved. Valuable time, if you’re working full-time, like me.
I admit, you need some sense of recipes here. You can absolutely not faff around with new recipes and (no doubt fascinating) tweaks. You really do need just a few, trusted favourites to pull this one off and do all your experimental cooking over the weekend, when you have time. But if you follow the steps below, you can really make bulk-cooking worth your time.
1. Plan your meals carefully
This is important, both for money- and time-saving purposes as well as ensuring you don’t get bored stiff with what you’ve got. The first thing I do when meal planning is looking at the family calendar (yes, we’re sad enough to have one in our kitchen).
Are there any events (parents’ evenings, running days, visitors), which would prevent us from cooking food completely from scratch or within reasonable time? Those days become slow-cooker days. Slow-cookers days in my household tend revolve around curries, stews, chillies and bolognaise-based dishes and I have a few variations of each, which mean that we generally don’t end up eating the same stuff every week.
Other days may involve me not being there in good time, so pizzas or oven dishes like enchiladas and lasagna are prepared and frozen, ready to be put in the oven like any ready meal, but without all the unnecessary additives.
2. Choose similar ingredients
This goes hand in hand with the first point. Once you know when you need to have food fully prepared, think about what you could cook, which will save you time. This week, I have prepared 4 meals in the space of 2 hours. Two of those meals involved minced meat (one is a shepherd’s pie, the other a chilli) and two others involved a pork shoulder (one being a Hungarian-style pork stew, the other a pork saag). They all taste differently once prepared, but have some bases in common: I fried all the mince in oil, with chopped onions, garlic, tomato puree, Worcester sauce and a few grated parsnips and carrots, then separated the mince and spiced it differently for the chilli and the shepherd’s pie. I thawed the pork while the mince was being prepared and halved it – one half was seared with potatoes and chopped vegetables in my slow cooker, while the other half was fried in a big pot, which would later become the curry. Again, different spices and vegetables made a massive difference in expected taste.
2. Plan out your cooking rota
It’s an obvious one, but what needs to be done first? Do you need to defrost any meat and can you do it while cooking something else? How many onions and garlic cloves will you need? You don’t chop them all separately – just do it all in one go and separate out as needed. I even made some garlic-infused oil while waiting as I stored the chopped garlic pieces in a bowl full of oil until I needed to use it. It’s amazing just how much time you can save that way.
4. Make good use of herbs and spices
Look, you really don’t want to spend a miserable week eating the same foods. Using different herbs and spices fairly liberally means that all your dishes will taste differently. My curry uses curry leaves, turmeric and fenugreek, while the overpowering flavour in my stew is paprika, in the shepherd’s pie it’s an oxo cube and in the chilli it’s cumin and chillies. Different vegetables will also add different flavours, so don’t be afraid to chuck whatever you have in the freezer into your dishes – but add them all to different ones, so parsnips to the bolognaise, peas for your pie, spinach to the curry etc.
5. Try different variations of the same thing
So you’ve lasted until now and your only thought is ‘I can’t be doing with all that cooking; I’m fine eating the same thing over and over. Perfect. Doesn’t mean you need to settle for the same meal. I have spent some weekends stretching a bolognaise base into spaghetti bolognaise, a lasagna and a pizza. Three different dishes, same sauce. The only difference was the type of carbohydrate and in the case of the bolognaise the lack of cheese. If you have chicken handy, make a roast, use the leftovers for a curry and the carcass for soup. The point is, if you are a little inventive, one single meal prep can go a mile. Where will your fantasy take you?