Batch Cooking for Busy Families

Originally posted on July 16, 2015

One of the personalised workshops that I offer is "Batch Cooking for Busy Families".  I often hear clients, friends, and family lament "I'm too busy to eat/cook healthy!"  Followed usually by "I'm so tired all the time, I can't get up in the morning to make breakfast, I get dressed and rush out the door!"  Followed by "And then I find myself snacking on junk food all day long and I just can't seem to lose weight!"

Rather than recognising that it's the all-day-long junk food binges that is causing the lethargy in the mornings, they blame it on the busy-ness.  

I used to skip breakfast every day as well.  I used to hit the snooze button at least 6 times before dragging my ass out of bed to the shower and was still draggin' it as I hopped in my car to battle the rush hour traffic.  Since I upgraded my diet to whole, natural foods, I haven't hit the snooze button at all!  I get up, I get dressed, I walk the dog for 45 minutes to an hour, then come home and cook myself an awesome breakfast.  A good, filling and nutritious breakfast is soooooo important to get your day started right, I really can't stress this enough!  A good breakfast should keep you going for several hours, you won't have a crash and binge mid-morning.  You should be good to go until lunch time, or even beyond.

I understand everyone's busy lifestyle.  You've got your own full time job, an hour long (or more) commute, plus kids in school with after school sports or other activities.  You're on the run, and often find yourself at the drive-thru...AGAIN!...scarfin' down a burger and fries, with a large diet drink.  

Did you know that eating while you're rushed and stressed is hindering your digestion?  When you're stressed out, your body is busy trying to figure out where the threat is coming from, it's too busy to spend energy on digesting your food.  Our chronically stressed out lives are not evolutionarily natural.  From the moment we get up in the morning, until we crash in bed far too late at night, our stress hormones are raging.  Historically speaking, stress was occasional, and in the form of a hungry wild animal, or a rampaging neighbouring tribe, trying to take over territory.  Then it would be over, sometimes in just a few moments, and we could go back to foraging for roots 'n' shoots.  These days it's constant, non-stop, go-go-go-go!  And it's incredibly detrimental not just to our mental health, but to our gut health, and how we digest and absorb our food.  If you're not properly digesting your food, you're not absorbing the nutrients (what very little nutrients can be had in fast food!).  If you're not absorbing nutrients, you're further adding to the stress on your body by being malnourished.  We're over-fed and under-nourished!  We need to go back to the basics, and take time to breathe, relax, and sit down and eat.

This is where the batch cooking comes in!  If you have a slow cooker or two, and an oven, you're set to go for the week!  Here are a few tips, and links to recipes on my website as well as a few other sites.

If you don't have a slow-cooker, I suggest you get one. Or two!  Your local charity shop will likely have a few on the shelf for cheap if you don't want to spend the money on new.  You can get fancy new ones with a timer on them, or you can get a timer switch and plug the slow cooker in to that.  

The size of your family, and ages of members will determine how much you will need to prepare for the week, and perhaps how many days you will need to set aside for cooking.  Quite a lot of cooking can be done on one day each week, with minimal prep time needed for the rest of the week, depending on your needs.  If you're home on Sundays you can cook up to 4 days worth, and then do another batch on Wednesday while you're at work.  Multi-tasking at it's best!

Let's start with breakfast.  The best way to start out your day is with some protein!  You don't have to do traditional "breakfast" type foods either.  Foods can't tell time.  If you want chicken and broccoli for breakfast, go for it!  But regular ol' bacon and eggs are great too ;)  You can make a breakfast quiche ahead of time, and it'll keep for a few days in the refrigerator.  Adjust the recipes linked for the size of your family.  Serve it up with some extra veggies, or a bowl of berries and full fat, unsweetened Greek yoghurt.

My recipes for Breakfast Sausage and Lamb Sausage are great for batch cooking, they freeze well, and heat up quickly in the microwave.  Serve with left-over veggies from the night before, or quickly fry up some kale, zucchini, turnips, sweet potato, broccoli...oh heck! Any ol' veggies will do!  I'm a flexitarian, I fry my veggies in bacon fat ;)  

I know getting kids ready for school or daycare and getting them out the door with healthy lunches can be a challenge too!  You can make a lot of things ahead of time and store them in their lunch containers ready to go.  Salads are easy make-ahead lunch items for the whole family, just leave out the dressings and things that will get mushy and keep them in separate containers.  You can make a Big Ass Salad and divide it up into containers for the week. 

Bento Boxes are amazing for packing lunches, especially for kids who are in "zero waste" schools!  As well as for the adults taking lunch to work.  Get each family member a couple of sets, and you're good to go!  Left-overs make fantastic breakfasts and lunches.  Nothing should go to waste, just re-heat and eat.  

Here's where dinners and your slow cookers and oven comes in.  While the above mentioned quiches are cooking, you can probably also fit in another baking pan with at least one dinner option as well.  Roasted chicken and roots is AWESOME, and a whole chicken will give you more than 4 meals.  If you're a family of 4, there's one night scratched off your To-Do list.  If you're a family of 2, there's dinner + lunch the following day.  A good "Sunday Roast" really couldn't be easier, there's not much to do except roughly chop your favourite root vegetables, toss them with a hunk of meat into a roasting pan, stuff it in the oven, and walk away for an hour or 4, depending on the hunk of meat.  A whole chicken will be cooked in about an hour and a half to 2 hours.  I usually just stuff half a lemon inside the cavity (remove the gizzards if they're included, save them for making stock later!), sprinkle on some salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning mix, drizzle a wee bit of olive oil, and set the oven to 350F.  Set your timer, and then that's pretty much it.  Easy peasy!

If you've got multiple meals going at the same time in the oven, cook times can be adjusted for each.  If you want the heat to be low so as not to over cook the quiche, the chicken will just take longer, or once the quiche is cooked, you can set the oven temp higher to finish off the chicken.

While the quiche and the chicken are cooking in the oven, you can put some stuff in the slow cooker(s).  A nice pork shoulder (aka Boston Butt) is great in the slow cooker, you'll have some really nice pulled pork once it's done!  Just toss the butt into the slow cooker, set it to low and walk away for a minimum of 6 hours.  Even up to 8 hours is good.  No water is needed, it'll create its own juices.  Pull it all apart while it's still hot and fresh out of the crock. If you're kosher or halal, or just don't like pork, a nice slab of brisket works much the same, and comes out so juicy and tender it'll about melt in your mouth!  You can season it after it's cooked or while it's cooking, it's up to you. I usually just sprinkle on some salt, maybe some freshly grated ginger (have I mentioned how much I LOVE ginger!?) and then let folks choose their own BBQ sauce or seasonings when it's served.  

With the meats already taken care of, it's easy enough to prepare the veggies while everyone is washing up and/or finishing up homework.  It only takes a few minutes to steam some broccoli and carrots.  You can also roast a pan full of veggies ahead of time, while you've got the chicken and the quiche going, or before/after if there's not enough room in the oven.  You can also do them ahead of time in the slow cooker with the hunk of meat.  Just toss them in on top.  Or toss them in a separate cooker, with just a drizzle of olive oil.  You can also sprinkle in some salt & pepper and seasonings of choice.  I usually stick with Italian seasoning mix, because that's what my taste buds prefer.  My Mum likes Herbes de Provence, but I don't particularly care for the licorice-y flavour of the anise seed.  

How about desserts?!  It's nice on occasion to spoil ourselves with a treat of some sort.  I quite like having some frozen berries with coconut milk or some heavy cream on top.  Just put some frozen berries into dessert bowls, pour some cream of choice over top, and while you're eating your dinner, put them in the fridge.  The berries will start to defrost, while the cream starts to freeze over them, just stir it up when you're ready to serve and it'll be just like ice-cream!  But oh so much more healthy :)  You can also add some Enjoy Life chocolate chips or organic cacao nibs for some added flavour and heart healthy decadence!  You can also make fruit crumbles in your slow cooker, my recipe for Rhubarb Berry Crumble can be adapted to go into the crock pretty easily.  Prepare it as in the recipe, but in the crock, and set it to high for 2 to 2 1/2 hours...I may try this today, I've still got some rhubarb in the fridge that I could use up.  

I hope this has been helpful for you.  If you're local, I'd be happy to schedule an in-home session with you to walk you thru your first batch cooking session.  We can do it in conjunction with a 2 hour Grocery Store tour, and you can shop for the foods you'll need, while I teach you some label reading tricks, and time and money saving tips to get you through the store without resorting to the convenient heat-n-serve foods.  Fill in the "Contact Me" form on my website and let me know which program you're interested in. 

Comment below with your own time-saving tips! 

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