With the holiday season right around the corner, devoting time to meal preparation can be a challenge. There’s a solution for that - so get your freezers ready! Big-batch cooking is one strategy that can be a time saver and help ensure you have a hearty, homemade meal to warm up to on those colder days.
Here are 10 simple steps to help you get started:
1. Make a cooking plan
How many recipes do you want to prepare? When selecting your recipes, consider using ones with some of the same ingredients. If you are chopping up carrots for a casserole, you might as well use them in your stew! Using common ingredients will make shopping more efficient and you may be able to save money when buying foods in bulk.
2. Get the whole family involved!
A recent study found that children who helped prepare the meal were more likely to eat their vegetables and more of their meal overall. Let your children help peel the vegetables for the casserole or rinse the beans for the chili!
3. Use foods that freeze well
Vegetables, meat, fish and grain products can keep well in the freezer. However, large pieces of meat (such as slices of roast beef) may become dry when reheated. Use smaller pieces of meat (cube or shred) and add them to recipes like soups and casseroles to help prevent the meat from drying out. While soups are great for freezing, avoid freezing soups that are dairy-based because they can separate when reheated.
Did you know? Baked goods also freeze well. Preparing some yummy treats in advance can help you get a head start on your holiday baking!
4. Make it a one pot wonder
Think of casseroles, stews and chilies! For a well-balanced meal, use foods from at least three of the four food groups. Casseroles can include grains, veggies and a meat and alternative like beef or turkey, fish or beans. For stews, try adding some barley in addition to your veggies and meat or alternative to round out your meal.
Need some Inspiration? Check out this Vegetarian Chili and other one pot wonder recipes from the Dietitians of Canada website and app, Cookspiration.
5. Cook then cool
After cooking, let your foods cool down in a shallow container and refrigerate or freeze when they reach room temperature (about 21º C).To accelerate cooling, place food in a container and then immerse in an ice bath until cooled to room temperature.
Food safety tip: Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of foods when cooking, cooling and reheating. For more information on using a food thermometer and a list of safe internal cooking temperatures for a variety of different foods, check out this page from the Government of Canada.
6. Safe storage
Freeze your meals in individual or family-sized portions so you can defrost only what you need. Once already-cooked meals are thawed, they should not be re-frozen for food safety. Label your food with the date in order to keep track of how long it has been in the freezer. Need to know how long you can store different foods in the freezer? Take a look at this handy chart from EatRight Ontario.
7. Prevent freezer burn
Storing food in thick freezer bags and removing the air when sealing can help prevent unwanted freezer burn. You can also wrap food tightly in thick foil or use a tight sealing container.
8. Defrost the right way
Defrost foods in the refrigerator and not at room temperature. You can also defrost your food by placing the container in a sink full of cold water and changing the water every 45 minutes until thawed.
9. Reheat to eat
To reheat food, you can use a variety of different methods like the microwave, stovetop or oven. Ensure foods are reheated to an internal temperature of 74ºC (165ºF).
There you have it: 10 simple steps to eating well with big batch cooking! Enjoy your delicious and nutritious meals, and the extra time to enjoy the festivities around the holiday season.