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The insane batch cooking

Updated: Feb 6, 2022


One of the organisational life hacks I am asked about most frequently is my 320-400 portion batch cooking. I only cook 3-4 times per year. I’ve detailed some context for it below, but for those of you that don’t want the life story you can jump straight to the spreadsheet and shopping list. There is more of an explanation/how-to below. The next marathon cookathon is coming up in a few weeks so I'll try and share some photos of the absolute sh*t-state of my kitchen.


Batch Cooking Planner
.xlsx
Download XLSX • 15KB
Batch Cooking Shopping List
.docx
Download DOCX • 18KB



Context:


For those of you that haven’t read that About Me info, we are three adults in our 30s (me, my husband and our lodger/best mate from uni who never left!) and three children (6, 3 and 5 months) in the house, based in Berkshire, UK. In 2014 as part of my Engineering Doctorate/PhD (Energy Reduction in Commercial Food Preparation which you can read more about here) I had to run some experiments to gather the energy consumption of a MASSIVE range of cooking processes. In the middle of the night (outside of trading hours) I cooked 400 chicken breasts..! As well as the valuable data, this left me with the said 400 chicken breasts - the sponsoring company wanted to just throw in the bin (due to food safety/distribution regs of course). I couldn’t have that, so I went to Wilco and brought 5 giant buckets to take them all home in, dropped everything to investigate a tonne of recipes that would freeze well and NEVER LOOKED BACK. We bought 2x second-hand chest freezers for the garage, fine-tuned the plan over the last 8 years and we haven’t cooked after work since!


Why?


Aside from that one 2014 mission to save 400 chicken breasts, it’s literally the best life hack I’ve ever invested time in – we believe it’s down to around £1 a meal for getting a load of the ingredients as a wholesale meat order. Additionally, we’ve saved untold hundreds from just not going food shopping and buying extra bits we don’t need every week. Likewise, we’ve saved a lot of energy (even offset against the running cost of the freezer!) as the oven is on cooking 3x shepherds pies at a time (each for 12 people!) or 21 casserole portions at once etc - we won’t turn the oven on again for weeks at a time after its completed. We also have good portion control now in that there is no ability to sneak extra helpings as it’s all divided up, put in takeaway containers we’ve saved over the years and then defrosted; much healthier to have home cooked meals and we don’t have to actually cook every night! This has also been a dream for the kids as we have some deep ice cube/weaning trays that we freeze kiddie portions (and blitzed them in the food processor for weaning purees as well!) – they eat what we eat with no fuss and I'm convinced it’s because they’ve had proper, flavourful/seasoned food their whole lives. This cooking style has recently been particularly awesome during an operation I had in 2020 and the birth of my third baby in 2021.

Don’t get me wrong there are a few drawbacks – cooking it is a nightmare of a week where all three adults have to pitch in for like 18 hours a day to get it all done. Jesus the mess is horrific!! I have actually had physical blisters from cutting 10kgs of chicken in one sitting. We experimented with doing the cooking piecemeal by doing one batch of one meal per day, but then we had the problem where all of one type of meal was in one layer in the freezer and it was hard to dig out variety, and also the fresh stuff went off too quickly!


I also get that this isn’t always possible for every family – we are privileged to have a large kitchen, garage and utility room for our freezer space. As we have three adults we can chip in for the large expense of the huge shop every quarter/3 months. Those with limited cash flow could perhaps calculate the cost over 12 months and divide it by 12 and put a bit aside every month to build up to it if possible, but I know this isn’t always. All things considered, it’s totally worth it though.


Above the money and health benefits, the main advantage to me is TIME. We don’t have to do much after work and we never spent time agonising over “What shall we eat tonight?”– if I didn’t do this insane batch cook, I assure you, we would eat nothing or take aways - I work 10 hours a day minimum (18 hours maximum!) and just don’t have time for daily good home cooking. Even if I did, life’s too short for that sh*t.



How?


Planning – HERE is the planner/spreadsheet. This is tried and tested from over 8 years. I originally plan for a certain number of portions by using recipes for 4 and multiplying them by 3 to get the 12 we need (for 3 adults, if you are a standard 2 adult family then this will just go 50% further for you). I always hope to cook a minimum of 270 portions – this is 3x adults and 3x months, but now as standard I do the same 27 different recipes for 12 portions, which is roughly 320 meals and gives a good level of variety. The rough recipes are in column P – the curries I tend to just buy the glass jars of sauce on a deal and bulk it out with aubergine or something, but the rest is generally from scratch. Columns E-O detail the amount of meat in each dish. I wish there was more plant-based stuff but in my experience so far it doesn’t freeze well, and I’ve minimised the beef over the years, so emissions are down. Sometimes we replace the meat with beans, Quorn or squash etc – your choice of course!


I also used to record what I actually got out of each recipe once cooked (because I’m a data whore for interest and future planning/adjustment) at the bottom of column A. We usually end up with a few days a month where we cook roasts, have people over or splash out on dinner out/take away – my records show it usually ends up lasting around 4-5 months.

All of the meat I order online; have changed suppliers a few times over the years, currently using “The Meat Man”. All of the providers deliver either grass fed, organic, or just generally free of added water – it’s usually around £110-150 apiece. I couldn’t believe how much further the 10kg bags of chicken breast go compared with crappy supermarket packs – much less waste in the packaging as well. Most of the time there is no fat or waste on the pork/beef and much less water coming off the chicken, so it doesn’t shrink like it does from Tesco and Asda. This is why I ended up with more portions than I expected every time and why it varies a fair bit. Sometimes I have to buy the odd meat pack from the supermarket or butcher because the online supplier changes its offers all the time.



Once the meat order has been placed, the day before it arrives I buy most of the ingredients contained within the “shopping list” from the supermarket and it costs around £200. Bear in mind the two orders are roughly £310 – and for 3 adults for 3 months this is around £1.15 per meal – before we embarked on this we were spending £100 a week! I’m so sorry - the shopping list won’t be 100% complete at the moment as it’s been changed so many times and I’ve lost the original due to a hard drive theft in the summer - there are some things I always have at home like cheddar cheese, spices etc that might be missing, but its 95% of what is required. Another thing we started doing was buying pre-chopped bags of frozen peppers and onions, which I believe is cheaper for volume and infinitely easier. It can be quite embarrassing clearing the whole shelf of chopped tomatoes or onions so sometimes we do two trips for these things just to save face!


Then it’s cooking time!! Pick a weekend with no plans/childcare or take some annual leave from work – you’ll need it! It usually takes us 7 days or so after work, cooking into the night. You’ll need as a minimum:

· Save all your Tupperware/take away tubs and lids – I have around 110 now!

· A sharpie

· 3x large (but shallow) dishes (for lasagne and shepherds pies etc)

· 3x large casserole dishes

· 2x giant pans for hob cooking


You also have to be careful about which meals are cooked first – fresh basil always goes off first, so I do the bolognaise and lasagne first, followed by rescuing the leeks for the sausage casserole and chicken, bacon and leek pie, and the veg and spinach for the vegetable Balti etc. Crème Fraiche for the pork ragu/casserole also goes off quite quickly. We tend to cut up all the 10kg of chicken in one go and then weigh it into 1.2kg pots (usually a 4 person recipe calls for 400g chicken, and we multiply by 3 to get 12 portions for the 3 of us). We can then refreeze it if we can’t cook it all in 2-3 days before it goes bad.


For us, the meals are purposefully divided by 3 adult portions and frozen in take away Tupperware’s we have saved over the years. Anything left that’s not divisible by us 3 I freeze in deep ice cube/weaning trays for the kids. We make sure we space all the tubs out so they’re distributed throughout the freezer drawers or chest so we don’t end up at the end of 3 months with a layer of just one type of meal.


Then, each Saturday morning we decide what we’ll eat for the next 7-10 days, and do a small shop to get the regular bread, milk and the associated accoutrements (potatoes for mash and broccoli to go with the casseroles, garlic bread for the pasta etc) and just pop them out to defrost each morning – this also further minimises bills and food waste.


And that’s "it"– a large variety of delish healthy home cooked meals at around £1 per person with untold thousands of hours save. I very much hope someone else can benefit from it; god knows my husband/friends/family originally thought I was nuts! Happy cooking, good luck and if you have any comments/questions/feedback please do get in the comments below or shoot me an email/Facebook.


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2 Comments


hollyprewett12345
Oct 23, 2022

Do you reheat them straight from the freezer or do you get out to defrost the night before?

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sammudie85
Oct 23, 2022
Replying to

Hi Holly! Great question; we tend to plan what we’re going to eat at the start of each week and then get it out of the freezer before we go to work to defrost. Then it’s just pop in the microwave for 3 mins or so and make some mash/jackets/pasta/rice etc or something to go with it - dinner only ever takes 20 mins max!

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