Want to Save Time and Money? Try Batch Cooking

Article posted in: Lifestyle
meals in to-go containers

Cookies, crackers, candies and fast food have a secret weapon that makes them hard to avoid—it’s not salt, fat, sweetness or anything to do with their flavors. It’s convenience.

That’s why so many processed, high-calorie foods are called “convenience” foods: They’re easy to grab when the first rumble hits your stomach. But you have a secret weapon in your corner: Preparation.

That’s part of what makes Nutrisystem work so well for many customers: It makes on-plan choices for snacks, dinners and other meals quick, easy and available. But when it comes to adding healthy vegetable sides and extras, you still need to be prepared—and if you hate cooking, that’s one inconvenience that can leave your diet lacking in nutrition, and your willpower leaning toward a much easier choice… like a cookie or trip to the drive-thru.

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So don’t cook all the time: Take a lesson from the Web’s legion of awesome, batch-cooking bloggers, and cook once to eat for a week. These spatula-slinging home chefs use meticulous shopping lists and all-day battle plans to prepare enough meals to last their families a week—and in many cases, a month—by cooking in large batches and freezing extras. They save money by buying ingredients in bulk, time by cooking multiple meals at once, and hassle during the week when they just have to reheat Wednesday’s dinner.

While you may not want to convert your Sunday into an all-day cook-a-thon, you can take something from their playbook that can help with your weight loss journey: Cook a large batch for just a few hours and make a whole bunch of healthy sides, grab-and-go breakfasts, easy ingredients and snacks that can last you for way more than one meal—the right choices will be convenient, and you won’t have to cook every day. Here are some easy ways to make batch cooking work for you:

Prep Your PowerFuels:
Hard-boil a big batch of eggs for a perfect grab-and-go snack on your busy days. Purchase a big bag of your favorite nuts or seeds, and portion out enough single servings to keep you covered all week. If you’re already cooking meat or a meat substitute like tofu, seitan or tempeh, consider making more than you need. Many of these foods freeze well in a zipper bag or container, and can be quickly reheated. We especially like keeping lean ground turkey on hand, since it makes for the fastest Taco Tuesday ever, and saves time when making other recipes like this Loaded Meat Lover’s Stuffed Pepper, a perfect, all-in-one lunch.

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Make a SmartCarb Stash
Whip up a big batch of your favorite whole grain (we like quinoa or brown rice), then divide the recipe yield into single SmartCarb servings for use on salads, in stews and stir-fries or as simple side dishes throughout your week. Do the same with your favorite beans. If you have a dehydrator, load it up with your favorite fresh fruit then portion the dried results out into single servings so you have a tasty treat on hand when that snack attack rears its ugly head. Even better? Pair the fruit with your favorite nuts and power up on protein. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can still create delicious dried fruit. Learn how here.

Get Your Veggies Ready
Immediately following a trip to the farmers’ market or grocery store, chop up your veggies and add them to reusable sandwich bags or Tupperware for easy grabbing on your way out the door every morning. If you’re at risk of forgetting your bounty, schedule a phone reminder or leave a note on your door to grab your goodies before departing for the day.

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Looking for some simple batch-cooking recipes to get you going? Try these three recipes, which are perfect for beginner batch-cookers:

Make a dozen egg muffins for an easy breakfast to go:
Cooked eggs keep—and even freeze—surprisingly well. Using a muffin tin will let you cook a lot of them at once without having to monitor a pan, and creates pre-measured servings that are perfect for grabbing before your commute.

This recipe makes 12 egg muffins loaded with veggies, with three muffins counting as one serving. Try it out, and if you like it, double it! The muffins will keep in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic container for several days. Eat the leftovers cold, or heat them for five to 10 seconds covered in the microwave.

You’ll need:
1 cup diced red pepper
1 cup diced white onion
1 cup diced green pepper
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 minced garlic cloves
2 cups chopped spinach
4 whole eggs
4 egg whites

To make them:
1. Spray a pan with zero-calorie cooking spray and bring it to medium heat.
2. Add the red pepper, onion and green pepper to the pan and saute for 5 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms, garlic and chopped spinach and cook for 2 minutes.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the whole eggs and egg whites.
5. Mix the veggies into the eggs.
6. Pour the mixture into a greased muffin tin (12 slots).
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
8. This makes 12 muffins. Three muffins counts as one serving. Store the extras in a sealed container in the fridge.

Here’s a video that shows you how to make these morning must-haves.

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Have mashed potatoes anytime by pre-roasting sweet potatoes:
White potatoes don’t freeze very well, but their Vitamin A-packed orange cousins are great after being put on ice. You can roast a bunch of them at once, cut them into chunks, and freeze them in separate containers. When you defrost a container, they’ll be soft enough to mash with a fork.

Start by preheating the oven to 450 degrees. While it’s heating up, prick four or five sweet potatoes all over with a fork, and place them in a baking dish. Bake them for 80 to 90 minutes, or until they’re very tender when pierced with a fork.

Let the potatoes cool a little so you can remove the skins. Cut them into servings of a half cup or one cup each—depending on if you’re planning to reheat servings for one person (a half cup) or two people (a whole cup). Put each serving in a separate container, and pop them in the freezer.

When you’re ready to eat, place the container in the microwave for about 30 seconds or until the potatoes are soft again. Sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon and then mash with a fork. Serve as a side or enjoy as a slightly sweet-and-savory snack. Each half-cup serving counts as one SmartCarb on the Nutrisystem program.

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Make a big pile of freezer-safe snack bars:
When it comes to convenience foods, it’s all about snacking—so having your own, convenient snacks that fit your plan is maybe the ultimate weapon in the fight against fat. Double the recipe for these ridiculously easy and delicious no-bake peanut butter granola bars and you’ll have 32 servings on-hand for when cravings strike.

For the doubled recipe, you’ll need:

2 cup peanut butter
1 cup honey
6 cups rolled oats
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

To make them:
1. Spray two 8×8 baking pans with non-stick spray.
2. Bring a small pot to medium heat on the stove.
3. Pour in the peanut butter and honey, stirring them together until combined.
4. Remove the pot from the heat and combine the warm mixture with the oats and chocolate chips.
5. Let the ingredients cool slightly, then press it all evenly into the prepared baking pans.
6. Put the pan in the freezer until set, then cut each pan into 16 even squares. One square is one serving.

Watch a quick video on how to make these tasty treats here.