Think large for fast, nutritious meals
Matthew Kadey, MSc, RD
With today’s fast-paced lifestyles, who has time to prepare every meal from scratch? That’s why it’s time to embrace the art of batch cooking to help you get satisfying meals on the table in a flash. Start with these recipes that provide the building blocks to healthy meals all week long.
It goes without saying that healthy eating requires a bit of work. After all, preparing nourishing meals from scratch can eat up a chunk of your day. And if you tackle your repasts on a meal-by-meal basis, time management can become even more complicated. That’s why it’s time to say hello to a cooking method that requires some upfront effort but pays significant dividends down the road. We’re speaking of ye olde batch cooking. Preparing large quantities of foods at once to be doled out over the days to come saves you from fretting about what’s for dinner tonight. It’s also a great method for making breakfast and lunch a breeze. And preparing dishes such as stews and chili in a single pan cuts down on the kitchen havoc. So carve out some time on a Sunday to prep these meals—and be thankful all week long.
While there are some foods that don’t benefit from a sojourn in the refrigerator (leftover sushi comes to mind), dishes such as chili, curries, stews, and pasta sauces can keep your taste buds happy with bottomless flavour for days to come.
That’s because when these dishes are stashed in the refrigerator, flavour compounds in meats and aromatics such as onions react with liquids, air, or acids, which helps chemically transform them into new and improved flavour profiles.
When reheating leftovers, add a thin layer of water or broth to the bottom of a large skillet, bring to a simmer, and then add your food. The liquid and the wide surface of the skillet will reduce burning and cut down on reheating time.
Remember though, simmering leftovers for too long on higher heats will evaporate liquid and steal away precious flavour.
The melded flavours of big-batch dishes such as chili are the perfect antidote to the lunch sandwich doldrums. Warm them in the morning and then transport to work in a stainless steel double-walled insulated food Thermos to avoid high-noon line-ups for the microwave.
To prevent potentially harmful bacteria from growing in your pot of meat-based chili or lasagna, you want to move them to your refrigerator not long after serving, even if still hot. The maximum amount of time between the end of cooking and refrigeration should be two hours.
And don’t take the easy way out and just slide your pot of food into the fridge. Shallow, airtight containers allow foods to cool more quickly and also reduce air exposure, which limits bacteria growth and prevents potential off-flavours from developing.
When freezing leftovers, containers holding your food should be placed directly on the freezer bottom (not the shelf) to increase the speed at which heat is removed from the food. Slow freezing encourages the formation of large ice crystals that pierce the cell structure of the food and can ruin its texture.
High-moisture items such as stews expand up to 10 percent when they freeze, so leave some headspace between the top of the food and the lid.