Finding time in batch cooking

I can blab all day about the importance of protein, but that’s not going to help anyone make dinner unless they’re already 1) proficient at cooking and 2) have enough time in their schedule to do it. Extra work hours, schoolwork, or an unscheduled trip to the mechanic or doctor can really mess with your schedule and that can make you yearn for some fast, easy food to put in your face…and maybe regret later. So let’s break this potential pattern right now, by changing how we prep meals.

During shutdown, I attended a virtual seminar with the folks from America’s Grow-A-Row that broke down the essentials of batch cooking for making power bowls. These are nice because as long as your family agrees on the base grain (rice, quinoa, farro, whole wheat pasta, etc), you can combine pre-cooked and fresh ingredients to suit everyone’s tastes without custom cooking for everyone in the family. As someone who has a gluten sensitivity, I’m painfully aware of the extra work involved when not everyone can or will eat the same meal.

I found a template for batch prepping food for a week of bowls – obviously, you’d need to scale this up or down for your household, but there’s a basic list of the stuff you’d want from the grocery store, along with the basic rules for making a bowl containing proteins, healthy fats, healthy carbs, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If you’re eating high-protein, you’d scale back on the grain carbs a bit, or increase the protein serving size to suit your needs.

One change I’d make from the article linked below: I prefer using frozen spinach to eating it raw, and there are often other vegetables that are easier to use and much cheaper if bought frozen, so you might want to consider that.

Shopping list (from Kaiser Permanente, accessed 08/28/21)

These quantities are meant for a family of 4 for 1 week. If your household is smaller, stick to these amounts to minimize trips to the grocery store, and you’ll be able to stretch this for more than a week. I’ve also included pantry basics to keep stocked.

  • 1 pound dried lentils or other bean/legume, or 3 to 4 cans low-sodium or no-salt-added beans
  • 1 to 2 blocks of firm tofu and/or tempeh. If you eat meat or fish, 2 to 3 pounds of a large piece, such as a whole chicken or salmon fillet.
  • 1 pound whole grains, such as brown rice, farro, bulgur, quinoa, barley
  • 3 to 4 bunches leafy greens, such as kale, Swiss chard, collards, and/or mature spinach. These can take up a lot of fridge space, so prep and blanch them to save space and have greens ready to eat all week. You can also freeze them after blanching.
  • 5 to 10 ounces baby greens such as arugula, baby spinach, or baby kale
  • 1 container of cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Fresh herbs: basil, Italian parsley, cilantro, and mint are some of my favorites (store properly to avoid waste)
  • Sweet potatoes or other root vegetables
  • Garlic, shallots, red onions (to roast and/or pickle), ginger
  • Olive oil, grapeseed or canola oil, sesame oil, vinegar, limes or lemons (even better, from your own or a friend or neighbor’s tree!)
  • Flavor basics: salt, pepper, low-sodium soy sauce or tamari, miso, chili sauce
  • Spices: chili flakes, cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, any of your favorites
  • Sweeteners: sugar, honey, maple syrup
  • Healthy fats: tamari, peanut or other nut butter, raw cashews, walnuts, almonds, pepitas, sesame seeds
  • Whole-grain pasta, other dried noodles
  • Whole-grain tortillas
  • 1 loaf of crusty whole-grain bread (Slice and freeze if you can’t finish it in a few days; slices can be toasted or grilled directly from the freezer.)

That’s the ingredient list – for more details on the structure of the bowl itself, the article is at the link below:

Obviously, this only helps with dinner planning, but the same philosophy can be applied to lunches, by using some of the same batch-cooked ingredients, and breakfast can also be a version of a bowl….an oatmeal bowl, for example. Oatmeal – the unprocessed kind, not the stuff that’s pre-sweetened in instant packets – is a great base for a bowl – hot or cold. I personally have a half cup of oatmeal mixed with a scoop of protein powder for breakfast each day and like both the ease and the fact that I’m getting protein, healthy carbs, and fiber in that single bowl.

So if you’re looking for a way to get much more out of your cooking time and get your macros at each meal, consider what homemade power bowls might do for you.