Batch Cooking Is a Smart Way to Save Time and Money—Here's How to Make It Work for You

Plus, discover which dishes are best suited for this economical strategy.

pork cabbage soup with bread
Photo: Christopher Testani

When you hear the phrase "batch cooking," cookies might be the first thing that come to mind—but this technique goes far beyond desserts. The method ultimately saves money and time for a wide variety of situations and people.

While it's a natural choice for large families, parties, and shared meals, Leslie Jonath, a food editor and the author of Feed Your People: Big-Batch, Big-Hearted Cooking and Recipes to Gather Around, explains that it's really "for people who are planners, but also for unexpected occasions."

Cooking in batches might seem daunting, but it's the exact kind of planning that allows you to be spontaneous. Just as a batch of cookies works for a party, a batch of a favorite dessert might make a good gift or a convenient treat to pair with coffee if someone drops by unexpectedly. Learning the basics of batch cooking gives you options and the comfort of something home cooked—for yourself or for others.

The Benefits of Batch Cooking

In its most basic form, batch cooking is about preparing a quantity of something at one time. "Cooking in batches is a great way to cook for a crowd and have leftovers, but also to cook once and have options," says Jonath. "You can have a party or multiple meals—or something to bring to a friend's home."

Automatic Meal Prep

Yes, time spent batch cooking is an investment, but as the old saying goes, "cook once and eat twice"—the method saves you money and, down the line, time. Spend a Sunday afternoon making a big batch of meat sauce and portioning it into containers for your freezer, for example, and you've got a solid option to pull out for several dinners to come.

Communal Cooking

Some dishes are traditionally made communally, such as tamales at a "tamalada," or tamales-making party. Follow suit and work as a group to make multiple and time-consuming steps easier. Another food that lends itself well to this cooking style? Making labor-intensive dumplings is also best done in batches by groups. "It can be a relaxing thing to do on a weekend on your own or with a group as a fun activity," says Jonath. "You can take your time with it, since you're getting a big return on the time spent."

Who Should Try Batch Cooking

Batch cooking is a great technique for those with busy schedules; it allows you to cook once and eat many, many times. "It's good for anyone who doesn't always have time to cook, and for families and single people who anticipate times when they can't cook," says Jonath. "If you do it, you create options for yourself."

She also makes things like soups, stews, and sauces in big batches, so if someone she knows is sick, she can bring them something home cooked.

What to Cook in Batches

Choosing the right things to cook in a batch is crucial. Jonath recommends making soups, stews and baked pasta casseroles this way; she also suggests preparing components of dishes that can be used in multiple ways, such as tomato sauces, beans, roasted vegetables, and roast chicken.

Think about making things that are rolled, wrapped, or stuffed—and don't forget about dessert. Jonath says puddings work, but ice cream can be difficult to store in big batches. Some of her go-to favorites include brownies and blondies, because you can cut them up into as small or large portions as you want. She also likes batch cooking cupcakes; they can be frosted or decorated with different toppings.

Dishes That Should Not Be Batch Cooked

While it may be tempting to cook dishes for a celebration in batches, if they are complicated, you may want to master the recipe firs—before you invest in expensive ingredients—to ensure your efforts are successful. Dishes that are served "à la minute" are best made to order, rather than ahead of time in batches—after all, no one wants a pre-cooked steak.

Smart Batch Cooking Tips

  • Always make a shopping list when you're going to batch cook, says Jonath, to ensure you have all the ingredients you need.
  • When shopping, look for the best sources for ingredients, but also consider what's economical. When fruit is on sale, for example, you can make pie filling to bake at a later date.
  • Cooking in batches allows you to preserve fresh produce at its peak. When basil is plentiful and inexpensive, make batches of pesto and freeze it in cubes to serve with pasta or swirl in soup all year round.
  • Make sure you have the correct equipment for cooking—and enough containers for storing what you make.
  • Before you make a batch of something, be sure you have room to store it. Clear a space in your refrigerator, freezer, or pantry. Made too much? The best thing about batch cooking is sharing your home cooked bounty with friends and family.
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