It’s high time I made a post on this site about big-batch cooking. When you have a young family, it’s a highly convenient way to get a from-scratch dinner on the table with minimal effort. Since I’m now 8 months pregnant, I’m keen on big-batch meals for another reason, too: so I can freeze portions and have a freezer full of great food for after the baby is born! So today I’m talking about Planning Ahead (capital P, capital A). It can make your weekly dinners so much simpler.
When I prepare a large batch of a dish, I can freeze 2-3 portions of it and still have plenty for dinner that same night. I do this regularly, but it’s become particularly important as our third baby’s due date approaches. I recently turned the leftovers from black bean burgers into a hearty shepherd’s pie filling, most of which I froze. You can also spot freezer workhorses pesto, green smoothie muffins, and leek and potato soup. In the middle shot, you’ll also see some weekend prep for the week to come in the form of cooked quinoa, caramelized onions, and pie dough, all of which went in the fridge to keep weeknight work to a minimum. Whether fridge or freezer, making a few things ahead to contribute to future dinners is always such a good idea.
Here are the items currently in my freezer, to be accessed when we have a new baby:
Muffins, 2 kinds
Lemon Cake slices
Leek and Potato Soup
If you’re making a few things to take you through a standard week of dinners, something like pie dough helps you a lot when cutting down on day-of prep time. For post-baby, though, I wanted foods that are really ready-to-eat. Freezing extra portions also cuts down on food waste, and can help use up other homemade ingredients in your fridge. For example, I made a big batch of applesauce and finally had the idea to turn it into pancakes, which freeze beautifully for future breakfasts, lunches (they can easily stand in for sandwich bread) and snacks!
Which leads to another great reason to batch-cook and freeze. These foods I’ve stashed away aren't just great for breastfeeding new mothers, but are also great for putting in lunchboxes when I don’t have the time to bake. Muffins, granola bars, soups, baked beans, and spaghetti with bolognese will all be big hits in my kids’ lunches. Here are a few of the dishes I’ve relied on in big batches to get me through a week of dinners and lunches:
Bolognese sauce (our recipe is a very long simmer and lasts us 2-3 dinners plus lunches)
Coconut curry sauce (can use with tofu, chicken, fish or just over rice noodles)
Roast sweet potato or any root veg
Chicken stock (great way to prevent food waste after roasting a whole bird, see below)
Baked Beans (can turn into burritos, quesadillas or in many lunchboxes)
Soup (Leek and potato, Tomato, or Minestrone)
One of our favourite simple weeknight dinners is Pasta con Ceci, or Pasta with Chickpeas. The ingredients are all pantry staples and it comes together in one pot, with enough leftovers for lunches. My kids love chickpeas and they like this dish in their lunches, too. I’m planning to have all the ingredients on hand in a few weeks, so when the urge to cook (and not just defrost) hits me it will take a very minor effort to get dinner on the table….and maybe I’ll even be able to make it one-handed, since most of my meals and time are going to look like this.
Long live the sweet coziness of the baby carrier! We can’t wait to meet you, little one - and we’re nourishing ourselves for when we do.
Little Pasta with Chickpeas
adapted from Food52
1/3 cup olive oil
5 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 small can tomato paste (about 1/2 cup)
2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1.5 cups very small pasta, such as orzo or tiny shells
1.5 tsp fine sea salt
boiling water, 3-4 cups
In a large pot (a Dutch oven works well), warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until it becomes lightly browned and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste and fry for 30 seconds or so. Add the chickpeas, pasta, salt and enough boiling water to completely cover the mixture. Stir to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the pasta is cooked and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt. Bring the Dutch Oven to the table and let everyone serve themselves. Pass around parmesan cheese, black pepper and olive oil for topping.