Monday, February 04, 2008

Frugal Food: The Virtues of Batch Cooking

So, I know that I've told you guys about batch cooking on more than one occasion. But seriously, seriously, batch cooking is awesome. Why? Here's why.

Over the course of two grocery trips (Trader Joe's and our neighborhood Associated), K and I spent just over $50 on groceries. Most, but not all of that went to our batch-cooking frenzy tonight (we also bought some seltzer, baking soda, flour and hand soap, for about $8, and two bags of turkey meatballs for about $5, which are already gone, because they are God's gift to lazy people). So let's say $40 worth of relevant groceries here. For that, we bought:

Two pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
A pound and a quarter of ground turkey
A bag of baby greens
A loaf of rye bread
A box of instant cranberry oatmeal
A bag of frozen spinach
Four granny smith apples
Organic ketchup (I'm somewhat phobic about high-fructose corn syrup)

A bunch of parsley
Two bags of super-cheap but annoyingly tiny yellow onions
Four heads of garlic
A pack of 2% string cheeses (Trader Joe's has them cheaper, but...I like Polly-O. They string in that satisfactory way. So sue me.)
Two packages of cremini mushrooms
A bunch of carrots
A little cup of fat-free Greek yogurt

And we already had...
Whole wheat English muffins (I use them for sandwiches, K uses the rye--but notably, we certainly could get through the whole week on one loaf for the two of us)
Slivered almonds (they're optional in the chickpea dish, really, but we had them)
Milk, the dregs of a quart
Two 28-oz. cans of chickpeas
One 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes
Two extra boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Olive oil
Dijon mustard
Half a block of smoked jack cheese

We put in about three hours of cooking tonight, and the fruits of our labor are:
Eight deliciously tender grilled chicken thighs for chicken sandwiches
One big double batch of a variation on this amazing Catalan chickpea recipe (we added spinach), to serve as a side dish with lunches and dinners
Four miniature turkey meatloaves, in my wonderful miniature loaf pans (Christmas present from K's parents), waiting to be cooked and split between the two of us.

So essentially, we've made lunch and dinner for the whole work week. In three hours. Three fun hours, during which we listened to podcasts of "This American Life" and hung out and liked each other.

Breakfasts will be the oatmeal and perhaps a hard-cooked egg, and for snacks there are string cheeses, leftover carrots, more hardboiled eggs, and apples. Further effort required is basically just assembly and packaging (the turkey meatloaves have the extra complication of "stick in oven for awhile").

There are two of us. For $40 and 3 hours we fed ourselves for nearly a work week. And, just as importantly, we removed a lot of the obstacles between us and cheap, healthy, delicious meals—I think that's a big problem for a lot of people, and certainly for me, the whole "Yes, but Pret a Manger is right next to my office and I don't have to wake up early to get a sandwich there" thing, but the "oh, actually, I can make a really yummy sandwich myself in five minutes and it doesn't cost me a dime" response is a very, very effective one.

Plus, I'm pretty stressed lately, and I always find knowing what I'm going to eat for the week takes a big load off my mind. What I'm really saying is, give batch-cooking a shot! It saves money, time, and stress. What's not to like?


SavingDiva said...

I might take you up on the challenge next week! I cooked enough fried rice for a few days and I'm super proud of if I could cook for the whole week on Sunday that would be perfect!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say how much I love your blog and thoughts about life! I've only been reading a couple weeks but espeically today your comments about being high fructose corn syrup phobic and liking to take friends out for drinks made me think we'd really get along. Too bad I live in MN.


Madame X said...

Sounds great! I've actually done two similar sessions recently: one making a huge batch of meat sauce that can be frozen and eaten with pasta, and the other making two huge pans of lasagna to be frozen in portions. Best of all, the friend who came over to cook with me did most of the work and taught me her recipes!

Anonymous said...

Pretty impressive that you spent only $40 for a week's worth of a meals! I really should get on the batch cooking train.

inkysquid said...

How did you prepare the chicken? I Have some in my fridge right now that I'm wondering what to do with.

Anonymous said...

Batch cooking leads to HUGE time savings later in the week, and if you do it right it can even be fun to cook - if you are in a relationship, cooking can even serve as a form of insurance for quality time together. Thanks for the reminder, here!