Are you that person who frantically runs to the grocery store every afternoon because you have nothing for dinner? “Planning is the key to a balanced lifestyle, particularly when it comes to meals,” explains Sharon Richter, registered dietician and FITiST expert based in New York City. “When you don’t plan, you gravitate towards high fat, processed items,” she says.
But if you commit to making your own food—and cook a lot at once—you’ll know exactly what ingredients are in your dish, you’ll save money and you won’t find yourself hard-pressed for a meal at the last minute. Not sure where to start? All you need is a little how-to instruction on big batch cooking. And that’s where we come in:
1. Choose One Day a Week To Work
Designate two or three hours on a weekend or a non-busy week day or night to grocery shop and cook your staples for the week’s meals, suggests Devin Alexander, celebrity chef of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and author of “The Most Decadent Diet Ever.” After four days, you’ll need to ditch or freeze the leftovers and begin again.
2. Start With Your Proteins
Choose three to five different lean proteins for during the week and cook them all. A good variety might include: a dozen eggs, rotisserie chicken, steak, lentils and salmon.
3. Make Veggies All At Once
“Chop up a bunch of fresh vegetables, store in air tight containers or roast many different kinds at once,” advises Catherine McCord, mom of two and founder of the popular recipe site for aduts and kids, Weelicious. She uses whatever is in season—Brussels sprouts, carrots, zucchini and cauliflower—drizzles them with a touch of olive oil and sea salt, and roasts the vegetables on two foil covered cookie sheets at around 400 or 425 degrees for 20 to 45 minutes (everyone’s oven is different and convection ovens cut down cooking time). “Squeeze a little lemon juice on top of roasted veggies, then store them in containers or Ziploc baggies,” says McCord.
4. Go For Some Grains
“Pick grains with the most fiber and make small portions, around ¾ cup per serving,” advises Richter. Cook up sweet potatoes, quinoa, farro, brown rice and whole wheat pasta on one day, then heat up each dish as needed.
5. Spice Things Up With Herbs
Tasty herbs to have on hand include basil, rosemary, chives, parsley and thyme so you can flavor dishes in a pinch (pardon the pun). Chop them up and put in salads, add chives or parsley to egg salad, or sprinkle some rosemary on roasted veggies.
6. Pick a Flavor
Vary your meals by choosing different international themes each night, suggests Alexander. For a Mexican dinner, have warm brown rice topped with chunks of your favorite protein, add vegetables, black beans, lime juice and fresh salsa. If you’re in the mood for Greek food, substitute in feta cheese, red peppers, cucumbers, celery, olives and a squeeze of lemon juice on top of your rice and protein. For an Asian flair, add snap peas, red peppers, a dash of sesame oil, soy sauce and wasabi to your rice and protein.
Great Meal Ideas For the Week
Stumped on how to turn all of that food into a week’s worth of dishes? Here are some ideas to get you started:
Grilled chicken breasts: Slice and put them on a salad, make them into a sandwich along with fire-roasted tomatoes and goat cheese or pair chicken breasts with low-fat cheddar cheese, marinara sauce and cilantro for chicken parmesan. You can also add the chicken breasts to broth for chicken soup, or chop and make into chicken salad.
Or try these great chicken recipes:
Rotisserie chicken: Serve as is with a side of sweet potato and a salad. Slice and make fajitas with lettuce, tomato, salsa and either low-fat sour cream or fat-free Greek yogurt. Chop up and use as a base for chicken salad.
Roasted Turkey Breast or London Broil: Serve alone, slice up as deli meat for sandwiches, or use in tacos.
Ground beef or turkey: Make a Sloppy Joe sandwich with barbeque sauce, or create meatballs and add them to whole wheat spaghetti. Add ground beef or turkey to tacos or put in a pita pocket with lettuce and tomato. You can pair the ground meat with tortilla chips, low-fat cheese, black beans, salsa and fresh cilantro for nachos, or make a breakfast omelet with ground meat, vegetables and cheese. You can also mix the ground meat with roasted red or yellow peppers, add hot pepper flakes, fresh basil and mozzarella or goat cheese and put over brown rice.
Steak: Serve alone with sautéed spinach, pair with eggs for a hearty breakfast, or slice and put on top of an arugula or spinach salad.
Grilled shrimp and salmon: Serve the grilled seafood over rice, top your favorite salad with it, or stuff it in a taco or burrito and add fat-free Greek yogurt and salsa.
Eggs: Boil a dozen at the start of the week and use alone for breakfast or a protein-rich snack. You can also make the cooked eggs into egg salad or slice them and put on a nicoise salad.
Roasted or chopped veggies: Serve with any protein or puree to make a soup. You can add the vegetables to tacos, or use leftover ones in a quesadilla, omelette, in salads or for stir-fries.