Meal Preparation Basics: Batching and Time-Management

Batching is easily one of the most important components of meal preparation. Making larger amounts of each ingredient or adding another small but worthwhile task when you’re preparing meals can reduce the overall time and effort you spend on cooking during long, busy, or lazy seasons. Isn’t that what we all want? With just a little bit of practice, the extra time really adds up! Not to mention, on the days when you need to make everything and you have no free time, you can jump for joy knowing you won’t need to do it all over again tomorrow.. or the next day… or the next day.

Baking professionally for 7 years while working in and around the savory side of kitchens taught me the importance of doing things efficiently. Ordering, preparing, cooking, and storing as much and as many ingredients or dish components as possible for the upcoming days or weeks is vital for a thriving business. (Imagine if a restaurant cooked individual meals for each table the way we often do at home… not efficient!) When cooking for just one, or for you and your family, we can learn a lot from this model.

Whether you prefer eating the same meal for a week straight, or switching it up every day, batching is your friend! Think of it as giving yourself the gift of less time cooking and more enjoyment in the kitchen. Which of your favorite staples can be used in many ways or with many meals? Cooking or preparing 2-4 times as much as you normally would sets you up for smooth sailing.
Ex: Cooking 2-3 cups of rice and/or beans from dry, chopping a few days’ worth of onions, garlic, celery, tomatoes, and other flavorful veg/fruit, and making generous batches of a couple extra sauce or marinades all in the same cooking session.

For those of you who never get tired of the same meal, make a big batch of your favorite soup, stir-fry bowls and burrito filling. To keep it fresh and interesting each day or week, prepare or cook each main ingredient separately and bring them together in new and different ways as needed.

Batching suggestions:
Grains: Cooking 2 cups instead of 1
: Chop as much as you can and store for quick cooking the next couple meals. (Save scraps in a bag or airtight container in the fridge to make veggie broth)
Protein/Alternatives: Marinade multiple pounds all together or in different flavor profiles so they are tender and ready to cook as needed.
Corn: Boil or roast a whole pot, cut the kernels off the cob and store to add to salads, soups, wraps, salsa, etc.
Potatoes/Tubers: Cut up to a day ahead of time, or store after cooking to make mashed sides, savory cakes, twice-baked dishes, or a creamy salad.
Lentils/Beans: Use 1-2 cans or cook any amount you’d like from dry beans. Easy protein source that can be favored however you’d like.

Make sure to have all the ingredients on hand before starting to cook. It can be easy to substitute if you happen to have similar ingredients on hand, but it’s such a bummer when the meal is half-completed and you need to leave for the flavor, texture, or nutrient that is missing. By this point, we are hungry and ready to eat as soon as possible, not feeling like taking another trip to the store.

Once fully prepared for meal preparation, start with foods that will take the longest first, saving the things that are quick for last.

Cook times for some common staples:
Beans                          45 mins – 2 hours (or 5 minutes to cook from a can)
                            45-60 minutes
Protein/Alternatives 5-45 minutes              
Roasted Vegetables   30 minutes (plus or minus)
Potatoes                     10-30 minutes (Depending on size and cut)
Lentils                         20 minutes
Quinoa                        12 minutes
Pasta                           6-12 minutes
Sauteed Veg               2-10 minutes
Corn                            3-5 minutes

When the longest-cooking foods are cooking and timers are set to check them, start preparing any ingredients that will go in later, as well as things that won’t be cooked like a cold salad (Fruit and/or leafy greens), fresh garnishes (citrus slices, chopped herbs, sauces, etc). Make sure to check your recipes and read the instructions to know if ingredients are listed in any particular order, like bunched by quantity, stages, or cooking times.

If there is any point where everything is cooking and there is time to spare, start to tidy, do dishes, prepare air-tight containers for portioning the meals/ingredients. I like to get all cooking utensils that are not being used anymore into the sink and start washing. This helps have the overarching feeling of a clean kitchen aside from what’s in the sink. It is a seemingly never-ending clearing of space for the next unavoidable wave of dishes. At least the counter is clean and useable! Even if I only have the time or energy to rinse the food off the dishes, it’s much easier to come back to later when nothing is dried on. When cooking for two or more, it works really well for someone who didn’t cook to help with cleaning.

With now mostly clean and clear counters, I prepare the plates, bowls and utensils for serving or saving. Being set up for dinner and clean up at the same time is so great when it happens. Putting each main staple into its own airtight container or building similar ready-to-eat meals for the next couple days while dishing up for dinner helps avoid the dreaded overwhelm of organizing on a full stomach at the end of the day.

Cooking can become more fun when the feeling of freedom starts to come more easily. Setting up for success by batching and using time wisely has created much more freedom in my life and I know it will for yours, too!

Did you learn anything new from this post?
Comment below to get the conversation going!

Check out the two previous blog posts on Meal Preparation:
Intro to Meal Preparation
Meal Preparation Basics: Organizing and Planning

Let me know what other aspects of meal preparation you’d like to learn by emailing me at or messaging me on Instagram or Facebook!

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Have a wonderful day and nourish yourself well!

– Laura

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