How to Cook Meals in Bulk, Part 2: Meal Preparation Process
In Part 1 of this article series I showed you a video and a grocery list of the food I bought to cook my meals in bulk for the coming week. I detailed the process for preparing a grocery list and reviewing what food staples you may already have at home.
Now let’s get to the meal preparation process and how that works when cooking many meals in bulk.
Meal Preparation Process
I rarely cook from a recipe. I may have an idea of something specific that I want to cook. If so I’ll check my cupboards to see what staples I have on hand. Whatever is missing I add to my list. When I go to the grocery store I’ll buy what’s on sale and the freshest. As I’m filling my cart I’m thinking about what I’m going to create, how I’m going to flavour a dish, and what cooking method I’m going to use. This process helps me decide what I need to buy.
This skill has come from years of cooking. Not everyone can readily do this and that’s why I’m showing you my meal planning process, to show you how to effectively manage your work-flow, and how to be creative in the kitchen.
This is the step-by-step method I used to prepare and cook each dish in sequence to maximize the use of my time and make the most efficient use of my oven to cook an entire week of meals for two people.
Note: Decide on the best day and time to do your bulk cooking. I did this on a Sunday and started at 3:30pm knowing that I would be done around 6 or 6:30pm. I that start time because I wanted to eat dinner when I was done cooking.
Step#1: Pre-Heat the Oven
Since we’re cooking so much food at once, set the oven to 375°F. Some recipes may call for a higher temperature, but most dishes can be cooked at 350°F. I’m adding 25°F as a buffer because the oven will be full and I’ll have to open the door oven to check for doneness and to add and remove dishes.
Set the oven racks so that one is in on the second last shelf and the other is two shelves above the bottom rack.
Wait until the oven has reached the set temperature before putting in any of the food. Minimize heat loss by getting food in and out as quickly as possible.
Step#2: Roasted Butternut Squash
Besides sweet potatoes squash is one of the easiest vegetables to prepare and cook. I usually cook one or both every week.
- Wash the skin of the squash before you cut it to avoid any contamination or dirt getting into the squash.
- Using a large chef’s knife or a butcher’s knife cut the squash in half down its length.
- Use a spoon to carefully remove the seeds and the string-like fibre.
- For this recipe I didn’t use any seasonings or oil.
Place the squash skin-side down on the bottom rack of the oven, second to bottom shelf. To keep the oven clean you can put tin foil underneath the squash or use an aluminum pie tin to catch drips. Cooking time will vary from about 45 to 60 minutes depending on the size of the squash.
Step#3: Roast Sweet Potatoes
- Scrub the sweet potatoes well.
- Use a 10-12″ piece of tin foil, folded, and it place directly on the bottom oven rack, with the sweet potatoes on top. (Note: you can put the tin foil on the rack while the oven is pre-heating. Alternatively you can use a baking try lined with parchment paper.)
The sweet potatoes will take 45-60 minutes to cook depending on size. Turn every 15-20 minutes. Set a timer to remind you to do this.
Step #4: Baked Mango Chicken
- Peel and chop the onion and garlic. Add to a baking dish. (I used a large Pyrex glass dish)
- Wash the mango and then cube it. I recently found the easiest way to cube mango from Jess Dang at Cook Smarts. Watch the video below (or read the post here).
- Add the mango to the baking dish with the flavourings. Mix well.
- Add the chicken breast and coat well with the mango mixture.
Place the chicken on the top rack and bake for 30-40 minutes. Turn once after 15 minutes. Test for doneness. If not cooked all the way through, check again in 5 minutes.
At this point in the cooking process the squash and sweet potatoes are on the bottom rack of the oven and have cooked about 10-15 minutes (or however long it took you to prepare the chicken).
Step #5: Roasted Brussels Sprouts
The next two dishes will go into the oven at the same time on the top rack. First we’ll prepare the vegetable.
- In a large colander wash the Brussels Sprouts.
- Using a sharp knife cut away a bit of the core and remove and loose or bad leaves.
- Cut each sprout in half, through the core.
- Place the sprouts in a large baking pan or on a baking sheet.
- Add walnuts, cranberries and seasonings. Mix well to evenly coat the Brussels sprouts.
Step #6: Turkey Meatloaf
- Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic. Add to a large mixing bowl.
- Add the minced turkey, eggs, oatmeal, and seasonings. Get your hands in there and combine all of the ingredients.
- Drizzle some olive oil onto a baking sheet and pour the mixture onto the sheet. Form it into the shape of a loaf. Pat the sides all around and make a rectangular loaf about three inches thick.
- When the chicken is cooked remove from the oven and let cook for 5 minutes. Put in a storage container and in the fridge.
- Place the Brussels sprouts and the meatloaf on the top shelf of the oven. Both will take 50-60 minutes to cook.
- Use a wooden spatula to turn the Brussels sprouts every 20 minutes to coat with the seasonings and to avoid drying out.
- To test the Brussels sprouts for doneness use a fork. If it goes in easily they’re done. You don’t want them to be too soft otherwise they’ll taste bitter. If in doubt taste one, but be sure to let it cool off first so you don’t burn your mouth.
The squash and sweet potatoes will be cooked shortly after the meatloaf and sprouts go into the oven.
While I was waiting I got to work on the roast.
Step #7: Slow Cooker Beef Roast
- Peel and slice or coarsely chop the onions
- Peel and cut the carrots. You can cut them up into small chunks, or cut each carrot in half and then again length-wise (as I did for this dish).
Here’s the fastest way to peel carrots:
— Eat, Move, Be (@DarrenStehle) April 11, 2014
- Peel the turnip
- Look at how I cut the turnip into smaller pieces — this is the easiest way because it’s round. First, cut the turnip in half through the top. Next, slice the halfs into segments. Finally, cut each segment down into the size of large ‘French fries’.
- Add olive oil, spices and wine, mixing everything together
- Place the beef on top of the vegetables and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add fresh ground pepper and sprinkle with sea salt.
- This was the last dish to cook (yay!) and all I had to do was to set the slow cooker timer for 12 hours, which I turned on at 6:30pm.
Step #8: Making Salad for Dinner
After all that cooking I was hungry!
Sometimes I will have one of the meals I just cooked, but I wanted a salad for dinner and since I was already in ‘cooking mode’ it made sense to do this one last meal.
I’ll detail the recipe and method in one of the upcoming posts in this bulk cooking series.
Clean Up & Food Storage Containers
Keep your kitchen and workspace clean while you cook.
I like to clean up after each dish I’ve prepared. It may be as simple as washing the cutting board and knife with soap and water if I was cutting raw meat. I’ll also wash cookware once cooled so that I don’t have a full sink of dirty dishes.
You will need a good number of food storage containers that are suitable for fridge and freezer. I really like the 24-piece set by Rubbermaid. There are a number of sizes and they fit inside each other when empty taking up little space in your cupboard.
Read more about storage containers in my resources post, What Kitchen Cookware Do You Really Need?
Slow Cooker Beef Roast the Next Morning
At 7am we walked into the kitchen to the smell of a delicious roast! I took the kroc pot out of the appliance and let it sit on the stove top to cool. I removed the roast and let it cool on a wire rack before cutting.
As I was cutting the roast who do you think got out of his bed and made his way to the kitchen? Buster waited, sniffing, giving me an inquisitive look, wondering if I was going to give him a treat. Of course he got a taste! (The roast got his approval!)
Come Up Next…
I know this looks like a lot of work and this is why clients hire me to help them learn this process in one or two sessions. I’ve done my best to detail the bulk cooking process to show you how it’s done, step-by-step. Over the next week or two I will publish the recipes for each meal detailed in this post for you to try and enjoy!