BROOKINGS, S.D. - With a little planning and some batch cooking South Dakotans can have some healthful meals on hand for time crunches and drop in guests.
"This concept of batch cooking or freezer meals is taking hold for some families in an effort to reduce the amount of money spent on food, and to have meals on hand which are healthy and wholesome," said Hope Kleine, SDSU Extension Health Education Field Specialist.
About Batch Cooking
Batch cooking refers to making quantity recipes, which are often frozen. The entrée is prepared from fresh foods and frozen in family portions, which can easily be pulled from the freezer and re-heated at a later date.
"The cost of meals prepared at home is generally less than the cost of prepared ready-to-eat frozen entrées, deli foods and eating out," Kleine explained. "With home prepared meals you have the ability to control the amount of sodium and calories, and limit the amount of preservatives."
Make meal prep fun
Batch cooking can also be an opportunity to get together with friends. "Groups of friends can get together and make quantity recipes or exchange dishes, and divide the portions and cost among those involved," she said.
For example, in a group of three, one makes three pans of lasagna, one makes three batches of beef soup, and one makes three batches of chicken pot pie. In the end, each member gets a pan of lasagna, a batch of soup, and chicken pot pie ready for freezing and later use.
Batch Cooking Tips
Test it first: Before making a quantity recipe, make one recipe and have group participants taste test it. "Remember, what you like in a good lasagna dish may not be what our friend likes," Kleine said.
Double up: Prepare multiple batches of main ingredients, such as beef, pork, chicken, etc.
"If you are cooking up ground beef, it's just as easy to cook up a double or triple batch and freeze the extra servings," Kleine said. "Simply reheat for tacos or your favorite casserole, and you have yourself a shortcut for those last minute meals."
Easy clean up begins here: Line casseroles and pans with parchment paper so that once the dish is prepared and frozen, it may be taken out of the container. This prevents having to have large number of pans/dishes. Then, simply wrap the item in saran wrap, and place into a Ziploc freezer bag.
Note of caution: Pyrex or glass in a freezer is easily broken.
Date and label: Date and label the items frozen. Provide directions for re-heating within the package as well as packaging extras in the wrapped item, i.e. a package of shredded cheese with the frozen package of lasagna so when you are ready to take it out, you have the topping available.
Defrost the night before: If an item is going to be baked, generally you will need to defrost the item in the refrigerator the night or day before.
Note: Do not put partially thawed or frozen food in a Pyrex or glass dish in an oven set on the pre-heat setting. When pre-heating, the oven operates at a high temperature which may cause a dish to break or explode.
Know your options: Keep a list of items in the freezer so they can be eaten in a reasonable time. Generally, it is best to consume frozen foods within one year of freezing them.
Balance the meal out: When it comes to a meal time, all you need to do is defrost the entrée, add a fresh salad or fruit and pour a glass of milk to complete your meal.
Food safety: Keep food safety in mind. When freezing, have the items somewhat cooled before they are put in the freezer. Also, do not fill the freezer too full to prevent items to be cooled below 40 degrees in a period of 2 or less hours.