Note from Jennie: I’m thrilled to have a guest post from my friend Katie McGinley this week! Katie does amazing things with bulk cooking — I know, having been the recipient of her cooking kindness via meal trains and just sitting at her table for lunch. Check out her tips and then come talk about them in our MPWD Facebook group! This post may contain affiliate links.
At some point in your life, it’s likely you’ll need to cook large quantities of food at one time.
Perhaps you’re hosting a large get-together and need to feed multitudes. Perhaps you want to take meals to friends who tend to have babies and/or surgeries with some frequency. Perhaps you enjoy being able to pull a delicious home-cooked meal out of the freezer on days when your family is particularly busy. Perhaps you’re becoming a doomsday prepper! Whatever your motivations, I’m glad you’ve joined me today to discuss the all-important topic of bulk cooking.
First, let’s talk about what “bulk cooking” is. It can mean doubling a recipe to serve a few more people, or making an extra casserole to share with a friend, or prepping eight or twelve or twenty gallon bags of frozen crock-pot meals to save yourself time in the coming weeks or months – really, anything that calls for making more food than you can use at one time.
Bulk cooking can be a delightfully useful skill, but it also has the potential to make you insane if you do it in a haphazard way and don’t plan wisely. Let’s take a look at some tips to make the process go smoothly.
Decide on your goals and purposes
Why are you cooking in bulk? Do you want to make the occasional extra meal to freeze or take to a friend? Do you want double a recipe to give you good lunch leftovers for the next few days? Do you want to prep extra ground beef and freeze several small batches for later use? Do you want to commit to making enough meals to last a whole week or month at a time?
Choose your recipes wisely
Obviously, you need to decide what you want to make! This requires some thought and research, because not all recipes lend themselves well to bulk cooking.
Consider your budget and your time – do you want to be able to dump a bunch of good stuff together in a few casserole dishes or gallon bags and call it a day, or are you willing to commit to individually stuffing 15 chicken breasts?
If you want to freeze it, make sure it’s something that will freeze well! State extension offices and other sites offer plenty of guidance on what will survive the freezer, and there are also many resources for recipes specifically intended for freezing and reheating.
Planning is crucial if you want to maintain your sanity while dealing with unusually large amounts of food. Think ahead: do you have enough containers and equipment? Is there plenty of space in your fridge and/or freezer? Are your mixing bowls big enough? Do you have enough frying pans or pots? Are your counters and sink cleaned up and ready for lots of stuff to fill them?
If you plan to do a lot of bulk cooking in the future, it might be wise to stock up on aluminum pans, gallon freezer bags, or other freezer-friendly storage. Oh, and don’t get the individual aluminum casserole pans from the grocery store – go to Costco and get the giant stack of catering pans for maximum savings. [Note from Jennie: Dollar Tree also carries foil pans, and they’re generally in packs of two for a buck!]
Make lots of lists. If you’re already a list maker, awesome – this is right up your alley. If you’re not, well, suck it up and make lists anyway, because you’ll thank yourself later. Make lists of ingredients and where you’ll get them, lists of the recipes you want to use and whether to double/triple/etc., timelines for how you plan to get all this cooking done, and a general plan of attack so you’re fully prepared for this intimidating but rewarding undertaking.
Be a smart shopper
I mean, you should always be a smart shopper, but your rewards multiply when your ingredients do. Whether it’s stalking sales, clipping coupons, or going to a few different stores to get the lowest prices at each, your hard work in this department will pay off – literally.
Set up your work space
The French have a term for setting up your workspace before you begin: mise en place. They are very smart cooks and you should learn from them. Carefully lay out everything you will need and make sure it’s all in order before you do anything else. I’m very serious about this.
You want everything to go smoothly once you start, so do yourself a big ol’ favor and find all the tools, ingredients, equipment, and storage you will need and create a nice, friendly, functional workspace for cooking.
Cook and prep in stages
Remember the lists and timelines and game plans you made earlier? This is where they pay off.
Unless you’re the type of person who has unlimited time, boundless energy, and zero other commitments, you might find it useful to do things in stages.
Maybe you can make the sauce on Saturday, and then cook the pasta and assemble your trays of baked ziti on Sunday. Maybe you can chop all the vegetables and grate the cheese and shred the chicken now, and put everything together after lunch. Maybe you could make the seasoned pinto beans and the browned ground beef now and freeze them to save time when you have to make a whole bunch of enchiladas in a few weeks for that party you’re hosting. Maybe you can make the pie crusts now and the filling of the chicken pot pies tomorrow night.
You get the picture. Figure out how to break things down into smaller, shorter steps and processes instead of getting totally overwhelmed by even a moderately complicated recipe.
When you’re done, make sure everything is nicely packaged and labeled and sealed. It’s never fun to pull an unmarked casserole dish out of the freezer and wonder what the heck it is and how long it’s been there.
A sharpie on aluminum foil will do just fine, or you can go all Pinterest-y and print cute little labels out that indicate the meal is either from your heart, your kitchen, or both. That’s a nice option if you’re giving it to a friend or neighbor, too. And don’t forget to include cooking or reheating information!
Katie lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two (soon to be three) wonderful children. She loves koeslig, books, and reading about doomsday preppers for some reason. You can find her in the MPWD Facebook group often, or in her Etsy shop, Three Jolly Owls.