Coming up with a menu for the week ahead can be difficult - especially when you throw fussy eaters, hungry teens, and endlessly conflicting schedules into the mix.
But batch-cooking, prep and some clever meal-planning all mean that your family can eat well every night of the week without ever getting bored - and without breaking the bank too.
Plan your whole week
When it comes to batch-cooking, planning ahead is key. At the beginning of the week, draft up a plan of what you're having for dinner on what day that week. This will help you accommodate for leftovers, saving you from doing extra cooking, and will help you think about what dishes need the same ingredients, therefore saving you money.
Don't know where to start? Check out our 5-day dinner plan for some inspiration.
Batch-cook your base
Turning one base into dinners for the whole week is a simple and effective way of saving time in the kitchen, while still eating well all week long. A simple tomato sauce can be transformed into curries, spaghetti Bolognese, chilli con carne, enchiladas, soups, casseroles and rice dishes throughout the week with minimal effort.
To make your sauce, sweat two chopped onions in a tablespoon of oil until translucent (about 5 mins), then add two cloves of crushed garlic, or one teaspoon of minced garlic, and fry for a further 3 mins. Add two tins of chopped tomatoes and leave to simmer, covered for 20 mins. Once it's done, you can dress up your simple tomato base, transforming it into curries, pasta sauces, soups and everything in between using herbs and spices. Genius!
Batch cook your proteins
A large-sized roast chicken will last two or even three dinners for a family of four. Or, why not try cooking two chickens at the same time to save hours in the kitchen later in the week? Have slices of the roasted breasts on the first day, then use tidbits in curry sauces, stir fries, casseroles or sandwich and jacket potato fillings as the week goes on.
In terms of meat-free options, lentils make a fantastic value-for-money option that work in every type of recipe. Rinse and drain a cup of dried lentils (either red, green or puy), and add them to a pan with two cups of water. Bring the pan to a boil and let the lentils cook until tender. Once they're done, store them in the fridge and add a scoop or two to everything from curries to pasta sauces and salads. Yum!
The do's and don'ts of batch-cooking
1. Do prepare all your ingredients before you start cooking. Remember, you're cooking in bulk and things can escalate quickly. You want to stay organised so it's stress-free and enjoyable.
2. Do make sure your pan is big enough before it's too late...
3. Do clean up after yourself as you go. You're cooking lots of meals all at the same time, which inevitably creates a lot of mess.
4. Do freeze leftover portions for a later date. Most pre-cooked meals will keep in the freezer for at least 3 months. Cooking with a 'one for now, one for later' mindset will save you money on your weekly shop, too, and save you from having to keep popping out for top-up shops.
5. Do label your storage boxes with the name of the recipe and how many portions it is, before they go in the fridge or freezer - especially if you're cooking foods that all look similar. Curry and Bolognese look similar when frozen, for example, but curry-topped spaghetti would be a travesty!
6. Don't batch cook rice. Many brilliant batch cook classics (curry, chilli…) go great with rice. But remember, rice can only keep in the fridge for up to one day, so you'll need to cook fresh rice to accompany these meals.
7. Do have fun! Cooking for family should be an enjoyable experience - get the kids involved, ask everyone to make dinner and meal suggestions for the week ahead and make it a group activity. Not only will you end up eating a wider selection of dinners, but everyone will enjoy tucking in knowing they played a role in that week's meal plan.