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    The beauty of big-batch cooking

    The nesting instinct isn't just for fowl. About this time of year, we, too, feel the urge to prepare our "nests" for the long winter ahead. And one great way to do that is to cook up big batches of our favorite fall foods, then freeze portions of them for easy reheating on busy weeknights (or cozy, lazy weekends).

    Yes, it takes a bit of planning and bit of prep work (all that chopping). But when you cook healthy foods in big batches, you end up with a freezer full of your own homemade "light" frozen entrées. Whether you're motivated by convenience, economics, or health, big-batch cooking is a great habit to get into.

    These Freeze Best

    Some dishes are more suited than others to cooking in large quantities and freezing in individual portions.

    Foods that lend themselves to freezing and reheating include:

    • Spaghetti sauce
    • Meatloaf
    • Meatballs
    • Casseroles
    • Soups
    • Stews
    • Chili

    Safety First!

    Food safety can get a bit tricky when you cool off big batches of a dish, then freeze it, only to thaw it weeks or days later.

    What you want to avoid is keeping your food at the temperature where it's vulnerable to bacteria growth: that in-between stage when it's not too hot and not too cold. You should get through this stage as quickly as possible when cooling off a dish, and skip it entirely when thawing food.

    To accomplish this:

    • Thaw your food in the refrigerator. Small items may thaw overnight in the fridge; larger ones will take longer.
    • To thaw food fast, hold under cold running water (in a well-sealed bag) or use the defrost setting on your microwave. If you use the microwave, cook or heat the food soon after it has thawed. That's because the microwave tends to start cooking some areas of the food while it defrosts.
    • Cool food as quickly as possible before you put it in the freezer. First, make sure it's in a shallow container; the greater surface area will disperse the heat quicker. Keeping the lid off your container will help cool it faster, too.
    • Quickly cool your hot food by floating the container in a sink filled with ice water (or in a larger pan filled with ice cubes or ice water). If you use ice water, change it often to keep it ice cold.
    • Don't overpack your freezer; the cold air will circulate better this way. Go through the freezer periodically and throw out any old food or food you aren't likely to use.

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