The Daily Beet

10 Sep Adventures with Ami: Cooking In Bulk

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Meal planning can be tough, especially with our busy lives.  Everyone has more on their plate these days.  Maintaining a plant-based lifestyle can be even easier than the standard American diet.  A little planning is all that it requires.  I know what we like to eat, how many times a week I might need rice, or baked potatoes for a meal, and other ingredients integral in building the meals that we love.  So Sunday afternoon I begin my bulk ingredient prep for the week.  Sometimes I make entire recipes, other times I just prep the raw ingredients. Usually a little of both.

I find that beans, grains and potatoes take the most amount of time to make from scratch.  These are the things I usually focus on.  Getting the ingredients that take 30 minutes or more, out of the way on Sunday, makes meal prep the rest of the week go so much faster!  Most of the meals I make during the week take 15 minutes or less, start to finish.

If I am prepping beans this week, I will soak them the night before so they are ready to cook the next day.  I love a variety of beans.  I tend to rotate through what I make each week.  I make a big batch, stored in small containers in my freezer. I can use them in soups, tacos or on salads once thawed.  I also use beans in building canning jar lunches for my husband to take to work. So I may set aside some for that purpose as well.  I store the beans in their plain cooked state, free of seasonings, so I can customize them later for whatever dish they will grace.  Dry beans are so inexpensive and the hardest part about cooking them is remembering to soak them the night before!

I also cook up a batch of brown rice in my rice cooker, usually 4 cups of brown rice and 7 1/2 cups of water.  This gives me rice for stir fry, curries, burritos, breakfast porridge’s and layering in the canning jar lunches I make.  Brown rice can be frozen in zipper bags or in containers, or stored in the refrigerator for a few days.  You can do the same with quinoa, farro, barley and other whole grains. It’s nice to know that I have something ready to reheat and eat on days when life gets busy and I don’t have time.

I like to make potatoes in a big batch too.  Why heat up the oven for a couple of potatoes? I bake a big batch on a cookie sheet.  Sometimes a variety of red, yukon gold, russet and sweet potatoes.  Baking them in their whole state makes for a versatile ingredient.  I can slice them or dice them, cut into spears for baked fries, or even mash them with the skins on.  The key to easy slicing is to chill them after baking. I often keep a bowl of cooked whole potatoes in the refrigerator, just in case I need a few in a pinch for a meal.

We love having hot cereal for breakfast, we also wake up before 5am everyday.  So making a big batch of oatmeal, 10 grain cereal or porridge divided up in single servings makes a quick reheat. Or you can save some room in the container for adding fresh/frozen fruit or raisins and you have a great breakfast to go.

I also dice up melons, carrots, celery and other produce to make it easy to grab as a snack and store them in the refrigerator in containers.  I find as long as I have something easily accessible, I’ll grab that instead of something more calorie dense, like a handful of nuts.  I keep a big bowl of apples, oranges and bananas on the table too.  Always have a healthy snack available!

Some of my favorite grab and go ideas can be built in a pint or quart canning jar, often while I am packaging the bulk ingredients for the freezer.  I use quart jars for salads and pints for meals or breakfast.  I like using wide mouth canning jars for storing food in the refrigerator. They stack nicely, don’t retain odors and clean up well.

Some of the meals I like to make in jars:

  • Quinoa, black beans and shredded kale
  • Brown rice, pinto beans, greens and salsa
  • Barley, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions
  • Oatmeal, frozen berries, flax meal mixed with cinnamon
  • Fat-free dressing, sliced mushrooms, baby spinach, sliced tomatoes, diced onions

Have fun with the idea and just remember to build your jar with the wet ingredients on the bottom.  When cooking in bulk, make what works for you.  Think about what you cook the most.  Whether it’s Raise the Roof Lasagna or 10 cups of brown rice.

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Ami Mackey for Engine 2
Ami Mackey

Ami Mackey is the Curator of Creative Content at Engine 2. She is also a food coach at Engine 2 and has been plant-strong since 2011. When she isn't attending to all things Engine 2, she is the Program Director at St Louis All City Boxing a nonprofit youth program. She has earned certificates from eCornell in Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness Nutrition from NASM.

  • Lisa
    Posted at 11:09h, 10 September

    Thanks for the great ideas. I am trying to simplify and reduce costs as we are prepping our house to put on the market- a lot of work is ahead of us so I need healthy, simple meals. I can do this. Thanks so much for the great post!

  • Katie Coleman
    Posted at 11:33h, 10 September

    Great ideas! This the hardest thing for me about eating plant-strong – prepping.

  • Rebecca
    Posted at 11:55h, 10 September

    I’d love to read a separate blog only about your quick canning jar meals. I’m very intrigued!

    • Ami Mackey
      Posted at 14:44h, 10 September

      Hi Rebecca, just about any meal can be layered in a canning jar. I had been using the reusable plastic containers, but I am not a huge fan of plastic and pint canning jars fit perfectly in my husband’s lunch box. Whether you had chili with brown rice or mashed potatoes with veggies and sloppy joes, layering in the jar so the wettest ingredient is on the bottom so it doesn’t make the rest of the jar soggy. Super easy, travels well and uses up leftovers nicely!

      • Rebecca
        Posted at 11:10h, 11 September

        I guess I just need to become more well-versed with different recipes and what goes together. I am a new traveler on the journey to good health! I LOVE my canning jars for my juices and smoothes, I just never thought to put my solid meals in there as well! Yesterday I experimented and made a couple of jars with salsa at the bottom, greens (spinach, kale, & cilantro), corn, and black beans on top. They turned out so cute that I gave one to a coworker. She was tickled pink at the gesture! It made an excellent gift and I’m sure I’ll start to figure out how I can make use of them almost everyday!

  • Martha
    Posted at 14:02h, 10 September

    If you use a slow cooker for beans, they don’t need to be soaked. (Except kidney beans need to be boiled 10 minutes before putting in the slow cooker.) I like to cook beans overnight and then put them in can-sized freezer containers the next morning. We always have a supply in our freezer!

  • Martha
    Posted at 14:03h, 10 September

    Great idea about the meals-in-jars! I would also like some details. Great article!

  • Bev
    Posted at 14:10h, 10 September

    I am wondering what kind of rice cooker you use.

    • Ami Mackey
      Posted at 14:45h, 10 September

      Hey Bev, I lucked out and picked up an Aroma rice cooker for $1 at a yard sale. I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not. I don’t have a lot of space in my kitchen either, but it gets a bunch of use so far!

    • Sherisse Hartley
      Posted at 13:58h, 20 September

      I use my Lagostina pressure cooker to make rice 🙂 I use the bowl in bowl method so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. My mom has a Tiger rice cooker and really enjoys it. Her old Tiger rice cooker lasted her 20+years, the nonstick bin wore out, but the cooker still works.

  • Laura Fisher Woodard
    Posted at 16:43h, 10 September

    i’ve been canning dried beans. its simple, and shelf stable. easy to grab a jar off the shelf. 🙂

  • Annmarie
    Posted at 20:41h, 12 September

    Great article I really need to do more prep on the weekends. One question though what is the. Best way to reheat the rice and potatos. Mine end up dry.


    • Meekychele
      Posted at 16:32h, 23 September

      you can steam them or re”fry’ them in veg stock, soy sauce, or a spice sauce. I make a sofrito from peppers, onions and cilantro, puree it and put it in ice cube trays. Then all you do is drop it in the pan and use it to season your leftovers. Key is adding the liquid back into the food

  • Genie
    Posted at 01:32h, 22 September

    I found out this week that I could take my cooked beans (I did them in the crockpot), drain them well and spread them in a single layer (or close) on a cookie sheet. I froze them and then could put all of them in a large ziplock bag, because I can shake out as many or few as I want since they are not all stuck together.

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