Avoiding spoilage with bulk cooking

We’d been letting some vegetables and cooked food go to waste, so I’ve been tinkering with how we prepare our meals in order to reduce spoilage. Here’s how we now cook in bulk.

During the weekend, we review the past week’s leftovers and freeze them as individual meals. We packaging food in individual lunch-sized containers (~500g, including rice) until the freezer is full or the fridge leftovers are done. I label the containers using painter’s tape and a marker, writing down the initials of the recipe and a number for the month. For example, chicken curry prepared in July is labeled CC7.

I prepare one or two types of dinners. I usually pick bulk recipes based on what’s on sale at the supermarket. If there are unused groceries from the previous week (sometimes I end up not cooking things), I prepare a recipe that can use those up: curry, soup, etc. I start a large pot of rice, too, since I’m likely to use that up when packing individual meals and we go through a lot of rice during the week. We’re more likely to enjoy the variety if it’s spread out over the coming weeks. Freezing the leftovers means we can avoid spoiling food out of procrastination.

After the food is cooked, I put portions into our large glass containers. That way, we have a little room to cook fresh dinners during the week (which W- likes to do), but we also have some backups in case things get busy. We alternate the prepared dinners for variety. For some meals that are inefficient to portion out, I just keep the entire pot in the fridge. If there’s more, I’ll freeze the rest as individual portions. If the freezer is full, I’ll keep the extras in the fridge.

When it comes to the freezer, individual portions are much more convenient than larger portions. You can take one to work and microwave it for lunch. Sometimes I pack larger portions (ex: pizza, pasta sauce), so we need to plan for that when defrosting them. If a dinner portion is thawed in the fridge, it has to get eaten since it can’t be refrozen (unless we re-cook it, which we rarely do).

Our costs tend to be between $1.50 and $3 per portion. For example, the Thai curry I made last time resulted in 20 portions out of $22.39 of groceries. Even if you account for the spices and rice in our pantry, it still comes to a pretty frugal (and yummy!) meal. Sure, there’s labour and electricity, but I enjoy cooking and we schedule it for the lower electricity rates of the weekend. Well worth it for us, and we’re working on getting even better at it.

Aside from reducing spoilage, I’m also working on increasing variety, maybe cooking smaller batches and cooking more often during the week. I’d still like to use the freezer to spread out meals over an even longer period of time so that we can enjoy different tastes. Getting the hang of spices, ingredient combinations, and cooking techniques will help me with variety, too. So much to learn! =)

  • Adrian

    Hi,

    A small productivity tip: instead of using painter’s tape, which can be difficult to remove sometimes, I write with a permanent pen directly on the container.

    That’s a little quicker, saves some tape and the time to remove the tape.

    To remove the ink, simply use a piece of a paper towel with some household ethanol and wipe it off.

    • jtgd

      Long ago, when the store would wrap something in butcher paper, they’d mark it with a grease pen(/pencil). Writes on almost anything and not permanent.

      http://www.amazon.com/Listo-1620-Marking-Pencil-Blue/dp/B007QEDI0M

    • The food containers we use have dark red covers. The tape adds a bit of contrast so that it’s easier to read. I haven’t had problems removing the tape before washing the container, so that’s been working out well for us so far. I’m glad that works for you, though!

  • I have been looking into doing more bulk cooking as well. Typically, I will make something over the weekend and spread it out into three-four lunches for work. My problem is that I get tired of eating the same food so I end up going out to eat which defeats the purpose. I think that I am going to have to look into freezing more of my leftovers from the week so that I can get more variety. How long do you typically store meals in the freezer?

    • We’ve eaten meals that had been stored for months. The food containers do a decent job of minimizing freezer burn, and i’m not particular anyway.