The Benefits of Cooking Ahead
Home cooks have lost the habit of cooking ahead, of setting aside a block of time – perhaps 2 or 3 hours on a weekend afternoon – to cook for the coming week. Not only can this be enjoyable and relaxing, it also sets you up for nutritious and satisfying meals all week long.
I am not suggesting you prepare full-blown meals on Sunday afternoon and freeze them. Instead, I urge you to prepare foods that can serve as your own convenience food, the building blocks of quick, nutritious meals.
- Cook legumes, grain, and vegetables in ways that make them easy to use throughout the week.
- Make large quantities of stock every now and then, and freeze it for later use in soups, braises, and sauces.
- Bake a few loaves of good bread, and freeze them for sandwiches, French toast, and snacks.
- If the season is right, put up tomatoes, peppers peaches, blueberries, or make jam for future consumption.
- If you’re uncomfortable with canning, freeze it! Tomatoes, berries and a variety of ripe produce can be frozen whole, then thawed and turned into sauces, desserts and refrigerator jams at a time when you have the time to deal with them.
There are two other benefits to this kind of cooking as well, both of which I particularly champion. First and foremost, it’s a good way to bring the family into the kitchen to work together. As a father of five, I know how rewarding this can be. Second, it saves money and valuable resources, something that appeals to every household in uncertain times. Supermarket checkout tallies rise when you buy a lot of packaged, canned, frozen, and processed foods; they decline as you buy food in the most natural condition offered in the market. (Yet another benefit: you’ll have less packaging to dispose of.)
Believe me, when this kind of cooking becomes part of the family routine, everyone wins. Meals will be more healthful as you rely more on whole grains, roasted fresh vegetables and legumes and less on convenience and processed foods. You and your kids will come to take pleasure in the time in the kitchen, chopping, measuring, and stirring – all easy and basic cooking chores that nonetheless teach useful life skills. I am not such an idealist that I think every child and every adult will love this idea, but try it before you dismiss it. You may be surprised. We are gung ho about attending every soccer and softball game our kids participate in, and why not? It’s fun! I urge you to give equal time to cooking together to feed the family well and do a small part to save the planet at the same time.