Riese and I had a fun adventure on Wednesday: a baby play date that also involved batch cooking for the week!
I mentioned last week that I made a new mom friend, Anina Belle, at baby music class. She loves cooking and also has a blog, and over lunch last week we came up with the idea to do a fun cooking session together! It would be a win/win/win, we figured – the little ones would get to play (her daughter Valentina is only a month older than Riese), we could hang out, AND we’d both have food for the week! Sign me up.
When discussing what to make, Anina Belle shared with me that she often batch cooks – meaning, she cooks large portions of a few different meals all at once, and then mixes and matches them to create versatile meals throughout the week. She also usually freezes about half to 3/4 of what she cooks, so that way they aren’t eating the same thing all week. They will eat some of the food she just cooked, but also pull some things out of the freezer from previous batch cook sessions to mix it up, too. Brilliant, right? This is something I never do but now want to try more often – it makes so much sense!
What also made a lot of sense was that Anina Belle usually cooks 2 or 3 dishes at once that use very similar ingredients – that way you aren’t spending 6 hours cooking totally different meals, but rather chopping and cooking the dishes all at once, and not wasting extra ingredients, either. Genius, right!?
We decided to make three dishes:
- A minestrone soup
- A bolognese sauce that could be eaten as is or atop pasta, squash, etc.
- A blended veggie soup that used up all the extra bits of veggies that didn’t make the first two dishes
The added bonus was that all of these dishes are also baby-friendly! The key with that is to just to use low sodium broth if possible, and don’t add any extra salt to the portions that the babes will be eating.
We combined forces with ingredients – I brought some and she got some – and when Riese and I arrived, we got to cooking! In our minds, we figured we would chop veggies and cook and hang out while the girls played together, but obviously what actually happened was one of was in charge of the girls while the other chopped and cooked. Ha! Should have figured that would happen – they spent about two seconds playing together and then just wanted to be held/to climb up our legs. Or, they were ready to eat! Above you see Riese chowing down on some salmon, turkey, and butternut squash, and below Valentina is chowing down on some yogurt. 🙂
I’ve been wanting to try out an ErgoBaby carrier, so when Riese got fussy and wanted to be held and my arms got tired I ended up wearing her in Valentina’s ErgoBaby carrier for awhile. She liked it – nice for her to face out and be able to see the action! (Obviously I didn’t wield any knives while wearing her… I stuck to washing veggies and dishes!) Matt and I have been thinking of getting one of these or something similar so she can face out (ours doesn’t have that option), and I like that there is a backpack option too because wearing Riese on long walks is starting to kill my lower/mid back a bit! I know I could just do the stroller, but it’s easier when I’m walking solo with Riese and the dog to do the carrier vs. the stroller. If you have a carrier like this where the babe can face out – which one is it and do you love it? Open to recommendations! 🙂
Anyway, back to the food! Like I said, everything we made used variations on the same ingredients, which made it easy to make it all at the same time. Here’s what went into each pot, and in the order that they went in. The key is to put harder veggies in first (like carrots), plus onions and garlic so they sweat a bit. Softer veggies or ones we wanted to stay more firm went in later.
- Minestrone soup: carrots + onions + garlic + celery + ground beef + chicken broth (put this in once earlier veggies soften a bit and the onions/garlic are fragrant… and the beef is browned) + tomatoes (canned, with juice) + potatoes + kidney beans + mushrooms (put in close to the end of cooking) + green beans + pesto.
- Blended “everything but the kitchen sink” soup (aka we tossed in random veggies that we had too much of and let it boil until really soft, then blended it using an immersion blender): carrots + water and chicken broth + onions + garlic + celery + tomatoes (fresh) + potatoes (sweet + regular) + leeks. The key with this is to make sure a starchy veggie is in the mix (like potatoes) so it will help to bind the veggies. But it’s really forgiving in terms of what you toss in, and you don’t have to bother chopping the veggies if you don’t want to, either. Just let it boil until everything is soft!
- Bolognese sauce: carrots (diced smaller than for the soup) + onions + garlic + ground beef + diced tomatoes (canned with juice + some fresh) + mushrooms + diced olives + fresh basil (added just before serving).
We didn’t measure anything, but these dishes are forgiving – get creative and taste as you go! For some more specific guidelines to follow, Anina Belle has her La Bolognaise recipe on her site. 🙂
A tip for the minestrone soup: leave out any rice or pasta and just add that immediately before serving. It won’t freeze well or keep in the fridge that well with rice or pasta in there since they will absorb the broth and get soggy/mushy.
The final step was blending the veggie soup – if you don’t have an immersion blender, a regular blender will work!
Et voila! Soup/sauce, three ways. Anina Belle said she can usually do a batch cook session like this in about 1.5 to 2 hours during naptime if uninterrupted. It took us closer to 3/3.5 with the babies in the mix. 🙂
Timing actually worked out that the babies were BOTH asleep (very briefly – Riese was in a pack ‘n’ play Anina Belle had on hand) when the dishes were ready, so we dug right in! Topped with a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh parmesan (purchased pre-grated, and then frozen – smart tip to make it last way longer! no need to defrost before putting on the soup, either). We couldn’t be bothered to make pasta so we ate the bolognese sauce as is – so good!
Riese enjoyed some of the ground beef and soft veggies after waking up and gave them two thumbs up, too. 😉
I’m excited for her to try the blended soup today with lunch – if she likes it, I’m going to pour it into some reusable baby food pouches I bought and save for snacks when out and about! Actually, I’ll probably freeze the blended soup in an ice cube tray and defrost one at a time to add to pouches the day of since I don’t think I can freeze the actual pouches? Thoughts?
Both babies were very intrigued by it yesterday but haven’t tasted it yet. This photo cracks me up and is a pretty good representation of the day! (I just realized Riese was fully balancing/standing on her own in this photo – omg! I think that’s a first!)
Matt and I enjoyed the dishes for dinner last night! He had the bolognese with pasta, and I had the blended soup with a grilled cheese, since I’d already had a lot of the other two soups earlier in the day. So good! I’m not sure the bolognese will make it to the freezer, but I’ll definitely be able to freeze some of the soup for later. I’m going to put it in ziplocks in individual portions so it’s easy to defrost and can be frozen flat to take up less space!
Thanks for having us over to cook with you, Anina Belle and Valentina! Until next time 🙂
Do you batch cook? Any tips/favorite meals to batch cook?