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Batch Cooking + Baby Play Date

Riese and I had a fun adventure on Wednesday: a baby play date that also involved batch cooking for the week!

batch cooking for the week with a baby

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!?

MY OTHER RECIPES
 

We decided to make three dishes:

  1. A minestrone soup
  2. A bolognese sauce that could be eaten as is or atop pasta, squash, etc.
  3. 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. :)

batch cooking italian soup and sauce three ways

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.

batch cooking italian soups

The final step was blending the veggie soup – if you don’t have an immersion blender, a regular blender will work!

blended veggie soup

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. :)

batch cooking soup 3 ways

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?

Comments

  1. 1

    I’ve been trying to do more batch cooking lately too – it makes things easier when you have littles to feed and not much time after work! I cooked a lot with my son in a carrier when he was really little, especially when he was faced in (it does get more difficult as they get older and more curious!). We had a hand-me-down Ergobaby that we used for a while, but I ended up buying a LILLEbaby 360 All Seasons and much preferred the fabric (was more breathable for warm weather) and fit. I’d highly recommend it!

    • 2

      I’ve heard a lot of people rave about the Lillebaby!

      • 3

        We have the lillebaby- My son is 13 months and never took to front facing out (plus we had a hip dysplasia scare so I didn’t push it). I throw him on my back and carry him while walking the dog and it’s perfect. The dog doesn’t do as well with the stroller and we can go faster with him on my back. Also, super nice when we take him to crowded events- baseball game, farmers market, etc. Highly recommend!

  2. 4
    Sian Bumsted says:

    I have an Ergo and LOVE it, but check the weight restrictions for facing forward before you invest in a carrier specific for that reason. The Ergo 360 maxes out at 22 pounds for forward facing, which my daughter hit this summer at about 15 months. She can face forward in front until 26 pounds and then she’ll have to go on my back or the hip carry (also facing inwards), but I haven’t practiced with those positions yet.

  3. 6

    Love my Lillebaby (airflow and woven). You can join Lille love on Facebook to find out more about all the different options!

  4. 7

    I totally recommend getting comfortable with the back carry! It’s more comfortable with a heavier baby and they can see so much. That said, I love the 360 and they have a cool mesh (or some such name) as well.

  5. 8
    Laura Swanson says:

    I used to freeze my daughters pouches filled with food I made all the time, no issues!

  6. 11

    This is such a clever trick for food prep. I have always felt “meh” about it because you either spend forever making a bunch of different dishes or have to eat the same ingredients all week. This solves both those problems — at least once you get a freezer stash started.

  7. 13

    This is crazy…I MADE THESE SAME DISHES TODAY. I do the batch cooking weekly, and do the tricks you listed above to make it easier for preparation and budget! The only differences for me, is I used sausage instead for my meat instead of beef. In my bolognese, I also omitted the mushrooms and string beans from my dishes and finely diced my vegetables to hide them from my anti-vegetable-phase toddler for the bolognese ;) . The other soup I made was a kale sausage with brown rice (not put in until ready to serve). Lastly, the minestrone! Mine had northern beans instead along with squash and crushed tomatoes. Other than that, same exact! I never thought to put the parmesan cheese in the freezer, though…what an awesome hack!

    On another note, I am a Physician Assistant by day and have a 4.5yo and 2.5 yo. I always looked into a baby carrier, preferring forward facing, but during my medical training and then research while pregnant, I read a lot of studies stating that these such carriers can contribute to hip dysplasia, especially in baby girls (due to higher estrogen and more joint laxity). I decided against doing it and just stuck with the stroller. Bummer but out of that stage now….Just a heads’ up! I know you are a super well-informed Mom on so many levels but just wanted to make sure you were aware. :)

    • 14

      I have a daughter exactly the same age ad Riese (nice to see how they grow!) and I was also concerned by the consequences of carriers on the hips. Turns out that there is a correct position, where the legs of the baby form an M shape and the knees are above the linea of the hips. A carrier with a wide seat (from knee to knee), with baby facing inward, guarantees the correct position. Unfortunately, no outward facing carrier does so

    • 16

      That’s too funny that you made the same things! Your kale and sausage soup sounds awesome… mmmm. And I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the forward-facing carrier! Thank you! Are carriers like the one I have where she faces me okay? She was already at risk for hip dysplasia given her Frank breech position, so probably best to be cautious here…!

    • 17

      What are your thoughts on the carriers that have them on your back – like the Lillebaby and the Ergo360 but used in the backpack carry rather than forward facing?

      • 18

        I’ve heard the best carriers for preventing hip dyspasia are the ones with the baby facing you. I haven’t ever looked into the back-pack style, so cannot comment on that. The problem is no active infant wants to face you! They want to see the world! Haha Eleonora, thanks for adding!

  8. 21

    I batch cook, freeze, meal list and grocery list every week, it’s efficient and also allows me not to have to think after work. Friday’s I start thinking about lunch and dinners for the week and add it to a list in my notes section. In that same notes I also put down different ideas for lunches/dinners as go-to’s so I don’t become bored of the same thing.

    Then I will add what I need to my grocery list, meal prep/batch cook on Sunday – freeze what I think I won’t need, and I am ready to go. It is such a time and money saver. I also pre-pack my lunches the night beforehand after I finish eating dinner.

  9. 23

    This is a really fun idea – thanks for sharing! I’m sure batch cooking is more fun with some company! I called up a friend to make plans to do this same thing with a few of our favorite soup recipes on Sunday afternoon.

  10. 25

    So question. I like my veggies tender crisp, and like you never have done food prep much (just me and the husband, so it’s easier. And I’m never hungry for the food I peeped or planned for, the rebellious part of me coming out).
    My question is don’t the veggies get super soggy, especially if freezing and thawing?

    P.s. I’m one of those silent readers who enjoys your blog, but I like having the most minimal presence online as possible. Since I’m already posting thee dish I use the most is probably the summer rolls . SO GOOD AND EASY!

    • 26

      Oh yay, so glad you love the summer rolls recipe! Thanks for reading :) The veggies do get a bit soggy… in the bolognese you don’t notice/it doesn’t make a difference, though! In the minestrone they are a bit more soggy, but not too bad, especially if they started out more crisp. You could try making a small batch and see how you like it reheated?

  11. 27

    Looks fun! and Bravo Riese!! :D

  12. 28

    I also Love my LilleBaby 360!! I keep it in the car so it’s ready to go whenever I need it. I keep my ergo in the house. But the LilleBaby is my go to. I love this post on the batch cooking. I need more ideas like this, cause cooking dinner with 3 little ones is very challenging! When I try to batch cook it takes so long, but this looked easy. I hope you do another post like this so I can copy! 😊

    • 29

      We definitely want to do another batch cooking sesh! Stay tuned. Why do you prefer the LilleBaby over the Ergo?

      • 30

        The thing I love the most about the Lillebaby is that you can adjust the seat for a newborn so their hips don’t have to be so wide, which isn’t good for them. It doesn’t need a new born insert and my other favorite feature is that it has an air vent to sip down so your baby doesn’t get really hot. Also if you are wearing them in front it has a back support piece. I think it offers more features then the ergo.

  13. 33

    We love the Ergo 360, with the face out position – I think as long as you don’t use it for hours and hours, then it’s ok for hip dysplasia, especially as it has a wide seat so the baby is sitting in a good position, from what I’ve read, but I’m not a medical person. It does have a backpack option, but I found it too hard to get an active bub into that position!

    In terms of freezing pouches, they’re fine, I do it for weeks/months at a time, especially great for soups etc – then I put them in hot water for 5-10 mins before I head out somewhere to loosen them up! Sometimes my bub has them semi-frozen (she loved it when she was teething!), and sometimes I get a cup of hot water to defrost out in a cafe if I’ve forgotten to do so before leaving home!

  14. 35

    I do a lot of batch cooking and freezing – it’s so convenient and you basically have lots of healthy home cooked ‘ready meals’ on hand at all times. Having a freezer stash is also incredibly useful when you have a week of sickness or where you’re extra busy – you don’t need to cook at all!

    My tip is to combine batch cooking and the slow cooker for the absolute easiest way to feed a family. Throw everything in in the morning, leave it to cook all day, and then you have dinner that evening, plus a load of portions for the freezer.

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