A year ago, I set myself a challenge: Go the whole month without ordering food or going out to eat more than once a week. I was able to complete this challenge, but I did not like it. I felt constrained, anxious and antisocial. And I was sick of doing dishes.
But the important thing is that I made it and I realized I could mentally cope with producing all my own food. However when the challenge was over, I went back to ordering food and going out to eat, because it was much less effort. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t totally forget about the month-long experiment. It nagged at me, picking at the corner of my brain even as I sunk right back into the normal Dubai lifestyle of fancy restaurants and not leaving my apartment because I can just order any cuisine right to my door.
The frugal part of my brain, the part that I give a lot of energy to as a personal finance writer, was still stuck on that month. I had saved around Dh764 on my usual food budget and I thought I could do even better than that. I hadn’t been very efficient in my grocery shopping and cooking back then. I thought that if, instead of cooking a new set of dishes every night or two, I could do batch cooking.
Batch cooking is simple, but revolutionary for your wallet, your time and your waistline. And anyone can do it. You do not have to be a great chef and in fact, if you do it right, you will cook less than you did before — unless all you did was order Zomato. Find a recipe you like, make a whole bunch of it (a batch), whip up a side dish or two, also in large portions, and viola. Just put it in Tupperware, then when you’re hungry for 2-4 days afterwards, heat it up in the microwave whenever you’re hungry.
You’re probably hitting yourself in your head right now, going “well, duh! Zach, you’re just telling me to eat leftovers, which I’ve always known was boring, but an easy way not to starve to death”. To which, I agree. However, I am here to explain why this simple process can totally revolutionize your life.
It’s super cheap
If you use good, healthy ingredients, you can do this for as little as Dh10 per serving of food, and if you make enough to give you food for 3.5 days, you can get your grocery budget down to about Dh70 per person, per week.
You can lose weight
Everyone wants to be slimmer and healthier. The only way to do that is to eat right, and sadly, the restaurants do not have our best interests at heart. They just want to make stuff you can’t stop eating, so they load it with fat, salt, and sugar. If you can batch cook, you can control ingredients and cooking techniques. When you portion it out into Tupperware, use smaller containers, which can lead you to smaller portion sizes. So, not only will you be able to only use healthy ingredients, you won’t overeat, and that’s a surefire way to lose centimeters off your waist. I know; I lost 16 off mine in only four months.
It saves time
If you only cook twice a week, even if you spend an hour each time, you now only have to cook for two hours, then just heat stuff in the microwave, which usually only will take three minutes. Now you don’t have to cook or wash dishes every day, or wait for the Zomato driver to get lost twice on the way to your house. That’s why this is great if you don’t like cooking, because you still get home-cooked food, but you only spend 1/84 of your week making it.
It can help you be more social
Making large batches of food will make you want to invite people over to share. Throw a dinner party. Or just invite your favorite person over for a home-cooked meal. Then you still get a bunch of leftovers, and you get to hang out with a person you don’t usually get to make time for.
It avoids food waste
If you only buy ingredients that you then batch cook that same day, you won’t have produce going to waste. If you make an extra-big batch, save some in your freezer so you don’t have to eat the same thing for too many days. Good for the planet.
A cautionary note: Some things work better than others for batch cooking. Curries, soups, stir fries, pasta dishes, for example, are great options for healthy, flavorful food that you’ll be happy to eat for three to four days. The thing that I’ve found to be really helpful is to eat my batch cooking for dinner. That way I mix my lunches up with takeaway, then eat the same dinner for a few nights in a row. This breaks up the monotony. For me, if I go over four days of eating the same dinner, I get stir-crazy and want to throw out whatever I have left. Your mileage may very, but start with enough food for three days and play around with it.
I didn’t change overnight to a batch cooking partisan. It took me about two months to really see the benefits and get behind the effort fully. Since I have, I’ve noticed so many great benefits. I’ve lost weight and increased my savings rate by 10 percent for the month. I’ve had more people over, and fed them, which is a fun way to show people I enjoy them and want to see them happy and healthy. And I’ve gotten hours of my time back that I used to waste cooking and cleaning more frequently.
Featured photo Shutterstock
Zach Holz is an American English teacher living and working in Dubai. He writes about financial freedom and other happy things at his blog The Happiest Teacher.