I will admit, prior to kids or even with only one, I use to be a fresh-meals-only kind of snob. I only believe in preparing meals daily to feed myself and my little family. I thought to be the BEST MUM I can be I had to do that. That was my definition, my own self-imposed KPI if you like. I was doing my PhD then, zipping around Perth in my Pink (not my favourite colour) van, loaded with a stationary bike and doing at-home training for pregnant mamas of Perth as part of my PhD research. I manage to make those meals but was I a stress ball waiting to explode? Yes. Looking back, was I being silly and unrealistic? Absolutely. But at that point, I felt that I MUST do that to fulfill my role as a wife and mother. Why we self-imposed such pressures to ourselves as women and mothers? Well that’s another blog post series by itself, isn’t it? A N Y W A Y S…
Fast forward, PhD is done, baby number 2 has popped out (oops guess the typo before I got this ‘p’ word right), everything was still fine and fresh-meals-only-snob is still alive. But as number 2 grew and became fast in moving, plus me trying to start a business so that I can stay available for the kids, something changed and I wasn’t managing those meals anymore and I got very critical with myself. Stress levels are off the roof and I wasn’t the calm, present mama I want to be. Fortunately, my training as a scientist and my HUGE investment in self-help books has taught it something, so my response to this was, what is the SOLUTION? There is always another way to do things. Let’s take a deep breath in and RESET, REGROUP and ACT.
Enter BATCH COOKING & FREEZING.
This is something practiced by many and it is not a new concept. But many, like myself, wondered the pros and cons of doing this and perhaps the HOW? And importantly, what might happen to the nutritional value of the food after we freeze it? Will it still taste good? Will my kids still want to eat it? Will my husband still want to eat it? Will I want to eat it? I could keep going with the questions. So I found out the answers for us by seeking advice from people who know their stuff. I asked Belinda Martin of Advanced Dietitian Dietitian Group on her thoughts on batch cooking and the effects of freezing on the nutrient levels of food. This is what she had to say.
Meal planning, cooking in batches and freezing food is a way of managing home life for mothers. Our recommendations are to keep it safe and don’t worry about nutrient retention. Whilst the food may lose a bit of appeal and not look the same or as vibrant coming out of the freezer as it was going in, it does not affect nutrient retention. The freezing process itself does not destroy nutrients and there is little change in nutrient value during freezer storage.
The major concern is the risk of food poisoning from incorrectly handled or stored food. The temperature range between 5oC and 60oC is known as the temperature danger zone. This is the ‘zone’ where food poisoning bacteria can multiply and make you sick.
Below are some tips from Belinda on safe food practices when batch cooking for freezing:
- Freshly cooked food that you are planning to freeze needs to have the temperature reduced as quickly as possible. Cool leftovers or cooked food quickly by dividing it into smaller containers. Cool food on the bench only until it stops steaming, then place hot food in a container with a lid, label and date and put directly in the freezer.
- When freezing food, freeze small quantities in separate containers rather than freezing large amounts so that you only take out and thaw what you need. Food should be kept frozen at -18oC
- Only thaw cooked food in the fridge or in the microwave – not on the bench. Heat food to at least 75oC and maintain above 60oC until serving. Food that is re-heated in a microwave should be periodically stirred while heating as microwaves rarely evenly cook food.
- Consume reheated food within 2 hours.
- Avoid refreezing food that has been frozen and thawed. Food frozen for the second time is likely to have more bacteria.
- And of course always wash and dry your hands thoroughly before handling, preparing and eating food, after touching raw meat, fish, shell eggs or chicken, after using the toilet, changing nappies, toileting with small children, after blowing your nose, after touching a pet, after touching a sore/wound
- Check this link for some food storage guidelines https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/cold-food-storage-charts and stick to the mantra ‘if in doubt, throw it out’
I don’t know about you, but I was doing the happy dance when Belinda said that the freezing process does not destroy nutrients and it can keep our meals nutritious for ourselves and our little people. Yay! For me, this confirms that batch cooking and frozen meals will take second place in the line up of how to feed myself and my family. First place is of course still cooking fresh meals but a frozen meal that I have prepared beforehand will take precedence over a takeaway meal now because I know what went into the meal and how I cooked it. It is not to say that takeaway meals are bad. We all need a break from cooking at times and some takeaway options aren’t that bad with more and more health conscious food providers emerging. And like I always say, there is no bad food essentially. It is about the volume and frequency which we eat those “bad” foods that will affect our health.
I hope you found this post on batch cooking and freezing helpful and informative. If you like this, may I ask that you share this on Facebook with your circle of friends so that good quality information can go out into the web and potentially help another mother who is struggling with time to put nutritious food on the table for her family. Together we can help each other eat better and live better. #mumssupportingmums
About Belinda Martin
BSc (Nutr&Food Science); Postgrad. Dip. Diet
Belinda has been a Dietitian for 20 years and have worked in paediatrics for the past 14 years. She specialises in paediatric nutrition, pregnancy nutrition and allergies. Learn more about her work on Facebook or follow her practice on Instagram.