Living in lockdown for at least the next three weeks is our new reality. Which is why Suzanne Mulholland, a mum and family-cooking expert, is sharing her top tips from 'The Batch Lady. Shop Once. Cook Once. Eat Well All Week' best-selling book. Back away from the toaster and rejoice!
As we get used to living in lockdown and supermarkets put stricter restrictions on the amounts we can buy, at least we’ll see the end of panic buying and shop shelves fully replenished. What you now have to think about is what are you going to plan to eat?
Living in a remote part of Scotland means I always have to be organised in advance when it comes to meal prep. Now the key to coping with an enforced confinement is making nutritious meals a priority – and believe me, with a bit of easy prep it will still be possible to eat well. Foodstuffs such as frozen vegetables, potatoes, tins of baked beans, tuna are always good to stock up on. You can create a nutritious meal very easily with those few ingredients. I’m here to tell you my top tips to easy affordable meal prep that actually works.
Meal planning and prep: This is always an ‘ideal’ that we think we will eventually get around to once other things on our to-do lists are done. However, if there was ever a time to plan what to eat and what to buy it’s now!
Think about your favourite meals: Which ones will freeze well. Try to get a few of these made and in the freezer. The key is cook simple: Try to make sure everything you cook can be stored for a long time.
You really don’t need a large freezer: To start freezing meals in advance, simply freeze your meals flat in sealable reusable food bags. You can pack around two weeks’ worth of family meals in one freezer drawer. Use another drawer for frozen fruit, veg, milk and bread products, and you will be organised and ready for anything.
Stock up on frozen veg and fruit: You can add veg to the dishes you make for a one-pot style meal, and frozen fruit is great for smoothies, overnight oats or simply defrosted on its own.
Don’t forget herbs: I use lots of these in my recipes as they zhuzh up basic meals into something super tasty.
Freeze a stash of kids’ sandwiches: For kids lunches, sandwiches can be stored in the freezer. Get the kids involved by letting them make filled sandwiches and bagels that can be defrosted the morning you need them. Sandwiches with fillings such as cheese and ham, peanut butter and tuna mayo all freeze well. The key is to make sure your filling is not too wet.
Baked potatoes will last a long time: Cook these at the beginning of the week and store in the fridge, they last for five days and only take ten minutes to reheat.
If you live alone: Buying ready meals for one is expensive, so making meals and freezing them into single portions will help you save money. Making simple things, such as meatballs, will add variety and can be added to spaghetti or in sub rolls, or chopped in half and added to a feta salad.
The Batch Lady’s Spinach & Ricotta Stuffed Chicken
All of the recipes in my book The Batch Lady: Shop Once. Cook Once. Eat Well All Week are simple and freezable. This delicious spinach and ricotta stuffed chicken can last for up to one month in the freezer. (Serves 4)
Preparation time: 10 minutes.
Cooking time: 40 minutes.
- 8 cubes frozen, chopped spinach
- 1 x 250g tub ricotta
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 8 slices Parma ham
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Put your frozen spinach in a heatproof bowl and cook in the microwave on high for 2½ minutes, then stir and cook for 2 minutes more.
- Drain the spinach through a colander lined with kitchen paper, pressing down to remove as much liquid as possible, then return the spinach to the bowl.
- Add the ricotta cheese and nutmeg to the bowl with the spinach, then stir to combine. Season to taste and set aside.
- Working with one piece of chicken at a time, place the chicken breast flat on a chopping board and press down on it with the palm of your hand.
- Working from the thickest end of the breast, insert a sharp knife two-thirds of the way through the meat and carefully slice down the length to the thinnest end.
- Repeat until all your chicken breasts are butterflied.
- Open your chicken breasts along the cuts you have created and spoon a quarter of the filling mixture into each.
- Wrap each of the filled chicken breasts in two slices of Parma ham, securing as neatly as possible to keep the filling inside.
To cook: To cook straight away, transfer to a foil-lined baking tray and cook in an oven preheated to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 30-40 minutes, until tender and juicy. Serve with your choice of vegetables alongside.
To freeze: Lay the filled chicken breasts on a large sheet of foil, then fold over the edges and crimp together to form a sealed parcel. Transfer to a labelled freezer bag and freeze flat for up to one month.
To cook from frozen: Simply remove the chicken breasts from the freezer and leave to defrost fully, Cook as described in the To Cook section.
* The Batch Lady, Suzanne Mulholland (£20, HQ), is out now