As many of you know, I travel on a routine basis to cook for my Mom and Dad. My parents are elderly and my Mom has dementia. For their entire marriage, my Mom had the traditional role as the cook in the home and my Dad needs a helping hand with the task.
A few years ago after hearing my Dad say they “went to Taco Bell” more than once in a week, I knew I had to do something. First, I searched for meal delivery. I had been ordering Munchery in Seattle on a regular basis, but there weren’t services like this where Mom and Dad live. Blue Apron required too much prep and Freshly wasn’t cooking food they old school way my parents liked to eat. Armed with a handful of Pinterest recipes, I came home to cook for them.
For more than 3 years now, I have traveled home to batch cooked food for 2-3 days and have left my parents with a stocked freezer of meals for weeks. I know it has really helped them. Today, we are in the midst of a pandemic, I was asked on Twitter to share how I’m doing this. My hope is that this helps you help someone else that needs a hand in these troubling times. Here are my tips for batch cooking for yourself or someone in need:
GET GOOD TOOLS IN PLACE TO DO THE JOB
My first trip home I fumbled through my parents’ kitchen and realized they hadn’t updated their pots, pans and cooking utensils in decades. The spaghetti pot I remembered as a child had one handle and the non-stick pans were no longer non-stick. That following Christmas, I gifted them a modest set of Rachel Ray cookware, new knives and a lot of kitchen utensils. Amazon has great deals on this stuff and it’s a huge help when I am there.
ALUMINUM TRAYS TO THE RESCUE
If I cooked in the traditional way and just froze a large lasagna, I realized Mom and Dad would have to eat the same thing for the week. But, getting meals in individual containers gives them a way to have more variety. This is how my family had been eating at home with our Munchery delivery. I found two different types of trays on Amazon. The compartmentalized TV dinner tray and basic version. If you are cooking for a single person, the TV dinner version is best. If you are cooking for two, the basic is best. Each comes with a cardboard lid that I write the contents and instructions on. I could get really ahead of the game and make labels, but I need something to do when the food is cooking so I handwrite them. It’s a personal touch. You can add and “I love you” every now and then.
MAKE SMALLER SERVING SIZES
At first, I was loading up my trays with large portions and my Dad quickly told me they can eat both lunch and dinner with one tray for the day. I started downsizing my portions after that.
COOK FOR THEM, NOT FOR YOU
I have had hits and misses with my recipe selection. At the end of this blog post, I will share my favorite recipes, but the golden rule is to cook the way or Mom or Dad used to cook. What do you remember them making? For me, many of the things I make are things I don’t eat. Chicken and Dumplings, Chicken Noodle Casserole, Beef Stew. Sure, it would be healthier for them to eat a plant-based diet, but they don’t need me to preach a diet to them. I just want them to have easy access to food they like to eat. Of course, if they have a medical diet their doctor has put them on, follow the rules.
DON’T GET FANCY
I have a great meatloaf recipe that I make at home. It takes about 45 minutes just to chop and prep before I put it in the oven. These are not the recipes to make for batch cooking. You aren’t having a dinner party. Casseroles are your friend! And for my Mom and Dad, this is the very food they like to eat the most.
DON’T FORGET BREAKFASTS AND DESSERTS
I always make more than a dozen breakfast and a dozen desserts. Scrambled eggs, bacon and hashbrowns (yes, the frozen kind) and a good berry cobbler are perfect for batch cooking. My Dad told me that they often eat cereal for breakfast and use the egg/bacon/hashbrown meal for dinner.
GET A CROCKPOT
Using a crockpot in addition to the oven will double your results. This last visit, I even cooked stew overnight to increase my output. I always have one crockpot recipe for each day I plan to cook. I am usually cooking for 8 hours a day when I am there and most slow cooker recipes are 7-8 hours on the low setting.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A VARIETY OF RECIPES
I make sure I have a mixture of meat/side/potatoes and casseroles. I use a balance of red meat, pork, and poultry. I purchase a higher quality of meat than I know my Dad would if he were shopping. I will make a big side dish and use it in different combinations in the meal trays. I generally come down with 8-12 recipes. This is not including the breakfasts I cook. I’m sharing my favorites below!
CANNED VEGETABLES AND CANNED INGREDIENTS ARE A-OKAY
Eat your peas and carrots. Does anyone else recall that saying? I never eat canned veggies at home, but I will use them in my parents’ recipes. I also make recipes that use cream of chicken, mushroom and celery soup. A few of my parents’ favorites fall into the Hamburger Helper style of meal. I recently had a Facebook friend comment, “You know the worst thing about Hamburger Helper? It’s DELICIOUS!” – this is true, I’m afraid. Still, a homemade casserole is always better than fast food.
SAME WITH FROZEN FOODS
Recipes that use frozen foods are okay as well. I made funeral potatoes for the first time this trip and they were amazing. Frozen hashbrowns were on the ingredient list.
ROTISSERIE CHICKEN IS YOUR FRIEND
If a recipe calls for cooking and shredding chicken, make the switch to store-bought rotisserie chicken. While you’re there, pick up the tri-tip roast they offer (if they have that).
WHILE THINGS ARE COOKING
Clean up in the kitchen. Organize pots and pans. Throw out expired foods.
DO THIS FOR YOURSELF, TOO!
This method of cooking can apply to your own home, too. I routinely cook a couple of entrees on Sunday and use these glass containers to store them. I have very limited freezer space compared to my parents. This does help me during a busy work week, though.
THE RECIPES – HERE ARE MY FAVORITES FOR MOM AND DAD
Breakfast: I don’t use recipes. I simply scramble eggs, cook bacon, sausage, and frozen hashbrowns and divide it up into servings for two. That’s four eggs, four pieces of meat, and 2 hashbrown servings.
Lunches or Dinners
- Chicken Spaghetti
- Chicken Biscuit Pot Pie
- Chicken Noodle Casserole
- Chicken and Dumplings – Slow Cooker
- Turkey Noodle Casserole
- Chicken and Rice Casserole
- Shredded rotisserie chicken or roasted turkey with potatoes and veggies – no recipe needed. Good to add gravy to the meat so it doesn’t dry out when cooking
- Brown Sugar Meatloaf
- Old-School Salisbury Steak
- Hamburger Casserole
- Homestyle Pot Roast
- Sweet Southern Ham – Slow Cooker
- Beef Stew – Slow Cooker
- Funeral Potatoes
- Martha Stewart’s Classic Mashed Potatoes
- Honey Brown Sugar Glazed Carrots
- Classic Green Bean Casserole
- Bacon-Cornbread Stuffing
- Canned green beans, peas, corn, and carrots, or mixed veggies
Desserts: (all best with ice cream)