Big-batch energy: how meal prep feeds my love of cooking

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Big-batch energy: how meal prep feeds my love of cooking

Cooking for one is always challenging, especially if you prefer having different meals daily. Enter meal prep and batch-cooking. After years of resistance, online editor Annzra Denita Naidoo decided to get on the meal prep bandwagon and hasn’t looked back. Now she preps everything from dinner to weekly treats, plus she gets to cook more exciting meals without the fear of waste.

The betrayal I felt as a child when I eagerly opened an ice-cream container from the freezer only to find it full of dhal was so powerful, that I don’t think I ever got over it. It’s the reason I have trust issues. It’s also why I was dead-set against having leftovers in the freezer for the longest time. But, like with so many things in life, I’ve realised that my parents were right to freeze food. They could have picked a less traumatising container, but the practice is spot on. It just took me a while to get it, and when I started living alone it sunk in. Now my freezer is my best friend.

Baby steps with breakfast meal prep

In my youth, I couldn’t batch-cook and freeze food even if I wanted to. All I had was a bar fridge, plus I had to share it with roommates. When I lived with my best friend, Matty, life was great. We had a similar philosophy about home cooking. We took turns making meals, so the burden wasn’t always on one person and we made sure to eat all the food, so there was no waste. This all changed when I moved out to live on my own. The cooking habits I had acquired over the years had to be modified. Everything changed from shopping (no more bulk sales on fresh produce) to portion size (so hard to cook for one). Many people told me to cook a big meal and eat it over a few days, but I didn’t want to. I can eat the same meal twice, but having it three times or more in a row is not for me. I want to eat different things daily. I may be stubborn about this, but it brings me joy and I don’t want to compromise for convenience.

ALSO READ: I got an air-fryer and it did not change my life

Overnight oats with brûléed bananas

Find the recipe for overnight oats with brûléed bananas here. 

One thing I’m not so uppity about is breakfast. It’s what started my meal-prep journey – carrot cake overnight oats in particular. I saw the recipe on “FoodTok” and had to try it.  You add carrots, nuts, cinnamon and nutmeg to your oats and let it set overnight. It’s so good! The thing is, one grated carrot is enough for two or three portions for me. To avoid having awkward half-cut carrots in the fridge, I started meal prepping my oats. I prepped a variety of flavours so I wouldn’t get bored. Peanut butter and jam, fruit, tiramisu (add coffee to the oats and top with yoghurt dusted in cocoa in the morning). Having a variety ready in the fridge made my mornings so much easier.

To keep my easy mornings going, I started prepping more. I start each morning with lemon, ginger, turmeric and pepper in hot water. After seeing a content creator make this combo and freezing it in an ice tray, I started doing the same. Now I just put a block in my cup and top it with hot water. In summer, I like to have smoothies for breakfast. I measure the smoothie ingredients in my Nutribullet cup, put them into bags and freeze them so I have the exact amount ready. Then I simply grab a bag, dump it into the blender, add my liquids and powders and go. No cleaning, cutting or wasting fruit in the morning. Plus, it’s a great way to ensure my fruit doesn’t go off.

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Find the recipe for get-up-and-go green smoothie here. 

Freezer bags for the win

Using freezer bags for my smoothies opened my eyes to their potential. They come in different sizes so you can portion nicely. They’re flat so they save space, too. But the best thing about them is they’re transparent. No more trickery from re-used ice cream, yoghurt or margarine containers (these go straight to the recycling in my house). I still don’t have a solution for the biscuit tins filled with sewing stuff though, sorry! Freezer bags made me more open to freezing leftovers, and once I started I was hooked. I could batch-cook my favourites! This may seem obvious, but I was resistant and stubborn for so long that this realisation was so great.

All the things I can’t really cook for one suddenly were open to me. Curries, Bolognese, dhal (I do like it – just not when it’s a Trojan horse!); I can cook all this and more. This allows me to spend more time cooking on the weekends, which I find very therapeutic. It also frees up my weeknights, which is amazing when work is tiring or overwhelming. It also ensures I always have good food available. This comes in handy on the days when money is tight, I’m lazy or I’m tempted to get takeaways when I shouldn’t. I can hear my mom’s voice in my head saying: “There’s food at home.” She’s right.

ALSO READ: The ultimate guide to freezing food

Find the recipe for dhal curry here.

Batch-cooking also lets me get in on some of the fresh produce bulk deals, and saving money is always a win. Speaking of saving, I’ve invested in reusable silicone bags to cut down on my plastic waste. This also saves money and I highly recommend it if you’re a regular batch-cooker. A pro tip from my parents is to batch-cook and freeze food to take on holiday if you’re self-catering. This way you’ll spend less time cooking on your holiday and still save money on food!

Just a note on rice. I do batch-cook, portion and freeze rice. It’s easier than making a small amount each time I need it. I know there’s concern about reheating rice on social media, so I did some research. It’s fine to do this as long as you store and reheat it correctly. Here’s a comprehensive guide with expert advice from Martha Stewart’s site.

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Find the recipe for golden fried rice with duck here. 

It’s not all about batch-cooking

On days I do want to cook a midweek meal, I opt for a freezer staple paired with a salad or veg. Schitnzels, Woolies’ braai range, fish and sausages are my go-to proteins. I pop them into the air-fryer and make my side while it cooks. But these meals can be a little uninspired. Enter Hajar Larbah and her platfrom Moribyan. I saw a video of her prepping five different marinades for chicken and just had to try it.


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A post shared by Hajar Larbah (@moribyan)

She uses roughly 5 kg of chicken for 5 meals. This made 10 portions for my household of one. She did a follow-up with steak, plus gave suggestions on what to make with it. It’s brilliant! Now I have more delicious options that are still speedy. Rice bowls, quesadillas and sosaties entered the chat. I also keep a stash of rolls and wraps in my freezer to use for sandwiches and wraps. I still have the freezer staples, but it’s nice to have more home-made options.

ALSO READ: Social media made me do it: how “FoodTok” influenced my cooking

I also meal-prep treats. I’m still stuck on the chocolate-covered stuffed dates that went viral a few years back. They really help with sweet cravings. Choc-chip oat biscuits are a great snack. And if I’m in the mood, I may even freeze cake or pancake batter, so I can have a freshly baked treat when I want. But my number one freezer treat is the Woolworths’ Frozen Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake. I may not prep it, but it’s so nice to grab a slice when I want. Plus, it’s cheaper than buying the single cake slices in the long run.

Spiced dates

Find the recipe for spiced dates here. 

Meal prep forever!

I’m not going to lie. It’s a mission to meal prep and batch-cook. Planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, dishes – it takes a lot of time, effort and energy. But for me, the results are worth it. I feel so accomplished on my meal prep days. I cook and prep a lot of food, feed my love of cooking and I’m taking care of future me, who will really appreciate all the meals, drinks and treats.

I get to shop more bulk deals for my household of one, without fear of waste or food going off. The best part is the flexibility it gives me once it’s done. I cook when I want to. I don’t when I’m not in the mood. And I have a variety of meals on hand so I don’t have to eat the same pot of pasta for three days in a row. It’s awesome.

Annzra Denita Article by: Annzra Denita

Annzra Denita is the digital editor of TASTE. Eating good food is her absolute favourite thing and making good food is a close second.

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