Some of my most beloved memories involve batch cooking with friends. There is something magical about getting together with other humans and preparing food to nourish each others’ bodies and souls. As we labor jointly to chop, cook, and pack meals, kitchens turn into bubbles conducive to telling old stories and creating new ones. Somehow, as roasting vegetables undergo caramelization, relationships turn golden, too. Plus, after two or three hours of work, we all go home with a mountain of food to enjoy on busy weeknights. Starting a batch cooking club is easier than you think. Following these 10 steps, you can do it next weekend.
First: think about your needs
Do you need to fill your freezer with easy meals to reheat on weeknights, like soups and stews? Are you trying to learn new cooking skills? Do you want to make new friends who cook together then share a meal? Those goals are not mutually exclusive, but thinking about your needs first will help you set the right parameters for your batch cooking club.
Pick your people
Recruit wisely. Pick two to four friends or relatives with compatible values, work ethic, and taste in food (and music!). If your BFF is a long-time vegan, but a bit of a slob, while you value food hygiene, your friendship might suffer from the experience. Similarly, don’t invite your cousin who says she is curious about plant-based cooking but insists on using dairy butter. You will, after all, be sharing the food afterward.
I bet if you share this article on your social media timeline, you’ll find a couple of friends who’ll say “We should do this!” Ask others in your social circle or casually suggest it to friendly acquaintances. If you have young children, you can try to do it with another parent while your kids have a playdate. Make sure to set realistic cooking goals!
If you really don’t know anyone, do not despair. Post in a local plant-based/vegan Facebook group, or look for a suitable Meetup group near you. (If you know good groups in your region, make sure to leave a link in the comments below!) State your goals clearly but keep an open mind. Set up your first meeting in a public coffee shop or grocery store to discuss what recipes you’d all like to cook. That way you can make sure you feel safe around your would-be co-cooks before inviting them to your home. I know it can be scary to welcome strangers into your kitchen, but I bet most people who respond to an ad about batch cooking are likely to be very decent folks. Nevertheless, listen to your gut and do not put yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
Home-in on a kitchen
I have organized cooking clubs at my home, at other people’s homes, and in community kitchens. The easiest, by far, is to do it at home: that way I don’t have to carry anything anywhere! Once your club is established, you can rotate hosting between the various members’ homes, of course.
If you are reluctant to host at home, or if none of the club’s members have more than a micro-kitchen, I recommend making a few phone calls to find a community kitchen that you may be able to use for free or cheap. Community centers, neighborhood houses, churches, YMCAs and food banks may have a space that is suitable for you to borrow.
Wherever you go, make sure that the kitchen is cleaner when you finish than when you started, so your host will want you to come back.
Set a date
In our busy modern world, with overscheduled families, locking down 3 hours when three different people are simultaneously available to cook together may be the biggest challenge. Create a Doodle poll or try LettuceMeet. Once you all agree on a time, set it in stone in your calendar. Cooking together is the most important thing in the world!
Choose your food
You can each pick a recipe of your choice. Some groups prefer to set a theme. Choose a cuisine of the world (Italian, Indian, Mexican…), cook with dietary constraints in mind (gluten-free, no oil…), pick a cookbook or blog to select recipes from, etc. Choose dishes that are easy to cook as a big batch and that are not too fussy, presentation-wise. (My favorite to kick-off any batch cooking club is Every Mom’s Bolo Sauce. You can find more inspiration in this post about batch cooking too.)
Try to balance stove-top and oven-based recipes so you can maximize your time and space. If an Instant Pot is available, make sure to use it!
After trying different methods, I have found that having each person bring the ingredients for their recipe (doubling or tripling quantities) is the simplest way. I always encourage my co-cooks to pick budget-friendly recipes and avoid costly ingredients like cashews. If fairness is a concern, it’s always possible to pool grocery receipts and average things out.
Each cook should check in with the host a couple of days ahead to make sure all required gear and appliances are available. Some hosts may offer to provide some basic ingredients (spices, vinegar, cornstarch, etc.) if they have plenty to share so that guest cooks have fewer things to carry.
What to bring
Unless the host has a commercial kitchen to work in, I recommend that each cook brings the following:
- Own knives and cutting board;
- At least one dish towel and rag;
- Hair ties;
- Inside shoes (better than cooking barefoot);
- Containers to bring the food home: err on the side of too many – there is always more food than you think; choose glass over plastic because hot food can be transferred into them to cool sooner;
- Extra cooking pots or pans (as agreed upon with the host).
Take a moment before you start to review the recipes you have lined up and determine what needs to go on the stove-top or in the oven at what time.
You can either pool all of your chopping (for example having a single person chop all the onions), or just have each cook do their thing following their recipe, with others helping out when they have lulls in their own recipes.
As much as possible, keep on cleaning up as you go and wipe spills before they spread.
Pack it up
Let the cooked food cool for a few moments then start dividing it equally across containers to cool. Label everything!
Make it extra fun
Give your club a cool name that reflects your personalities and taste in food.
Play some energy-boosting music!
And if you plan on opening a bottle of wine, perhaps wait until after the chopping is done and the knives are put away.
Celebrate and brag about your achievement
Create a big display of all the yummy food you have cooked and take a group selfie. Be proud of what you accomplished! Share widely on social media and encourage others to create their own batch cooking club.
Do it again: schedule next time right away
Best results – food and community-wise – come from groups who meet regularly. Make it a regular date, say the last Sunday of every month, and commit to at least three club meetings. Don’t go home without agreeing about your next meeting time and date! It’s so much easier to do it in person and add it to your calendar immediately.