This is Rebecca McKeever– you may have seen me snapping pictures at the market or sporting a green market t-shirt around town. Not only do I help out with the farmers’ market, but I’m a big fan of fresh, home-cooked food. That doesn’t mean that I have time to make a meal for my family every night. Between daytime work, evening activities, and our three year old, we sometimes can end up either grabbing take-out or having spoonfuls of peanut butter for supper.

As much as we like peanut butter and take out, this wasn’t a good solution. First, take-out can get expensive. Second, too much peanut butter, or restaurant food for that matter, makes me feel like a glob of peanut butter. And most importantly, I will cry if I find the beautiful vegetables I got at the farmers’ market, shriveled and spoiled in the back of the fridge. We needed a plan to avoid that situation.

Here’s what we do (and what you should maybe do, too):

  1. Find a consistent time each week that you can dedicate to spending a couple hours in the kitchen. During this time you’ll prepare most of your food for the whole week. This is often referred to as batch cooking.
  2. Go to the farmers’ market sometime leading up to your cooking time. (We get our vegetables and meat at the market on Saturday so we can cook together on Sunday.)
  3. Get plenty of whatever is in season. Get enough of each ingredient to make a large dish with it. If you are a busy, forgetful person like me, don’t buy one cucumber and think “Maybe I’ll slice this up sometime for a snack or maybe I’ll put it on a salad” Because it will rot in your fridge. Buy a whole slug of cucumbers and plan to make a whole container of refrigerator pickles during your cooking time. Or buy all the ingredients for the salad and actually make the salad. And if you’re thinking about buying one acorn squash because it looks cute, change your mind, buy at least three, and bake them all up at one time so you have side dishes ready for when you need them that week.
  4. Plan some meals around these items. You don’t need to plan what you’ll have each night of the week unless you want to. For us it works better to make three or four triple-batch size main dishes and a couple sides we can use all week. That way we can mix and match and use the same foods in our lunches. We might overdo it with one dish one week, but the next week we cook something different.

    batch cooking brussel sprouts zucchini and cabbage from the farmers market

    Three side dishes (cabbage, brussel sprouts, and zucchini) we prepared during our batch cooking time.

  5. Get any other ingredients you need for your plan at the grocery store. What does our family get at the grocery store during farmers’ market season? Not much at all. Our grocery list is usually: soy sauce, curry powder, rice, coconut oil, bananas. If you know any coconut oil or banana vendors who would like to participate in our market, please let me know– it would save me a trip to the grocery store.
  6. Cook all the food! (Well, you don’t have to cook it all, just prepare it for eating). For us this is the day after market and we usually just spend a couple hours in the kitchen. Since my husband and I like to cook together, it usually goes pretty smoothly. I put a pork roast in one crockpot right away so that while I’m chopping vegetables I can feel like I’m already cooking. Next we start a big pot of soup. We throw most of the vegetable scraps in the second crockpot, then add a chicken neck, salt and water. That’ll be the broth for next week’s soup. As I throw the rest of the chicken in the oven, my husband starts cooking up some vegetable side dish. Then I start chopping up vegetables for another. Squash or potatoes can be baked at the same time if the oven is on anyway. Within a couple hours, we have quite a variety of food either cooked or cooking. We can work quickly because we don’t worry about meal plans or recipes– our only thought is to get as much food as ready as possible as quickly as possible.
  7. Store the food. This is another area we’ve improved upon lately. We used to put everything in big plastic containers so that it, too, could rot. No longer. We are now putting as much as possible into wide-mouth pint-size mason jars. It is much more convenient to grab a pint-size serving of soup or stir-fry when packing your lunch than it is to find a container and dish it out in the morning and clean up the mess you’ve made while dishing it out. And guess what– if you want to eat it at home for supper, all together, you can just open up three jars.

Genius. Now our farm-fresh food actually gets eaten. I guess that’s step #8: eat the food. Since implementing this family routine, morale is up and wasted food is down. Here’s a graph:

Batch cooking makes farmers market shopping worth it

Morale has improved in our home since implementing this batch cooking routine.

That’s pretty much it! Let us know how you prepare the food you get at the farmers’ market, or let us know if you need ideas on how to cook different foods, with or without a recipe.