January - be it dry, vegan or the normal kind - is in full swing, and depending on your resolutions you may be arm-deep in chilli con carne, stew or tagines trying to batch-cook your way to a happier you. It's a great lifehack - maybe the best - but requires some guidance so you don't get bored of spag bol three weeks in. 

Donal Skehan is the master of batch cooking, devising his own "baby bunker" of prepped meals when he and his wife Sofie were expecting their first child, Noah. Now, with another baby, Ollie, and a busier schedule meal prep has become central to his week. 

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Here, ahead of the finale of Donal's Superfood in Minutes, the Howth chef breaks down how his cooking has changed, his comfort food favourites and why a touch of veganism can go a long way. 

Has your baby bunker held you in good stead with baby Ollie, or did you change it up this time around?
I’ve been doing it even when there’s not the imminent arrival of a baby on the way. Obviously, with the work I do, I want to keep us on track with what we’re eating so it really helps.

You just spend one day plodding away in the kitchen, not particularly cooking for a particular dinner time, just making things here and there that you pop into freezer bags and stick in the freezer. We’ve actually just come to the end of our baby bunker so we’re back in the real world of cooking!

Around when our baby was born we probably would have had a good three weeks of decent meals but that's in among cooking a bit on the side, as well. It’s more for the bigger meals where you’re looking for a bit of solace that you know you have it in the freezer. Don’t go mad and wreck yourself trying to get ahead but little cheat meals in the freezer is a good way to get ahead!

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Has juggling two children changed how you cook? 
Yes, my wife murders me for the amount of salt I use! So I've to watch that, and thankfully Noah is a really good eater for now and he’s quite adventurous so I don’t have to tailor the dishes too much. Generally, he does eat what we have, I don’t have to do extra special meals.

Keeping to a few rules like lower salt and things like that. Learning that they can’t eat all the things I eat, and also that spicy food affects breast milk, in a bad way, so if she’s eating something too [spicy] we’ll hear it on the other side of the baby!

Favourite comfort food recipes for cold months? 
The worst part of living in a city like LA where there's food on every street corner is I eat out far more than I ever did before. When we're eating out comfort food would be Vietnamese pho and noodle soups, a lot of the stuff I wouldn’t necessarily easily make at home.

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At home, it's a lot of the classics - a really good fish or cottage pie, Irish stew. But we also mix it up, and a lot of my travels have influenced the comfort foods we do. There's a great recipe in the last book called Chicken Adobo which is slow-braised chicken thighs with soy sauce and garlic and peppercorns. Really simple stuff that you can get really great results from.

I know it’s LA, but it still does get a bit cold here - not as bad as Storm Brendan! You do what you grew up with, and Noah devours them so we do stick to them. And a lot of soups lately, they’re a great way to get the veg in.

What is the secret to perfect mashed potatoes? 
My perfect mashed potatoes involve boiling your potatoes, drain them, put them back in the pot and you put a bit of kitchen paper on the top. Put the lid on, leave it to sit and then bring some milk and butter to temperature. Mash it with a little bit of milk and butter until you get them really smooth.

I love my mashed potato smooth and really, really creamy. I don't want stuff that holds its shape too much when it lands on the plate. I add a little bit of white pepper and when I normally make mash, I often make champ. I love spring onion running through it.

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Veganuary is seemingly more popular than ever - aside from the clear climate crisis ongoing, do you think ideas about veganism have changed recently?
I definitely think so. As much as people pooh-pooh it, I think it's a really great movement. I think you take from it what you will. I eat a lot of vegan foods and I eat a lot of vegetarian foods, and I still eat meat but when I choose to, I choose to eat the best quality meat. 

I see a lot of vegan hate out there and I have to say it’s ridiculous.

I think vegans, sometimes you get the militant one where there’s no room for any sort of interpretation and that’s sort of where it goes wrong. But I think a person who makes good decisions about their health eats a balanced diet, eats the best quality they can afford and are bumping up as much veg as they can get. I don’t even want to call it a trend because I think it’s something that has to happen. We should be eating a lot more vegetables, grains, pulses. 

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There’s a guy I follow, Dan Buettner who is the master of the Blue Zones, the places where people live the longest and we actually went to film in one in Korea. It’s all very simple: it’s very little meat, it’s a lot of veggies, it’s dairy but the best quality dairy, it’s a lot of beans and pulses, a lot of herbs, wholegrains. It’s a lot of stuff that we kind of know we should be eating. From that perspective, it’s never a bad idea to be introducing vegan options into our lives and it’s a positive step forward. 

Vegan pantry staples?
I'm not into transforming things into something that looks like meat. In the book there are recipes for a really good Indian dahl, a fantastic veggie tartine, the things that are sort of surprisingly vegan rather than being like, 'here’s turkey made out of something else’. The things I get sort of excited about are the really veg-heavy dishes - there’s a chickpea tagine that would be vegan.

I definitely don’t have vegan staple pantry items, but the only one that I do have which I don’t really use for any vegan recipes is nutritional yeast which I sprinkle on my popcorn and is absolutely delicious! 

Watch the final episode of Donal's Superfood in Minutes at 7:30pm Wednesday 15 January on RTÉ One.