Monday, November 5, 2012

Once-A-Month Cooking

Why on earth would anybody want to spend 8-10 hours cooking in a single day (unless they're a chef)? Because then you can take the rest of the month OFF!

Perhaps you've never heard of once-a-month cooking, or maybe you have, but you've never dared to try it. Admittedly it seems overwhelming, especially when you hit the store with your huge list, or when you're faced with piles of food waiting to be prepped. Have no fear! Take the plunge for a month and discover the benefits:
~ Healthier meals for your family:
   Because you can plan the meals in advance, and know that you have something 20 mins away at any given point in time you are less likely to grab-n-go snacks, fast food, and bring-home dinners.
~ Incredible $$$ Savings:
   Not only are you less likely to blow your hard earned dollar on fast food or take-out, but you save money from the get go. Because you will be cooking everything at once it makes more sense to buy the larger value sized items.
~ Convenience:
    Tired from work, playing with kids, school, hobbies, housework, etc. etc. etc. Relax - you don't have to face the "what do you want to do for dinner?" question with dread. Just grab a pre-portioned, pre-cooked meal, pop it in the oven, 20 mins later you can be eating with the family.
~ Time savings:
    By doing all the prep work at once you can do it more efficiently. If you are anything like me you hate to drag out that Kitchen-Aid or food processor for one meal when you know it's going to take you longer to clean it than it took to prep the food. Don't let your appliances sit lonely and unused any longer! Pull those babies out! It looks a lot more useful when you're faced with slicing 5 lbs of potatoes or dicing a dozen onions.
    Not only that, but you only have to do clean-up once. No food prep dishes every single meal, pots, pans, etc. will become a once-a-month chore!
    Shopping becomes more focused and you will spend likely spend less time in the store. Because you arrive with your pre-planned meal menu and know just what you need, you are buying a whole month's food in one hour or two shopping trip. You'll only have to run in for perishables throughout the month.
~ Great Family Time:
    Ok, so maybe they won't all agree on this point, but it really can be a fun day of family togetherness. Somebody browns meats, someone else is chopping vegetables, another person is spreading casserole dishes with rice or lasagna. Everyone together chatting. Just what you always wished that meal preparation looked like (though it may more often resemble a NASCAR race in a tornado).

Cheddar Beef Enchiladas
So how exactly does this cooking once a month thing work? Well, there are several helpful sites online where you can get recipes, tips and hints. I've included several of them at the end of this article. However, here is a basic outline to help you get the gist, as well as some tips from my family to yours that we've picked up over the years:
1) Plan your month. You will want at least 5-7 different meals (we like to do 8-10) for some variety. You'll want recipes so that you can take stock of what you have on hand and what you will need to buy. We've compiled a 3-ring binder of our favorite recipes that hold up well to freezing, reheat well, are easy to cook, inexpensive, and provide good variety. Each month we go through and pick which ones we want. We've got about 40 recipes at this point, so we are not in danger of getting tired of eating the same old thing. Remember to calculate recipes based on the number of members in your family x the number of times you will want to eat that meal in a month so that you get enough of all ingredients.
2) Write up a shopping list based on your month's recipes. We write every ingredient down and then visit the pantry to see what we can "scratch off" from home. That helps me keep the recipes organized. (You may find that the first time you see all this your bank account screams at you and your wallet says "no way". You might try doing a week or two at a time instead, until you've gotten into a position to buy a month's worth of groceries at a time.)
3) Clean out your freezer! This is an important step. You are going to need a place to put all this food! If you have a chest freezer so much the better. If you have a large family and a regular freezer you may find you need more room.
4) Clean all of your oven-safe dishes: casserole dishes, roasters, whatever you have on hand. You might even use pie tins or aluminum oven-ware. You'll need as many as possible, we started with disposable aluminum tins until I had managed to accumulate enough glassware for the month. You'll probably also need some butter-tub sized bowls or Tupperware for storing soups, chili, and other non-oven meals.
5) Go shopping. I generally do this on a Saturday and then we spend a Sunday afternoon cooking. You will want all the food on hand at least the day before your Big Cook Day
6) Cook! And Cook, and cook and cook and cook.... well you get the point. Most meals will involve a meat that has to be pre-cooked or browned before it can go into the soup or casserole or other meal. You'll also likely be chopping veggies, boiling potatoes, steaming rice, etc.
7) Assemble all meals and bake those that need baking to 75% done. For example, if a recipe calls for a casserole to be baked for 40 mins I'll bake it for 30 or so.
8) Label all meals VERY WELL! This is a key in making the system work. You will want to clearly label what each meal is, and how long and how hot you have to bake or cook it for to finish it. You may even want to write two times: the time needed if it's still frozen when you pull it out to use it and the time needed if you remembered to pull it out and pop it in the fridge to thaw the night before.
9) Wash all the dishes (okay, you probably could have figured this part out on your own).
10) Sit back, relax, and enjoy your month of home-cooked meals.

~ try making the most of your meat by adding TVP (texturized vegetable protein) to your ground beef, poultry, or pork. This soy-based product cooks right into the meat and is barely noticeable. It can double the quantity and cut the fat in HALF, all for pennies on the dollar what you are paying for the meat. Learn more and stock up here:

~ Month-o-meals isn't just for dinner anymore! Try cooking up large batches of pancakes, french toast, and waffles. Freeze with wax paper between them and pop them in the toaster to reheat. Perfect quick breakfast for the kids at a fraction of the price of "Eggo's".

~ Knowing you are going to save money in the long run don't be afraid to take shortcuts in some areas if the task seems to daunting: buy canned beans instead of dry; use precut frozen veggies for some of the recipes, experiment to determine the perfect balance of taste, convenience, and time-saving for your family.

~ Use as few dishes as possible. Don't be afraid to brown 5 lbs of meat for 5 different recipes in one big batch! Use the heck out of that food processor! In some ways cooking in large quantities is easier than smaller amounts.

~ Use an "assembly line" approach, getting everyone involved. Hand your toddler a box of lasagna noodles to spread in layers, have an older child spoon the meat in, and someone else can sprinkle the cheese. Not only do kids get a kick out of helping, but they will be more likely to eat knowing they helped prepare the meals. And you can relax knowing you're not in a time crunch.

~ Invite another friend or family to be involved. Split the grocery list and agree on a day to join up for the Big Cook. The more the merrier!

More Resources & Recipes:

1 comment:

  1. I'm intrigued by the concept. But, we DEFINITELY do not have enough freezer space to even think about trying this.


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