Once-A-Month Cooking, Revised and Expanded: A Proven System for Spending Less Time in the Kitchen and Enjoying Delicious, Homemade Meals Every Day
By Mary Beth Lagerborg, Mimi Wilson
see relatedOAMC Part I . I shared some quick tips I had learned from doing in the first time, now doing the meal planning and cooking a second time I've learned even more!
It took me about a week to plan all the meals, write out ingredients, make a calendar of what we were to have when, and then shop. I found a great website for printing FREE meal planning worksheets called Mom's Budget. Not only do this site have printables but recipes for fun things like making your own laundry detergent, and Febreeze! As well as meals, financial planners etc. It's a great place to look around! These are the worksheets I printed out::
For myself the whole reason Once a Month planning and cooking sounded great for me was the idea of thinking about meals once a month (in terms of planning the whole process from shopping to menu writing) but also buying in bulk. We are big fans of both Costco and Sam's club. I literally spend at least half as much to a third of the original price of an item buying it in bulk! For instance, I needed thin sliced steak for Stroganoff and Swiss steak this month. Buying it at it's cheapest at our local grocery means $10 in meat per meal for a family of 6 (with at least once Leftover) at costco, I got enough meat for 4 meals (instead of the 2 I planned~some to bag and freeze for the next month) for $14....that is a deal. Also buying fresh produce is so much cheaper there, and if you are cooking meals for OAMC that require lots of onion, Bell Pepper, Broccoli, etc, buying it at the store would be a lot more expensive. Usually buying some of these would be a waste and I would end up throwing away rotten produce, BUT if you are using half of it too cook and freeze and the other half to have on hand fresh, it's not a waste! You CAN shop and freeze your own fresh produce like broccoli, carrots, Bell pepper, onion, etc. We even freeze bread and cheese if we know we aren't going to use it all before it goes bad. It's a matter of planning well and thinking about your freezer space!
Questions I've gotten::
What about freezer space? Do you need a stand up freezer?
We don't have one, though we are looking on craigs list and would like to invest in one because we do shop in bulk a lot. But I find a well planned month of meals and purchases doesn't require a separate freezer. Also, plan meals you have room for. I have only one shelf in the freezer for frozen meals so I chose some meals that will require freezing in a disposable tin and some that I can lay flat in ziplocks and freeze. Additionally, all your meats can be put in freezer ziplocks and rolled flat to freeze and thaw a lot easier! Learned that trick from my Momma!
What if your monthly budget doesn't allow you to shop all at once?
Trust me when I say I understand this one! We have just rearranged what gets paid when to allow for once a month main grocery shopping, and then smaller grocery trips during the week. It will save you money buying as much as you can in bulk, like I said freezing what you don't use, or if it's dry goods like pasta or diced tomatoes!
Do you plan freezer meals for the whole month?
The answer is No. I plan about 8-10 frozen meals (usually all different) for the entire month and the other 10-20 meals are made fresh or leftovers. I don't need to have 30 dinners frozen, but it is wonderful to have days where all I have to do is thaw the main meal and make a veggie on the side. It makes a few days a week easier but still allows for our menu to have some "home cooked" meals in there.
How much do you spend for the entire month?
I haven't added in the weekly grocery shopping though last night I did the nerd work of figuring out how much each meal cost, figuring how many meals and left overs it will make (my meals MOST of the time give Dave at least one lunch, sometimes more~saving us the cost of him eating out) It came out to $1.30 per serving! So a dinner on average costs about $7.80 give or take a little. That's a steal for a family of 6!!!
What I've learned THIS month::
Some tips from my adventures this month.....
- Something new I did was first hunt online and in the papers for coupons before I started meal planning, I found a few great ones that lowered the price of our meals. I also googled coupons I wanted and actually found a few! Take a look at the blog Money Saving Mom. She's got great links for coupons and deals and lots of great links!
- Invest in some disposable pans. They are recycleable, and at Costco they cost $6 for 3o of them. It's worth the .25 per tin. If you really want to, wash them out! But they make the meal so much easier!!!!
- Don't try and shop and cook on the same day. If you do want to get started, doing all your chopping the first day and throwing together the meals that don't need any actual cooking works well, but save the cooking for another day that you have set aside!
- Do NOT add frozen chicken to marinades that are fresh and thaw them together. I buy chicken in bulk, already frozen. Last month we had some disasters because I stuck the frozen chicken in the marinade, but when it thawed, all the juice mixed with the marinade and YUCK. The grillables are fine, the ones you bake....not so much. So just make the marinade or sauce, freeze it separate in a smaller ziplock and make sure you buy the right amount of chicken. Then thaw the chicken separate and add to the sauce before baking!
- If planned right you can double or triple things like spaghetti sauce (I made mine from scratch) and then froze one bag for spaghetti, made a lasagna to freeze and stuffed shells to freeze. Worked great and I ended up with 2 spaghetti meals!
- Making a weekly meal chart (the one I mentioned above) is a big help as well as using a prep worksheet. I went through and filled it out for each recipe so a quick glace would tell me what needed to be chopped, browned and sauteed!! I didn't have to flip through the recipe book trying to remember ALL that had to be done!
- Do more than one thing at one time. While I was shopping a big pile of onions, brown the meat for the spaghetti sauce, etc. If you've got to cook and chop together (which you'll probably have some of) chop AND have something cooking so you can get a little more done at once.
- Unless your kids are old enough to help....KEEP YOUR KIDS OUT OF THE KITCHEN! Mine is small so it's a good rule if you don't want to step on any toes...literally. Let your husband know what day all this is happening and get his help! And don't plan anything else major on that day!!!
- Don't cook anything difficult that day for dinner or use a frozen meal! There is nothing like the chaos of trying to premake 5 meals and cook another one!!!!
Spaghetti x 2
Upside-down Fettuccine Bake
Chicken and Dumplings
Salsa Verde Pork
Ham Pizza Pockets (made fresh)
Grilled cheese and tomato soup
Sweet and Sour Pork
Let me know if you have any other questions! I have been having a great time on this adventure. Yesterday I was tired after doing all the shopping but I still managed to bang out 5 meals in about 2 hours so it was worth it! Let me know how you do any OAMC if you do, and any tips or tricks you have learned!!!