Once a month cooking (or freezer cooking) is an incredible way to save money and time each month. The concept is very simple - you cook all of your meals for the month in one day. Now that may sound overwhelming but if you do it right it is very easy.
The key to your success is in the planning. You must plan your time, plan your menu and plan your grocery list. If you properly plan before you start you will be more efficient and save more money. To learn more about Once a Month Cooking, start with the BASICS.
Step 1 - Pick a day. This is a day that you can devote just to cooking. Saturday works best for me because my husband is there to help with the kids. Think through a day when you will have the least interruptions and least amount of commitments. If you have to leave the house to run errands or take the kids to games then you will not get a lot done. I have also done my cooking at night once the kids are in bed. I don't always get as many meals made as I would in an entire day but I can still get a lot done.
Step 2 - Gather grocery store flyers. The purpose of the flyers is to plan your meals around what is on sale. In my area there are three main stores that I get flyers from: Winn Dixie, Albertsons and Publix. (Some grocery stores also put their flyers on their web page so if you aren't sure what is on sale you can look online.)
Here is a very general rule of thumb that I use for buying meat. I try not to ever pay more than $2.00 per pound for meat. Of course there are special occasions that I will pay more but I try to use this number as a top end. Boneless chicken breasts can almost always be found for under $2.00. Whole chickens, drumsticks and thighs can be found for under $1.00 per pound. For ground beef I try not to pay more than $1.50 per pound. Pork and fish tend to be pricier but I still try to buy them for less than $2.00 a pound.
Many people have a Sam's, BJ's, Costco or other wholesale clubs nearby. I have found that buying meat in bulk at a wholesale club is a great way to get the low prices per pound. And when you are doing bulk cooking, buying in bulk is not a problem - it is a good thing.
Step 3 - Plan your meals. I have a huge dry erase refrigerator magnet that is a calendar. This is where I write down the meal we will be eating for each day of the month. I bought it at an office supply store and it works really well for me because I can see at a glance exactly what I have planned for the day. You can use a regular calendar or a sheet of paper to plan your meals. I have put together different forms you may print out and use for your planning. I have designed 2 forms that I use in my Once a Month Cooking. . Feel free to use these forms and modify them to fit your needs. I designed them in Word to make them easier to modify.
Monthly Calendar of Meals Weekly Meal Schedule Do you need recipes? Click here to view some of my favorite recipes that I use in my once a month cooking. For even more recipes sign up for the Frugal Mom News - our once a month newsletter.
Tip - For recipes that you know your family enjoys you may want to double or even triple up for freezer cooking. For example, make 3 batches of spaghetti sauce instead of just 1.
Step 4 - Make your Shopping List - When I construct my shopping list I leave a lot of room after each item so that I can add to it. As I go through my recipes one at a time I will list the ingredients that I need. Then as I go through more recipes I will simply change the quantity to reflect how much I will need. One thing I had thought of doing but have not yet gotten around to it is constructing a master list. This list I would be able to use each month and just put tally marks for quantities as I go through my recipes.
Don't forget to add freezer bags, freezer wrap and aluminum foil to your list! Step 5 - Go shopping - This is best done, if possible, before your actual cooking day. The reason is that shopping for an entire month can take time (especially if you are visiting different stores to get the best prices.) You want to be able to focus on just cooking when it is cooking day.
Step 6 - Cooking! - In order to save time think of ways you can combine steps for different recipes. For example if you are preparing 3 meals that all call for cooked chicken, then cook all the chicken at one time in one big pot. You can then divide it up when it is finished. Or if a lot of recipes call for chopped onions, figure out how much you'll need to chop and do it all at the same time.
If you don't feel comfortable with combining steps then just do one recipe at a time. This can be very easy especially if you've opted to make double or triple batches.
Step 7 - Freezing Food - There are different methods for freezing food that you may use depending upon what you have cooked.
Freezer Bags - I purchase bags that are specifically freezer bags. I press out as much air as possible before sealing. I use this method primarily for meals that have a lot of liquids. When I freeze them I put them directly on the freezer shelf until their frozen form has been established. I can then stack them on top of one another without worrying about them freezing together.
Foil and Plastic Wrap - Do not use this method until your foods have cooled down!
I use this method of freezing when I am freezing things such as meatloaf or lasagna. It is for items that use a particular pan and need to keep a particular shape. To use this freezer method you must begin by lining a pan first with foil . Then put a layer of plastic wrap on top of the foil. Make sure that you use enough wrap to cover the entire dish. Put the food item into the dish and seal all the foil and wrap securely. You don't want to allow any air to get to the food. Place the food, in the dish, into the freezer. Leave it in there for a couple of hours or until the food is frozen enough to hold the shape of the dish. Remove the dish from your freezer and leave the food in the freezer. Now when you are ready to cook you can thaw the food slightly, remove the foil and plastic wrap and place in the baking dish to finish thawing. This is a great method because you don't tie up all your baking dishes in the freezer and your food fits perfectly into the baking dish when it is time to cook!
Vacuum Sealer - These are great because they help to protect your food from freezer burn allowing the food to stay really fresh tasting. The one that I have is very simple to use. It is a must have for once a month cooking. FoodSaver Vac 550 Kit Vacuum Sealing System by Tilia.
Any disposable, or reusable containers that are for the freezer.
Label all the food that you put in the freezer. I use post it notes (with extra tape) on the outside of each item. I write what the meal is and the cooking instructions. That way on serving day I don't have to go back through my recipes to figure out how it needs to be prepared.
Cool food before freezing.
Put the date on the meal so you know when it was frozen.
Wipe edges of containers clean.
Frozen cooked meat and poultry in sauces will keep 5-6 months.
Sauces and soups will keep 5-6 months.
Candace Anderson may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Candace Anderson is a stay at home homeschooling mother of 5 boys. She is the creator and webmaster of frugalmom.net - a site dedicated to helping moms stay home with their children by offering creative ways to earn money from home and save money at home, as well as once-a-month-cookingworld.com.