For the month of October (OMG it’s October!), I’m undertaking a crazy experiment. The plan is to prep as many meals as I can this coming weekend to use for the month. Once a month cooking!
How did I get started on this path? I was checking out a book in the cooking section of the library when I came across Fix, Freeze, Feast and Once-a-Month Cooking (OAMC). I also grabbed Ina Garten’s Make It Ahead and started researching. At first I thought “NO WAY this is insane!” but the more I thought about it and the more I researched, it started to feel really doable.
I’ll outline the different books in a separate post, but there seems to be different camps when it comes to OAMC. The first method, from Once-a-Month Cooking, is to prep single meals for every day of the month (or a two week block, if preferred) using set menus and a specific prep plan. Each meal is different so by the end of your prep day the freezer should be full of 15-30 meals.
The second method, outlined in Fix, Freeze, Feast, focuses on making meals in bulk–using the large meat trays from warehouse stores (Sam’s and Costco). Each recipe yields 3-4 different meals for the freezer. Another book I have, Don’t Panic- Dinner’s in the Freezer, uses this same method with different ingredient tables for multiples of 2 and 3.
I’ve decided to take an approach in between these two methods. I am leery of cooking 3-4 meals of a recipe I’ve never tried before only to have it be something that my family will not eat. A lot of those Pinterest “make 50 crockpot meals in a day!” type recipes rely on making several bags of the same meal. I would hate for that food to go to waste. On the other hand, making 30 individual meals seems crazy, especially if I’m using someone else’s recipe (like the official Once A Month Meals website, which has paid plans).
The most daunting part of the planning process is coming up with a month’s meal plan. I’m terrible at meal planning as it is but generally only like to plan out two months and allow for lots of wiggle room. Planning for an entire month seems like a lot of commitment! But one of the least favorite parts of my day is trying to figure out what to cook for dinner. Hopefully this will help.
I started by taking stock of what’s already in my freezer. I already have one jar of homemade spaghetti meat sauce, pork bolognese, and pulled pork in the freezer. I also have a lot of uncooked meat–meatballs, steak, pork chops, brats, and salmon. Between these items, I already have several meals in the bag.
Once I had a handle of what I already have in the freezer, I made a list of meals I tend to make every single freaking month (those people I live with are creatures of habit). Tacos, salisbury steak, enchiladas, manicotti, rice and beans, fried rice, teriyaki chicken, chicken piccata. Are any of these meals that I can make ahead? In many cases yes!
I listed out 30 days of the month and started filling in the blanks–first with the stuff I had on hand and next with some of our family favorites. I ended up with a list of about 24 meals. I’m leaving some wiggle room for eating out (or take-out) for special treats or dinner with family. Or even just leftovers. If I make lasagna, chances are we’ll be eating it for two nights.
24 meals. Is that doable? Am I insane? And how do I prep these meals? My pork chops are already frozen, so I can’t really prepare them at this point but I can assemble the spices I would use for particular meals. Do I cook the meatloaf before or after freezing? Should I freeze the sauce for the salisbury steak or just make it the day of? Will breaded chicken really freeze well?
Ultimately will prepping all of my meals ahead of time save time?
One of the things that seems to take me a lot of time each evening is chopping vegetables for our sides. While I can’t do this all at the beginning of the month, I’m going to try to do as much nightly prep as I can on Sundays. I usually hate doing stuff like this on Sunday, but I’m beginning to see this as a case of making the time now to save it later.
I’ll report back at the end of the month and let you know how it has gone. And if you have any tips I would LOVE to hear them in the comments. Do you have a favorites that seem to freeze well? Anything that you avoid freezing?
What tips and tricks have you adopted to help your nightly cooking go much more smoothly?
Linking up with:
Every weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking. “Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.” Hope you’ll join the fun!
My sister asked me the other day at what age I thought it was inappropriate for a child to still be nursing. Had I not just finished Unlatched, I don’t know what my answer would have been. The short answer I gave her was “I don’t know…it’s complicated!”
And that’s what makes Unlatched such an interesting read. Grayson goes into some of the history of breastfeeding and how views of breastfeeding have changed over the past century. These days it feels taboo to discuss breastfeeding, depending on the audience, and it certainly isn’t something that most women choose to do in public, despite it being the most natural way to feed an infant. How did breastfeeding become such a source of controversy? Why are mommies at war with one another over breastfeeding versus formula feeding?
I read Unlatched mostly while I breastfed my 8 month old babe or while I pumped breastmilk at work, because that’s when I get much of my reading in these days. Even though I am a breastfeeding mom, I had many conflicted thoughts while reading this book and at the beginning was incredibly turned off by Grayson’s tone and point of view. I mean, the second chapter of the book is entitled “What Would Baby Jesus Drink?” Cue the eyerolling. I formula-fed my first baby and felt so much guilt over it and it is very clear that Grayson is very pro-breastfeeding (she weaned her oldest at four years).
The breadth of the book is quite expansive and at times I felt like it was a little too wide. She covers breastfeeding in ancient times through the Industrial Revolution. She gives a lot of focus to when mothers began working outside of the home in the 1800s and the great effect this had on breastfeeding in the 1900s. She talks about the advent of formula and how formula marketing has played such a large role in breastfeeding and its public perception. She talks about the Women Infant Children program and the government involvement with formula companies and WIC.
Grayson also talks about the benefits of breastfeeding as well as some of the mysteries, but this is where I wanted more information. She dropped a bomb in my lap that breastmilk is actually a tissue. What the what? What does this even mean? She doesn’t expand and I couldn’t find any information online. She strongly believes that if more babies were breastfed that our national health would increase as a whole. But is there that much research to substantiate this huge claim? She didn’t convince me.
There’s SO MUCH. SO MUCH. There’s the idea that breastfeeding is now something that is tied to privilege–if you can stay at home with your child then yay for you. But this also assumes that you’re able to nurse with other littles around. Or that you have the flexibility and support system. Or that it comes easy to you. Breastfeeding is hard!
Which then leads into the discussion of how breastfeeding is handled in hospitals. My own experiences between my first and second baby were very different. No one mentioned putting the baby to my breast right after I had her the first time around–I had to ask the nurses when I should start trying to feed her. Rooming arrangements were also different between the first and third. With my first, she was only brought into my room to nurse. By my third baby, she never left my side for one second during our entire stay in the hospital. The presence (or lack) of formula, pacifiers, and lactation consultants varied each time.
She talks about how the women in 18th century France shipped off their babies to farms to be breastfed by others. Or the “mass infanticide” that occurred in Britain and Ireland when babies were not breastfed by their mothers (what?!). She talks about how the normal breastfeeding range is 2-7 years. Though I’m not sure exactly where this is happening. She talks about pumping and how the return to work is affecting our babies. Of course this also goes hand in hand with maternity leave–or the lack of it. This third time around, I’m lucky to work the hours that I do around breastfeeding and pumping. I know from my first corporate job that this is rarely the case for working mothers.
So yes, in many ways I really connected with Unlatched and it was a read that I found compelling. But the delivery of Grayson’s message was often tough to swallow. I spent the first half of the book exasperated with the way that she was trying to sell breastfeeding. Additionally, the first couple of chapters in the book felt unorganized and the information seemed conflicting. Grayson made a lot of claims but it wasn’t always clear whether these claims were founded in actual research or supposition.
I know, I know, this post is already a 1,000 words long…likely the longest book post I’ve written (not to mention the essay I wrote on my own breastfeeding journey), but here are a few of the passages I highlighted throughout the book (and there were many).
“But the truth is that while the rooting and sucking reflexes are hardwired in a baby, a mother’s knowledge of how to breastfeed is not. For humans and members of the larger primate order to which we belong, that knowledge is culturally based and it is largely learned” (loc 234). But then “…for thousands, perhaps millions, of years of human history, breastfeeding was a natural, intuitive experience that all Homo sapiens and previous human ancestors had shared and knew intimately” (loc 271).
“The federal government’s Women, Infants, and Children program, also known as WIC (which provides supplemental foods as well as health assistance to low-income pregnant women, new mothers, infants, and children under the age of five), buys and distributes more than half of all the infant formula sold in the United States every year, making the US government the formula manufacturers’ biggest customer” (loc 347).
“And many soon came to see formula as preferable in an era when doctors believed that breastfeeding could only be successful under ideal conditions: if the mother had ample daily exercise; if she drank prescribed quantities of water; if she followed a plain diet; if she abstained from tea, coffee, and alcohol; if she wasn’t stressed in any way. The bottle, unlike the breast, was predictable and measurable” (loc 1439).
“Yet here’s the crux of the problem: in a culture where both men and women automatically think sex when they see a naked breast, it is a real challenge for a mother to whip out one of those sexually loaded things every time she needs to feed her kid” (loc 2623).
“But maybe we should stop talking about the benefits of breastfeeding and instead start considering the risks of not breastfeeding, since I’m certainly not fine. Are you fine? Are we—an overweight nation of chronically ill, medicine-dependent formula feeders—fine?” (loc 3637…Grayson was formula fed as an infant).
“But in the United States, we’ve championed pumping to the exclusion of giving a new mother the time to bond with her newborn, by packing her off to work with a health care–sponsored breast pump and zero paid maternity leave” (loc 3856).
Bottom Line: Whew. I still have so many more thoughts and the more I think about it, the more the breastfeeding question continues to complicate itself in my mind. Do I wish that more mothers would consider breastfeeding their babies? Yes–absolutely! Do I think that mothers should feel less guilt over not being able to breastfeed? Yes–absolutely! It’s not clear-cut for me. I’ve been on both sides of the fence. Is this a book for everyone? No. Is it a perfect piece of journalism? No–I think Grayson’s book is flawed in many ways. But I do think that as uncomfortable this conversation is to have, we should be talking about breastfeeding more than we are.
Here we are a month into Kindergarten. Can you believe it? This past week it was college week at school and so I explained that when Elle turned 18 and finished high school she would/could go to college. She cried that she didn’t want to go to college and leave home. Me either baby girl. Me either. Thankfully we don’t have to think about that for many more years! But yes I know…it’ll be here before I know it. Sob.
While Elle hasn’t come home with any homework from school yet, her teacher has asked that parents read to the kiddos 20 minutes each day. Reading books before bedtime has long been routine for us, but it rarely equates to 20 minutes and I’m usually putting the baby down while Scott reads to the bigger girls. I miss having that reading time in bed with them.
One of the benefits of being able to pick Elle up from school and have some alone time with her before getting her sisters is having built in reading time. While some days this does feel more like a chore, I’m trying to keep things fun and light and not go too much into my teacher mode to try and make this time about learning.
This is a struggle for me because I worry. It’s difficult not to compare to other kiddos who are already reading a bit and have a good handle on sight words. We’re still trying to keep individual letters straight. The past four weeks have shown great improvement but I do wonder if I’ll eventually be researching dyslexia, which is hereditary. And then I take a billion deep breaths and remind myself that we are only four weeks into kindergarten.
Mama never stops worrying. For better or worse.
But! I’ve been trying to make the most of our reading time together and have been having a lot of fun with it. Last week I read a Book Riot article from Raych about Tiny Ladies Doing Shit and put ALLLLLL the books on hold at the library. We are making our way through Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincibleright now and I’m loving it. I think most of the jokes are going over Elle’s head, but this take on Sleeping Beauty is just too much fun.
Harriet the Invincible is our first chapter book and I’m hoping I can use it to leap into some of the other books I’ve been wanting to read. Short attention spans and glazed over eyes is still a problem at this age, but 20 minutes a day seems to be the perfect amount of time.
My hope is that I can sneak in Alice in Wonderland next. Maybe the Little House on the Prairie books. Can you believe I’ve never read The Secret Garden?! Honestly, I feel like I’m a poor gauge of what is appropriate for a five year old–should I be sticking to easier books or go ahead and read some of the more advanced ones to her?
We’ll figure it out, I’m sure. In the meantime, I’m soaking up those extra snuggles with someone who is growing much too quickly. I’ve always loved these quieter and slower times with my girls.
Do you have memories of “reading” longer books when you were little? At what age did you start reading longer books with littles in your life?
Books Recently Finished: Since my last Sunday post, I skimmed the rest of Total Money Makeoverand counted it finished. If you skim through a book but got 100% of the gist, do you count it toward your annual tally? I also finished What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty and really enjoyed it.
New Books in the House: Celebrate Everything by Jenny Rosenstrach came out this past week. She wrote Dinner: A Love Story and I adore her. I haven’t had a chance to really dig into the book yet but it’s just as lovely as DALS.
New Books on my E-Reader: Someone needs to take Amazon one-click away from me. Thankfully I’ve had some gift cards to blow through lately. Last week I picked up Catastrophic Happiness (a motherhood memoir) and The Secret Keeper (for book club). I also recently got the ebook copy of Lonesome Dove since I have the beast of a hardcover on my shelf and that’s just not gonna happen. Pst…who wants to read Lonesome Dove with me? I’m thinking November.
Books on the Nightstand: Lots of cookbooks! I’m taking the leap into Once a Month Cooking next month so have been doing lots of research. I’m also about 50% of the way through Germinal by Émile Zola, but I have to set it aside to read The Secret Keeper.
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What’s going on in your neck of the woods today? Curled up with a good book?
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