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?
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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!