Prepping for Once a Month Cooking

Posted 1 October, 2016 by Trish in In the Kitchen / 27 Comments

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make-ahead-meals

 

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 Plan

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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weekend cookingEvery 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!

 

27 Responses to “Prepping for Once a Month Cooking”

  1. I’m doing a meal plan that recommends weekly batch cooking. I tend to make a few meals and then never eat them. I’m thinking of switching to making these meals my lunch. That’s a meal that I do eat everyday and then having vegetables to graze on at night.
    I don’t freeze a lot of meals because I would totally forget I had them.

    • Ooooh, What kinds of things have you been batch cooking? I make some soups and chilis that I know the others won’t eat and save them in containers for lunch. I admit sometimes I forget… ;)

  2. I look forward to your post and see how it goes. It sounds daunting but I know you can pull it off. I cook just about every other night but I can always use tips on how to free up time, more time to read then. Right?!

    • It’s entirely possible I might fizzle out, but already having stuff in the freezer is helping keep me motivated. Trip to Sam’s after nap!

  3. Good luck! I really should meal plan, but we really eat a lot of the same stuff over and over again anyway. I really need to get more creative with cooking. lol

  4. I’m going to be following your October closely. I have toyed with this idea many times. I think my biggest problem would be remembering to defrost that evening’s meal. But if you can cook straight from the freezer, that’d be awesome.

    • Hopefully I can remember to take things out the night before to slow thaw in the fridge. Maybe it’ll help me actually stick to our meal plan rather than scrambling around last minute! I’m sure I’ll be talking about it a bit on twitter. ;)

  5. Good Luck with your October planning ahead project. We don’t have freezer space to undertake something like this, but I’m anxious to see how things work out for you. :)

  6. mae

    What interests me is whether you will really save time, or whether it will actually take just as long to remember to do it a different way.

    best… mae at maefood.blogspot.com (writing from Ireland)

  7. It sounds a bit daunting. I’m doing good if I plan a few days ahead, but we’ll be looking to see how it goes for you. I do freeze left-overs, and usually remember to label the bags, otherwise we’re lost in Juarez.

  8. I really need to meal plan more, and it might be easier now that I’m cooking for just myself, instead of me and my grandma. I might have to make food and freeze left-overs, now that I think about it. I like having shredded chicken in the freezer, and it’s really nice being able to pull that out for stuff like casseroles and enchiladas. I hope it works out for you- if not, hopefully, it will help you figure out some ways to save time.

  9. SarahBeth

    Oh, I’m really interested to see how this goes too. I try to plan ahead too but I can’t really do it more than a week at a time. And really, what I cook on Sunday is generally good for a couple of meals plus at least one lunch for Shawn, we have trivia every Wednesday so that tends to be our ‘dinner out’ for the week but depending on what’s happening on the weekends, we tend to eat out or get take out.

    We have stuff in the freezer but I’m also bad about thinking ahead and thawing things!

  10. I try to make big batches of chili and soups so I can freeze some. I like having some flexibility. But those are more likely going to be lunch not dinner.

  11. We are away this week. But for the last few weeks I have been determined to eat from our freezer. It was chock full and it didn’t make sense to buy more stuff when tempted by a new recipe. So far, so good. I do have chicken breats, thighs and some salmon left.

  12. I have no tips to offer! I hope you keep us updated throughout the month on this project. If it goes well for you, maybe I’ll give it a try.

  13. The only food I currently make and freeze some of is chili. For some reason, the idea of spending days prepping food sounds more awful than spending a little time each day. Granted, I don’t make many meals regularly where there is too much chopping or anything. I do buy pre-grated cheese, jars of pasta sauce which I modify, and other things that make meals easier. There are some things that it’s worth paying someone else to do! But I’ll definitely follow your project and see if I get inspired to do just a little bit more freezing of meals. :)

  14. I am definitely curious how this experiment of yours is going to work. You are looking to plan for a month, and here I am thinking that brief stops to the store every day or every other day may work better for my family!

    • LOL! Yes but you don’t have to take 3 kids 5 and under with you. ;) I haven’t tallied up all the meals yet, but I’m guessing I have 20 prepped in various states. It was an exhausting weekend and I still have a few small tasks to do tonight, but hopefully I’ll see the difference during the week!

  15. Oh, wow – I am impressed! That wouldn’t work for me, as I barely have the stamina to cook 1 meal at a time, let alone 20 in one weekend! But it sounds like an intriguing concept, especially for a busy family.

    My process is a once-a-week plan. Tuesday is our farm CSA pickup day, so I also go to the grocery store. I try to stick to just one stop at the store a week, to conserve my limited energy. During CSA season, I plan around the veggies in our pickup, trying to alternate meat, fish, chicken, etc. It’s a lot easier with just my husband and I now – we both like a wider range of meals than our sons! I like to try new recipes, but I often stick with old favorites. Also, we eat Paleo now (my son and I for medical reasons), which makes things much simpler – loads of fresh produce, a few meats & fish, eggs, and a few other items from the middle of the store, like canned tomatoes or artichoke hearts or coconut milk.

    Hope you will continue to update, so I can hear how the experiment goes!

    Sue

    Book By Book

  16. I have found that just having marinated meats ready to go in the freezer is a lifesaver. Defrost, grill, slow cook, or bake, add some veggies and a starch and call it done.

    I get together with a group of moms and make up to 7 meals for 8 families. We choose recipes, adapt them to freeze, make a shopping list, Costco shop then we all meet up to prepare it all. I could never do 30 meals for a month. They would never all get eaten. 7 is perfect and some of those I split in half since there are only three of us.

    Good luck. Can’t wait to here how it goes.

  17. I’m looking forward to seeing how this works out. When I make a casserole, it’s for lunch for the week. I’m the more adventurous eater in the house. The husband is picky and does’t like to eat a lot of chicken.
    We keep saying when we move we will cook more, because we’ll have space to cook and store meat. Working from home makes cooking easier also. I also need a good basic cooking class. That will help a lot.
    One of my go to meals: chicken quesadillas. Not prep a head, but easy to throw together.

  18. Meatloaf freezes fine – I just tend to make mine a little more moist as I’ve had it dry out on me before. Good luck!