In between all of my stunningly useful content (wink, wink) I am given to my fair share of both complaining and tooting my own horn. Today I am going to straight up toot my own horn: I MADE, LIKE, FORTY (YES, 40) MEALS AT ONE TIME.
You heard me. I actually completed a whole month (and then some) worth of dinners in one fell swoop. I’ve been doing smaller batches of freezer cooking in the past, but I wasn’t sure if I really could complete a whole month. When I finally packed the last of my hard-won treasures into the freezer, I ran to facebook to pronounce:
“I just finished my first-ever, FULL round of once a month cooking. I have over 30 dinners in my freezers! And I’m so lame I had to share that on Facebook ”
Yeah, I was hoping a few friends would say “wow that’s great!!” or “you rock!!” and maybe even one “wow, you are lame!” to deflate my ego a bit. Instead, I feel like each response was “what is this sorcery of which you speak?!” and “teach me! I MUST know each mundane detail!” Okay, I’m only exaggerating a little. I was amazed just how many friends 1. Had never heard of once a month cooking and 2. Were so interested to know all about how I did it.
Though I was planning on blogging about it anyway, I assured them all I would write a blog post about it and answer all the questions. So here it is!
Like I said, I’ve done some smaller batches in the past, using the “freezer to crockpot” recipes that everyone loves pinning on Pinterest. These were pretty good, but I have a tendency to over-cook food in the crockpot. Unless it was a stew or a roast, I found the meats to get too dried out. Also, I got tired of food that had to be served on top of noodles or rice. So I bought “Once-A-Month Cooking Family Favorites” from Amazon and started off with one of their two week plans.
The book has two “one month cycles” and 5 “two week cycles”. The two week cycles include a summer plan, a gluten-free plan, and a “gourmet” plan. I picked one of the regular plans “two week cycle C” to be exact, and followed all of the instructions as the book lays it out.
What is easiest about following this book as opposed to following a site (I know a lot of people use Once a Month Mom) is that it is all right there in a physical book, on your counter, with all of the ingredients, steps and instructions figured out for you (and no printing involved). It really made it easy for me, especially for my first time.
First, there’s a list of the recipes with what type of meat used (they are pretty meat heavy), what cooking method you’ll use on the eating day, and what else you’ll need to serve it with. Then there’s a list of the pantry staples you’ll need, so you can ensure that you have them on hand. This includes your spices, flour, honey, etc. Next is the list of the freezing supplies you’ll need. This includes how many Ziploc bags and pans you’ll need, in addition to the obvious things like foil and a Sharpie. Oh, and make sure you spring for Ziploc bands and not just econo-brand. Ziploc does not contain BPA, whereas you never know what the dollar store brand uses.
Next is the shopping list, broken down by categories. The only confusing thing about this is there are some items with an asterisk next to them, and those are the items that you will actually need on serving day. I found it a little confusing to keep track of those items and in some cases I bought that item while I was buying all of the other ingredients, so then I had it lying around in the fridge like an orphan. So all I did was make sure that I made one of those meals sooner rather than later that way I used up that item before it expired. Not a big deal, but a little confusing when you have a random item left over and then you realize it was one of those “asterisked” items.
After the shopping list comes the assembly order. The first step is “label freezer containers” which I skipped. It seemed like more work to label a zillion Ziploc bags ahead of time and be fumbling around for the right ones when it’s time to package it up, than just writing on the bag when you’ve made the meal. But to each her own, I guess. So the next step in processing is prepping the ingredients. This is mostly chopping vegetables, but can also include deboning and shredding rotisserie chickens, boiling chicken breasts, etc. This takes the lion’s share of your time. Also, it will take a pretty good amount of your fridge space, so I recommend that you do all of your shopping and prepping on an empty fridge if you don’t have an extra fridge in the garage (which I’m very blessed to have! It did kind of smell like onions for days).
The next stage of prepping is assembling the entrees. The book lays it all out so that you aren’t going back and doing anything twice. For example, in my one month session I browned a ton of ground beef at once and then divided it into 6 portions to use in 6 meals. Obviously you can see how this saves time; if I was assembling them one at a time I would have browned ground beef 6 separate times.
After each meal, you pop it into the freezer. As you can see in my picture, I laid the Ziplocs down to freeze them flat so they take up the least space in the freezer. One of the questions I kept getting asked was, how much freezer space do you have? I actually have a lot. I have my fridge & freezer in my kitchen, the spare fridge & freezer in my garage, and a small chest freezer in the garage, too. The freezer in my house is mostly filled up with things like ice, waffles and ice cream so it really didn’t hold much of my OAMC haul. I primarily used the fridge freezer in the garage and some of the chest freezer. I would say that you have to have some type of secondary freezer to do a full month.
So that’s the run-down of the actual book and it’s method. I really did find it to be pretty simple and straightforward. I liked that the recipes in this particular book didn’t use a ton of processed foods. There was no Velveeta and very few “cream of” soups that are called for. Like I said, the meals are very meat-based though, so it would not work for a vegetarian. I also think that this works so well for us because we are not very picky eaters. We eat pork, we eat fish, we eat mushrooms (I will never understand people who don’t like mushrooms [you know who you are] they are like tiny morsels of deliciousness making every meal they touch better!) Anyway. You get the idea. If you don’t like seafood and you choose to axe the one meal that has fish, then it really throws a wrench into the whole system. Then you have to go back to your list and cross out the ingredients that were required for that one meal. It’s not the end of the world, but it definitely makes the process less seamless.
Some of the other questions I got were about the meals themselves. We have liked almost all of them so far, in fact tonight we had one of them for dinner and Marc remarked that there are lots of “winners” from this book. There are always going to be some that aren’t as good as the rest, but for the most part they are pretty kid-friendly.
As far as cost goes, I think it cost me about $300 for all of the ingredients. First, I went to Produce Junction and bought all of the veggies that I would need in major quantity, which was onions, bell peppers, etc. Bell peppers are so expensive at Wegman’s and they are like a zillion for $2 at Produce Junction. Then, I spent two trips getting the rest of the stuff, but really it should only take most people one. I decided to attempt to do the rest of the shopping at Wegman’s, with the kids, and that was a mess. About halfway through the kids really started melting down, so I had to call it a day and be done with what I had so far. Then later on I went back out to Shoprite and got the rest of the goods. I’m assuming most people would go and do one marathon shopping trip, but I find that I usually have to bring the kidlets with me whereever I go.
So you may spend more or less than $300 for a whole month plan, depending on your ingredients. If you were going to buy all organic then definitely plan for more. I feel like I trimmed it down a lot, but if you buy more things at a warehouse club (I never like the meat at Sam’s Club, but maybe your warehouse store has better meats, cheese, etc.) perhaps you can get that number down a lot.
Finally, the reason why I have 40 meals, vs. the 30 that is printed in the book is that I split some of the larger meals in half. When I first did the two week plan, we learned that we weren’t always using all of the food after it was prepared. There are 2 adults and 2 little kids eating the meals, and then Marc will usually take the leftovers for lunch, but even then there was still food getting thrown out. So if a meal said “Serves 8″ I split those into 2 bags and made two meals out of one. I also cut almost all of the chicken breasts in half (they were ginormous) so I found I had a lot of chicken breast left over. I just whipped up some marinades, poured it over the chicken and froze some bags of “chicken for the grill.” So really for less than $10 a meal, it is way worth it to me to know that I have something ready to go every single night.
I know this has become a super long post, but I feel like there might still be questions. I’d be happy to answer them in the comments! When I reply to your comment it will email you, so you don’t have to worry about checking my site again for an answer
You can do it!