Once a month cooking has grown in popularity in recent years. You will see many bloggers who want to better manage their hectic schedules or live more frugally following the trend. At first, only cooking once a month sounds like such a strange concept. However, it is a practical and cost-effective solution for providing quick and nutritious meals for your family.
I will discuss some of the most common questions people may have about once a month cooking in this handy beginner’s guide.
Photo by Flickr user Serene Vannoy.
What is once a month cooking?
Simply put, it is the practice of preparing meals in batches then freezing them for later. It earned the name “once a month cooking” because many people fix enough food at one time to last them the rest of month. It is commonly shortened to the acronym OAMC. It may also be referred to as “freezer cooking.”
Photo by Flickr user woodleywonderworks.
What are the benefits of cooking once a month?
People choose to participate in once a month cooking for several different reasons. The main draw is that it saves time on meal preparation throughout the month. Also appealing are the high amount of customization and the healthier meal options that are available.
Photo by Flickr user kbcanon.
Are there any downsides?
As with anything in life, there are some drawbacks to once a month cooking. Many of these arise from misconceptions about just how fast and easy it will be. It is true that many bloggers who write about their experiences with once a month cooking make it sound a lot simpler than it is in reality. However, don’t let the few negatives keep you from trying it out to see if it will suit your individual needs.
Photo by Flickr user osseous.
How do you get the most out of once a month cooking?
Don’t spend too much money or waste a lot of time on something that is supposed to help conserve both of those things. Be smart when you plan for your massive cooking spree. Fix recipes based on ingredients that you can cheaply buy in bulk. Find the ideal day or couple of days to get all of the cooking done. If you can, try for times you know your kids will be out of the house or otherwise preoccupied. Also, if you know ahead of time, schedule it on a week when your workload will be light.
One other way to make batch cooking more fun and fulfilling is to find a few friends that want to participate with you. Then you can swap meals with them and have even more choices to pick from during the month!
Photo by Flickr user vagueonthehow.
Just how much planning is involved?
As the previous question suggested, a fair bit of planning is required to successfully pull off only cooking once in a month. To start, you should track sales at your local grocery stores. This way you can plan what recipes you will use based on what ingredients are the most reasonably priced. Write up your shopping list, being careful to note how much you’ll need of each item.
Compile all the breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes for the month. Depending on how much variety you want, you will know how many different recipes you need and how often to repeat each one. This is your meal plan.
Next comes shopping. Stockpile the most useful ingredients that are on sale. You can also buy food in bulk from wholesale clubs. Don’t forget to purchase supplies for labeling and freezing all of your meals!
When it comes to cooking, you will have to be able to modify your recipes for fixing larger batches. You may also need to modify the cook times accordingly.
Photo by Flickr user ilovebutter.
Do you really fix all of the meals in one day?
It may sound crazy, but some people do! However, there are many ways to more evenly distribute the work so you don’t feel too overwhelmed.
Many participants do simple prep work, such as chopping up vegetables, the day before they cook. Others split the cooking into two days, tackling the tough stuff the first day and saving the easier meals for last. Some people even spread out the cooking over a few evenings so they can work in peace while their kids are asleep.
One popular variation of once a month cooking is preparing enough meals for most of the month but still fixing dinner once a week. These are just a few ideas of alternative routes you could take.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to do it alone! If you can, have someone watch your kids or pets during the days you are cooking. Get others involved by recruiting your spouse or friends to help. More hands means less total cook time.
Finally, you should plan on going out for dinner after you finish cooking, as you won’t feel like fixing any food that evening!
What foods freeze the best?
You can’t just fix any sort of meal and expect it to keep well for weeks in the freezer. Here are several online resources with tips and recipes:
A list of the lifespans of different ingredients and what things don’t freeze well by Living on a Dime
A thorough guide to what ingredients and meals freeze well, as well as how to best store and label your food by The Pioneer Woman
Use freezer bags for meals that are primarily liquids, such as soup or chili. Use small, resealable bags for shredded cheeses, chopped veggies, and other toppings. And when in doubt, go ahead and double bag your food to protect it from freezer burn.
Use small plastic containers to store gravies and sauces, and use larger containers for entrees that will be served over rice or pasta. Cover dishes like meatloaf or lasagna with foil and plastic wrap before freezing.
Press out as much air as possible or use a vacuum sealer before storing freezer bags. Make sure to freeze things as flat and thin as possible so you can fit everything in your freezer.
The most important part of this process is clearly labeling everything before storing it. That way you will know when something was cooked and how long it can be safely frozen before going bad.
Other Helpful Resources:
30 Meals in One Day - A website that offers cookbooks, organization software, labels, and freezer pans. They also have several package deals available.
Once a Month Meals - A program that provides organizational tools, step-by-step cooking instructions, customizable menus, and more to its members. They also list hundreds of recipes that anyone can use for free.