An Overview of Once a Month Cooking
What follows is a simple overview of once a month cooking.
Once a month cooking (also called once a week cooking or freezer cooking) is an incredible way to save money and time each month. The concept is very simple – you cook all of your meals for the month in one day (even diet meals). Now that may sound overwhelming but if you do it right it is very easy. In this section I will explain to you how I do my once a month cooking.
For a more complete explanation plus over 70 mom-tested (from our ownFrugal Moms!) once a month cooking recipes, get a copy of Frugal Mom’s Once a Month Cooking Cookbook. Here’s what Stacy had to say about it:
Just wanted to let you know that I LOVED this!! I made 8 meals on my first venture and 19 meals this past Monday. My sister in law and I did it together and in 5 hours, we did 38 meals – not too shabby! The Chicken Cordon Bleu was FANTASTIC – I served it with cauliflower mash!! Sweet and Sour Chicken was yummy as well, and we’re looking forward to having the Shepherd’s Pie tonight. I don’t love to cook, and I’m not all that great at it, but that has changed now! I’m a total believer – thank you!!! -Stacy
The key to your freezer cooking success is in the planning.
You must plan your time, plan your menu and plan your grocery list. If you properly plan before you start you will be more efficient and save more money with once a month cooking.
Step 1 – Pick a day.
This is a day that you can devote just to cooking. Saturday works best for me because my husband is there to help with the kids. Think through a day when you will have the least interruptions and least amount of commitments. If you have to leave the house to run errands or take the kids to games then you will not get a lot done. I have also done my cooking at night once the kids are in bed. I don’t always get as many meals made as I would in an entire day but I can still get a lot done. Don’t forget to make room in the freezer, as freezer cooking for a month will fill it up quickly!
Step 2 – Gather grocery store flyers.
The purpose of the flyers is to plan your freezer meals around what is on sale. In my area there are three main stores that I get flyers from: Food Lion, Albertsons and Publix. (Some grocery stores also put their flyers on their web page so if you aren’t sure what is on sale you can look online.)
Here is a very general rule of thumb that I use for buying meat. I try not to never pay more than $2.00 per pound for meat. Of course there are special occasions that I will pay more but I try to use this number as a top end. Boneless chicken breasts can often be found for under $2.00. Whole chickens, drumsticks and thighs can be found for under $1.00 per pound. For ground beef I try not to pay more than $1.50 per pound. Pork and fish tend to be pricier but I still try to buy them for less than $2.00 a pound. We usually do our meat shopping for once a month cooking at a warehouse clubs. While these prices may sound low, by buying in bulk, you can buy meat at substantially less than at supermarket prices.
Many people have a Sam’s, BJ’s, Costco or other wholesale clubs nearby. I have found that buying meat in bulk at a wholesale club is a great way to get the low prices per pound. And when you are doing once a month freezer cooking, buying in bulk is not a problem – it’s a good thing. We come home and divide it up into freezer bags or vacuum sealed wraps. Speaking of vacuum sealing, it is really the best way to go.
Step 3 – Plan your meals.
I have a huge dry erase refrigerator magnet that is a calendar. This is where I write down the meal we will be eating for each day of the month. I bought it at an office supply store and it works really well for me because I can see at a glance exactly what I have planned for the day. You can use a regular calendar or a sheet of paper to plan your meals. I have put together different forms you may print out and use for your planning. Click here to see the different forms. (I made them in Word so that you can customize them to meet your needs.) You can also view some of my favorite once a month cooking recipes that I use for my once a month cooking.
Step 4 – Make your Shopping List
When I construct my shopping list I leave a lot of room after each item so that I can add to it and don’t forget to add freezer bags, freezer wrap and aluminum foil to your list!
As I go through my freezer cooking recipes one at a time I will list the ingredients that I need. Then as I go through more recipes I will simply change the quantity to reflect how much I will need. One thing I have thought of doing is constructing a master list. This list I would be able to use each month and just put tally marks for quantities as I go through my recipes. This is not a bad way, but there’s a better way!
To help in your planning, here is a great Freezer Cooking Diet Cookbook with Instructions & Recipes for making your own freezer meals. You can have NutriSystem®, Weight Watchers®, South Beach® or LA Weight Loss® type freezer cooking recipes for less than half the costt! This popular cookbook of diet freezer cooking recipes is available for immediate download with a 90-day money back guarantee!
Read our review of this book in our June edition of Frugal Mom News.
Step 5 – Go shopping
This is best done, if possible, before your actual cooking day. The reason is that shopping for an entire month can take time (especially if you are visiting different stores to get the best prices.) You want to be able to focus on just cooking when it is cooking day. This is especially true if you are buying meat in bulk and need to cut it up. Our preferred store in our local area is Aldi’s for groceries and BJ’s for meat. We usually buy 2+ weeks of groceries and a month of meat at once.
We have also discovered that we can save about 25% of our total food bill by buying many of our products from an online grocery store. We don’t buy perishables online, but on roughly 1/2 of our groceries that we are able to buy online, we save, on average, about 45%. Oh yes, and we get free shipping. That’s right, free delivery of groceries and we see huge discounts compared to the same products bought in a local grocery store. We’re big fans of online grocery shopping; for the savings and the convenience.
Step 6 – Cooking!!!
If you don’t feel comfortable with combining steps then just do one recipe at a time. This can be very easy especially if you’ve opted to make double or triple batches.
Step 7 – Freezing Food
There are different methods for freezing food that you may use depending upon what you have cooked.
- Freezer Bags – I purchase bags that are specifically freezer bags. I press out as much air as possible before sealing. I use this method primarily for meals that have a lot of liquids. When I freeze them I put them directly on the freezer shelf until their frozen form has been established. I can then stack them on top of one another without worrying about them freezing together.
- Foil and Plastic Wrap – Do not use this method until your foods have cooled down! I use this method of freezing when I am freezing things such as meatloaf or lasagna. It is for items that use a particular pan and need to keep a particular shape. To use this freezer method you must begin by lining a pan first with foil . Then put a layer of plastic wrap on top of the foil. Make sure that you use enough wrap to cover the entire dish. Put the food item into the dish and seal all the foil and wrap securely. You don’t want to allow any air to get to the food. Place the food, in the dish, into the freezer. Leave it in there for a couple of hours or until the food is frozen enough to hold the shape of the dish. Remove the dish from your freezer and leave the food in the freezer. Now when you are ready to cook you can thaw the food slightly, remove the foil and plastic wrap and place in the baking dish to finish thawing. This is a great method because you don’t tie up all your baking dishes in the freezer and your food fits perfectly into the baking dish when it is time to cook!
- Vacuum Sealer
Label all the food that you put in the freezer. I use post it notes (with extra tape) on the outside of each item or a Sharpie pen. I write what the meal is and the cooking instructions. That way on serving day I don’t have to go back through my recipes to figure out how it needs to be prepared.
- Cool food before freezing.
- Put the date on the meal so you know when it was frozen.
- Wipe edges of containers clean.
- Frozen cooked meat and poultry in sauces will keep 5-6 months.
- Sauces and soups will keep 5-6 months.
- Freeze as flat and thin as possible to make stacking in the freezer much easier.
Best wishes on your once a month cooking. Expect to save both time and money while making meal time much easier. Once a month (or once a week) cooking also works great for camping trips and vacations when you don’t want to eat out too often.