A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a website called Once A Month Mom. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to find this site. I have a really hard time with dinner, to be honest. If you don’t, then this post may not be for you. I generally get home from work about 5:30, and need to have dinner on the table by 6:00 because that’s when the little native starts to get restless. She’s a year old, and like clockwork she needs to be fed dinner at 6 or else melt downs ensue. Snacks don’t cut it. There is no “tiding her over”. If I don’t have everything I need for dinner on hand, then I have to stop at the store and that puts me home about 6:00. You do the math……it hasn’t been working. I have tried meal planning, and it just ends up in disaster. It’s not that I don’t know how to cook or plan. I used to be really good at both, actually. But now it’s become such a huge source for anxiety that I would rather not do either. And I’ve been feeling like a failure for it! Not good.
But then I found once a month cooking. Freezer cooking is not a new thing. It’s been around for almost as long as there have been freezers. And there are many books devoted to the art of freezer cooking. The idea behind this is to spend a day or two cooking up a storm, resulting in a stocked freezer with meals you can just pop in the oven or throw on the stove during the rest of the month. But this takes planning, practice, and some up front cash, obviously. And, some of the books I’ve seen aren’t really dedicated to helping you save money. They are just written for time saving purposes. Well, I need to save time AND money. Once A Month Mom helps you do just that. The blog was created by Tricia, and she has a team of five writers. Each of whom contribute the different menus and content. You can read more about them here.
Tricia and crew take the guess work out of freezer cooking. They plan menus, recipes, the grocery lists and prep instructions, and lay it all out into google docs for you. You simply change the number of servings in your family, and the menu, recipes and lists all adjust to suit your needs. There’s three bellies to feed in my house, so that’s what I plugged in to my menu. There’s several menus to choose from. A diet menu, traditional menu, a brand new whole foods menu (that’s the one I did), a brand new gluten and dairy free menu, and coming June 1st, a vegetarian menu. This serves most of the typical diets being followed right now. If not, you can easily adjust or take out what you don’t want to use an replace it with something else. Or, you can just use the tutorial and blank google docs to make your own plan if you want!
So here’s what my menu contained this month:
Breakfasts: Rhubarb apple loaf, Strawberry chocolate chip scones, chourico and egg burritos
Lunch: Mushroom asparagus risotto, BBQ chicken pizza, apple chicken nuggets
Dinner: Mexican verde casserole, Best flank steak ever, pork tenderloin with salsa verde, vegetable goat cheese lasagna, stuffed portobello burgers, spinach and ricotta gnocchi.
My end result is 6 grab and go breakfasts for each of us, 12 take a long lunches, and 18 dinners. I know this leaves a gap in days, but the menu plan was designed to account for a few says where you may not be eating at home. The way I see it, cooking dinner is only an issue for me during the week, not on the weekends. At 5 working days a week, and 4 weeks a month, this means I am only going to have to cook dinner during the week twice. And that’s assuming we have no left overs, but I think we will.
I spent a grand total of $197.37. Not bad. I already had some things on hand, so my grocery trip wasn’t hard. And I also picked up some things from the framer’s market, which saved money. That is half of my usual grocery budget. The verdict is still out on how much I will save for the month, but I am guessing at least 50 bucks. Maybe more. While most of these meals are complete, I will still need to add a salad here and there, and some snacks. The good news is, I won’t be tempted to throw my arms up and say forget it, I’m too tired, let’s go out.
Here’s some advice for making this work for you, if you have never tried freezer cooking before.
1.) Plan. Don’t just jump on the site, print the menu and hit the store. I thought this stuff over for about 2 weeks. I had to clean out my freezer first to make as much room as possible, and that meant eating the food I already had. I refused to just throw stuff away. So it took time. Also think about the best time to devote to two solid days of cooking. If your hubs is about to go out of town and you will be alone to wrangle your three kids, that’s probably not the best time to do this. Pick a time when you will be able to focus on this and this alone. ESPECIALLY, if you are doing the whole foods menu, it’s really involved.
2.) Read through the ingredients, recipes, grocery list, and instructions thoroughly. DON’T wait until the day of cooking to check it out. If you have any questions before hand, Once A Month Mom is very quick to answer on their facebook page. Be a fan, stop by and tell them Rebekah from Modern Day Moms sent you.
3.) Find a babysitter if you can. Having hubs watch the kidlets is good, but not having them home is better. Lets face it, you are still going to be needed or tempted to help if your children are home.
4.) Enlist help. If you have a friend or family member who wants to drop by and visit while you are cooking, let them help too! No reason you can’t chat and cook. Hand them a knife and something to chop.
I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about freezing in a free standing freezer or deep freeze. It’s not that hard. But if you are like me, and live in a small apartment, you might run into some troubles. You can still do this, though. First, turn your fridge down to a cooler setting. You are adding a ton of extra food anyways, and your fridge and freezer both are going to be working harder. Prevent disaster by chilling the box down more than usual before. In order to not overload your small freezer, refrigerate first. Then freeze things a little at a time. This is so you don’t just shove a bunch of room temp stuff into your freezer, and then expect it to freeze all that stuff without over loading and shutting down. Put a few things in at a time, and then wait a while. Let about an hour go by before adding more. Better yet, let everything refrigerate over night, and then freeze.
More tips and useful advice:
• If you are pregnant, and considering stocking your freezer up before baby comes, this is a good way to do it. But please, if you are 9 months pregnant, get some help for this. Don’t stand in the kitchen and do the whole foods menu by yourself. It’s too much standing. If you must do it yourself, buy some of the things pre made. Or, why not ask friends to make some of these dishes for you. If they ask how they can help, give them a recipe card.
• Split the work. If you have a bunch of friends interested in doing this, then work with them on getting a menu done. Split the meals up between your group of friends, figure out how many servings you all need combined, then meet up to swap dishes on a set day. This would make the whole thing go a lot faster. Clean up would be easier too.
• Wear good running shoes. That might sound silly, but depending on what menu you chose, you will be on your feet for at least one full day. Wear shoes that will support your feet and back. It’s worth it. I didn’t think about that, and I’m paying today.
Overall, I really enjoyed this. I will be doing it again, but I will have to do it on a smaller scale. My freezer was too full to finish up the last two dishes, so I will have to cook those after we eat some things. I really feel like this gave me control over dinner and the quality of the food I feed my family. I don’t need to feel like a failure if I’m too tired to cook. Dinner is already done!
If you have done this before, please share your experience! You can follow my cooking adventures in the future on twitter @modmombex, and follow Once A Month Mom @onceamonthmom.
Some pics from my once a month cooking day: