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Save Time & Money with Once-a-Month Cooking, Part 1

by Tara Kuczykowski on October 7, 2010 · 13 comments

freezer cookingPhoto by Nancy JonesFrancis

Do you find yourself taking inventory in your mind of the items in your refrigerator every night and panicking because you don’t have any meal ideas and everyone is hungry? Do you stop by the store several times a week picking up items for your daily meals? Do you order take out or spend more money at restaurants than you would like?

If you have experienced any of thes (haven’t we all?) then freezer cooking, also known as once a month cooking (OAMC), may solve your dinner woes.

Years ago, the extent of my freezer cooking was preparing a dish that we discovered we did not care for too much and then freezing the leftovers because we did not want to eat them. Guess what? Those  same leftovers did not taste any better coming out of the freezer. I gave up on “freezer cooking” (even though I wasn’t really doing it).

However, two years ago, right before I had my second child, I cooked up several meals for us to eat for the first few weeks postpartum. This time I picked recipes specifically for freezer cooking, and my entire family was happy with the results. Now that I have three little ones, I freezer cook out of necessity. During the last year, every month I have cooked up two to four weeks of my family’s meals over the course of two to three days. True, cooking that many meals can take some time, but with careful planning, you can minimize the time spent on cooking and reap the rewards all month long.

Five Ways Once a Month Cooking Benefits Your Family

1. You erase the nightly what’s-for-dinner panic.

2. You can save money on your groceries because the majority of your shopping is done in one trip when you buy the supplies for OAMC. The other weeks you can simply buy some items to round out your meals.

3. You dirty the majority of your dishes at one time. Yes, freezer cooking can turn your kitchen into a disaster area. But it only happens once a month. The rest of the month you may dirty only one pan or baking dish a day when cooking the meal you pull from the freezer.

4. You’ll feed your family more nutritious food than you would if you picked up a frozen meal at the store, ate fast food or dined at a restaurant.

4. You can be a little more relaxed during that crazy time between 5 to 7 when little ones are cranky, older ones have homework to do and everyone is hungry. All you have to do is pull out one of your ready made meals.

Once a Month Cooking Resources

To have a successful freezer meal, it is essential to pick a recipe specifically designed for once-a-month cooking. Some of my favorite resources include:

  • Food.com (formerly RecipeZaar.com): This site is free and has plenty of freezer cooking recipes. Just type in OAMC in the search area and you will find hundreds of recipes.
  • Don’t Panic: Dinner Is in the Freezer: This cookbook breaks down recipes and lists the ingredients for you by how many meals you would like to make (1, 3, 6 etc.) You don’t have to do the math to double or triple the ingredients; they do it all for you.
  • 30 Meals In One Day: I love this set! It contains 3 cookbooks: Dinner Is Ready, Lunch Is Ready, and Sides are Ready. Two things put this set over the top. First, the author includes over 40 pages in the beginning of the first two cookbooks giving strategies and tips for freezer cooking. Second, this set comes with software that lets you pick your recipes and choose your serving size. Once you have done that, the software automatically generates a grocery list for you of all the ingredients you need. You have the choice to delete items off the list that you already have or add other items that you need to buy at the store not related to OAMC cooking.

Deal Seeking Mom here -- I just wanted to share one other great resource for learning about once a month cooking. Check out Once A Month Mom where my friend Tricia guides you through a step-by step process for cooking a month's worth of meals, with a new meal plan available every month!

If you are new to freezer cooking, I would recommend borrowing some of these books from the library. If you decide you like freezer cooking, you may want to invest in a few cookbooks full of the OAMC recipes your family enjoys.

Tomorrow, Melissa will share her method and tips for once-a-month cooking with us, so be sure to watch for part 2!

Melissa is a recent convert to once a month cooking and can't imagine cooking a meal every night now.  She is the mom to three young children, 6, 23 months and 5 months.  She blogs about eating healthy, freezer cooking and managing family resources at Mom's Plans.  Her other blog, Dining Out Challenge, is about her family's attempts to eat out for $25 or less a week.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Domestic Diva October 7, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I have never freezer cooked before but the idea of it sounds interesting to me. The only thing close to freezer cooking that I do is save leftovers in the freezer for lunch. For instance today at lunch I made too much soup, so I portioned out the leftovers and stuck them in the freezer. I have at least two meals of soup waiting for me come lunch time.

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2 victoria October 7, 2010 at 3:49 pm

i am a mother of 16month old twin girls and three boys 15,13, and 5 and let me tell you dinner is always a nightmare! i have to make something for the girls and something for the 5yr old. my older boys eat what my husband and i have. i feel like a restaurant. i love to cook but now with the twins i don't have the time. i find myself buying takeout a lot and spending more money on fast food which is not healthy at all so i look forward to trying this oamc!!! thanks

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3 Kay October 7, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Where I live they actually have a business that you go into and put together your own meals (they have done the prep work) and then take them home to freeze leaving the mess for someone else but putting the home cooked spin on your own meals Wonderful and easy!!

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4 Becky October 7, 2010 at 5:07 pm

This sounds so awesome!!! I wish I could try it BUT I currently live in a small apartment and my freezer is so tiny. I currently make a meal plan every week for my family (spend $90 to feed 3) and everything I make only takes about 30 mins. I let my daughter watch 1/2 hr of TV a day and thats just enough time to make a meal. Once we move into a bigger place and I have the freezer room I am so going to try these recipes!!! Thanks!

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5 Jennifer October 7, 2010 at 6:21 pm

It actually doesn't take a ton of freezer room. I have done this for 3 months now and LOVE it! I started by cleaning out my freezer completely of anything I did not know was in there or had no desire to eat. When I did the OAMC the first time I had 16 meals that I was able to freeze in gallon size ziplocs and froze them as flat as I could get it so it only took half of my freezer. I am now sharing the cooking/prep responsibilities with 3 other ladies from my church-this month we each fixed 4 meals-one for ourselves and the rest to share with each other (using the OAMM website which already adjusts quantities). We had a $100 budget each and all managed to come under budget-not bad to end up with 16 different meals that I just have to pull out of the freezer and bake or throw in the crockpot!

I am looking forward to reading part 2 to see if there are ways we can be even more efficient and thrifty with our meals!

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6 rachel b. October 8, 2010 at 1:17 am

Jennifer - what resources do you use to come up with recipes? You mentioned a website...? The site i've tried (onceamonthmom.com) is great if you cook a HUGE quantity and don't mind unhealthy meals -- but i only want to cook like you said....4-5 meals at a time and want them healthier/yummier than what my website offers.
Please share your ideas!!

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7 Hilary October 7, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I just would like to know how you go about heating the meals up from the freezer.

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8 Melissa October 7, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Hilary,
It varies by recipe. Most of the recipes like casseroles that aren't cooked before they go in the freezer need to unthaw in the fridge first and then are cooked following the directions as for when they are made fresh. The recipes that are cooked before they go in the freezer (such as meatballs, freezer burritos, etc.) just need to be reheated on the stove or microwave.

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9 Christie October 7, 2010 at 5:22 pm

I'm very excited about this topic. I've wanted to try it but found it difficult to get started. Looking forward to part 2!

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10 Erin October 7, 2010 at 5:33 pm

I did once a month cooking for a while and I found a great website that does a lot of the planning for you. It is http://www.onceamonthmom.com. They do a monthly menu and you are able to print out the recipes and shopping list. I had to modify the menu for my family but it was still great to have all the recipe ideas.

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11 Sarah October 7, 2010 at 7:41 pm

OAMC is the best! Once you start doing it you'll never go back to cooking dinner on a nightly basis!

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12 Miranda October 8, 2010 at 12:59 am

Really. How long have you been doing it. That has to be one crazy day of cooking! Dose the food reheat well. Sorry, that's a lot of questions. But I'm just wondering if it's worth all the work.

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13 rachel b. October 8, 2010 at 1:21 am

Miranda - yes, it's ABSOLUTELY worth the work. I know I spend 30-40 minutes each night making a meal and I spend at least 15minutes choosing what to make. So multiply that times 7 nights -- and that's not including the hundreds of times I think the thought during the day, "what's for dinner??"

But when you have one big cooking day and can make 10 to 15 meals -- that is saving you countless hours of prep work and stress AND you can shop for larger quantities = save money (i.e. you know you're making 3 meals with sauce so you can buy the economy sized sauce instead of the standard small sizes).

Sarah -- Since it seems like you enjoy the OAMC, please share what resources you use for choosing recipes!! I posted earlier that i've used the oamc.com site but the recipes are limited (not super healthy or requires large portion sizes). So please do share!

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