(Originally appeared on the old version of my blog, revised for this series)
You've shopped the sales. You've clipped the coupons. You've gotten a handle on what your kitchen contains, and how to make the most of it. But what now? How do you take everything you've learned so far and really ramp it up?
I talked about the importance of planning your meals to save money and time, but this takes that idea to the next level, and adds another brick to the wall:
Brick #8 - Cook once, eat often!
They are 4 letters that intimidate me. A lot.
OAMC, or Once-a-month Cooking, is a common meal planning technique that is pretty self-explanatory. You set aside one day (or one weekend) per month, and do an all-out cooking marathon. You prepare an entire month's worth of dinners for the freezer in one fell swoop. I can't imagine surviving such an undertaking without several chocolate martinis...which means there's no guarantee the last few dishes would be edible. :)
However, the end result appeals to me a LOT. I imagine my basement freezer stacked to the brim with neatly packaged mini-meals. If I have to work at night, hubby can tap into a storehouse of homemade TV dinners and I don't have to worry that the peanut is getting hot dogs and mac & cheese AGAIN. Meal planning that just involves a quick inventory in the basement. And me, freed from the bonds of the kitchen for 28 days out of the month...where's that martini?
It does beg the question: will it really save me time and money? Is spending 8 hours in the kitchen REALLY worthwhile? In a guest post on The Centsible Sawyer, Tricia from Once a Month Mom brings up some excellent points...
"If you figure it takes about 15-30 minutes to prepare the breakfasts, 30 minutes to prepare the lunches and an hour to two to prepare the dinners, you are looking at nearly 30 hours in the kitchen over the course of the month! Because we are maximizing our steps and cooking process times, we are saving nearly 22 hours of time each month. What would you do with an extra 22 hours each month?"
"This past month we decided that we would shop the grocery sale ads all month long, use coupons and only buy items not on sale if we absolutely had to the several days before our cooking day. My cooking partner and I spent a total of $149.13 for the 58 meals (for a family of four)...it comes to less than $2.60 a meal!"
That definitely gets my attention...precious hours saved during the month, AND more savings makes one lonely day in the kitchen seem much easier to swallow. And it makes sense...you are cooking/preparing multiple base dishes at the same time, instead of preparing one-offs every day. And by using the shopping strategies you've already learned, you can make sure you're paying lowest price for your ingredients - you may even get better deals for buying in SERIOUS bulk!
There are lots of OAMC resources out there for those of us thinking of getting started:
Mom's Budget - a good quick reference FAQ list. Check out their recipe listings too!
Real Food for Real People - cookbooks listing complete with links to Amazon
Cook of the Month - a beta freezer cooking site that lets you select recipes, and organizes them to create a shopping list for you!
Bulk Cooking by Jennia Hart - a wealth of how-to links, recipes, and planning tips
Once a Month Mom - menu plans, freezer cooking resources, even baby food how-to's!
This is just the tip of the iceberg - because in truth, you can expand any of your favorite recipes to make them bulk-friendly. You can double or triple family favorites, and AllRecipes.com allows you to increase or decrease the number of servings on their recipes and adjusts the ingrediets accordingly, taking the math out of your hands. If I'm going to spend 10 hours cooking, I don't want to wrestle with a calculator too! The key to the whole process is PLANNING. Planning your shopping to maximize savings, planning your cooking day to be efficient in the kitchen, planning your packaging to freeze things in usable portions and label them for easy reference later.
I don't know if I will ever get to the point where I will make a whole month at a time, but it will definitely be worth my while to consider making three or four dishes in large batches to give me a buffer in meal planning. And when the produce sales hit, I can cook and freeze and not worry about either watching my savings spoil in the fridge, or serving 3 pounds of zucchini for dinner.
No matter what, it's another tool in my arsenal - whether it's used a little or a lot, OAMC (*shiver*) is definitely going to help take the mission to the next level. I just need to dust off those martini glasses....