Once a Month Cooking
There is a fairly new buzz word in the frugal cooking world – once a month cooking. Once a month cooking is the newest and latest thing to do to save money and to get organized. Once again, I have to chuckle at this generation. (I think that means I’m getting old – oh no!) They think they have invented something new, amazing and wonderful.
I hate to break it to everyone but cooking large amounts of food and storing it away for later use has really been going on for a long long time. I remember my grandmother talking about preparing food 2-3 weeks before threshing crews came and needed to be fed. Once a month cooking was also one of the ways I supported us 30 years ago. Once a month, people would bring me their groceries and their recipes and they would pay me to cook 15 freezer meals. I would call it marathon cooking because by the end of each cooking session I felt like I had run a marathon.
Once a month cooking has been around for a while and, like everything else, it also has its pros and cons. In this article, I will be playing the devil’s advocate. I want to present a side you don’t often see addressed so you can decide whether or not it is for you and to let you know there is nothing wrong with you if you decide not to do it. You are not sub-human if you can’t spend 2-3 very long days cooking till you drop just so you can say you have 15 meals in your freezer to pop out at a moment’s notice.
Yes, I know– forgive me. I am being facetious but there are times I want to hit my head on the table when I hear, read or see something and I wonder, “What are they thinking?”
I hate seeing so many women having to deal with false guilt all the time. Often it’s because they are not given all of the information about something so they think they are total failures. Let me give you an example.
You have the TV on while you are trying to rock your colicky baby. Your toddler has just destroyed the whole room in the 5 minutes since you sat down and is now swinging from the chandelier. You got 2 hours of sleep last night and this morning you barely had time to scrape your hair into a ponytail, let alone comb it.
A woman comes on the show you’re watching. She is perfect–not a hair out of place with lovely make up and the cutest outfit. She sits in front of the interviewer telling how wonderful her life has become since she started doing once a month cooking. She never has to give a second thought to preparing dinner. It saves time, there is no clean up, saves her money and she has delicious homemade meals. As the baby cries louder and the toddler swings faster, you groan to yourself and wonder, “Where have I gone wrong?” and think “What a failure I am. How does she manage to do once a month cooking when she has 4 kids under the age of 4?”
It all looks and sounds so great while she is talking, but here is the reality:
- She had a hairdresser and make up artist work on her for 1 hour before she came on the show.
- She looks so bright eyed and refreshed because she spent the night in a luxury hotel with grandma at home babysitting the kids.
She said she spends one long day cooking 15-17 meals for the month but only as an afterthought at the end does she mention that she had two or three other people helping, totaling 21-24 man hours.
This means if she was doing all of the once a month cooking alone, it would take 8 hours of non stop cooking for 3 solid days and doing nothing else for those 3 days.
- Another thing she only mentioned in passing at the end was that she has someone babysitting her kids this whole time. When done alone, it would mean asking someone to babysit your kids for three 8 hour days.
- She said that it saves time. If you do once a month cooking, it only takes about 30 minutes to an hour to make a meal. I rarely spend over 30 minutes cooking a meal for 4 on a daily basis anyway, so how does that save time?
She also said that once a month cooking saves on clean up. How? You still have dishes to wash, tables and counters to wipe down at any meal. Maybe you are saving yourself from washing two or three pans but if you think about the amount of time it takes to wrap and rewrap that same meal to freeze, it takes just about as much time as it takes to wash one or two pans. This is only true when you’re using disposable pans or something like that. If you freeze it in a regular pan, you still have that pan to wash.
Then there is the time you spend shuffling through the freezer trying to find things or carefully writing down exactly what you have and marking the packages so you know what you have in them and how long it’s been there. All of this takes time and can take up as much time as just wiping out a pan to clean it.
She said once a month cooking saves money. I have never been sure how people think it saves money. If I buy rice to make a casserole, whether I’m freezing it or making a casserole fresh, it amounts to the same cost. I wonder if they have added in costs like:
- Foil, plastic wrap, freezer paper and disposable pans.
- Electricity to run a large enough freezer to store the frozen dinners.
- If there is a power outage or if the freezer door gets left open and everything is ruined. Not only do you lose money, but also the time it took to fix it all.
If you add in all these costs, you end up spending more.
Are they really delicious homemade meals? I’m not sure if it is just me or not but when casseroles and those types of dishes are put in the freezer, they taste like they have been in the freezer.
- They can be wrapped in 25 layers and still taste like the freezer unless they’re vacuum sealed.
- Things tend to separate and become watery.
- The texture can change.
- Lots of ingredients don’t freeze well.
I’m sorry but there is a point when there are so many things to think about that I am not sure it is really worth preparing food that way or if it really simplifies my life.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever freeze anything. (As a matter of fact I will give you some tips on freezing at the end of this post) Think through all of these things before you just jump on the bandwagon to try them and don’t browbeat yourself if you try to do them and fail.
Often, the people who write or talk about these things have circumstances that make things easier for them, like extended families who are willing to come in and help cook and babysit. Sometimes they have large families with older kids who can help cook or babysit. If you are on your own with little ones to take care of, you might think of other ways to save time or make things easier.
For myself and a majority of the people I talk to, I have found that whether it comes to spring cleaning, organizing your house or making your meals, breaking things down into small steps usually works better than to do anything “marathon style”.
On that note, here are a few cooking and freezing tips to help you get started if you decide it’s for you. These steps are more of a happy medium when it comes to meal planning. Any or all of these tips can be used by the “average” person.
Most meats freeze well. When cooking something like hamburger, make some extra to keep in the freezer. Use the same philosophy with roasts. Cook an extra one when while you have your oven going. Then you’ll have one step and one pan less to deal with on another day when things are more hectic.
Figuring out and preparing the meat or main dish for a meal is half the battle for most of us. Depending on the size of your family and the roast, you can normally get at least two meals from one roast, which means you can very easily have four meals taken care of just by adding an extra roast while the oven is on.
- Make 5 pounds of hamburger into meatballs, meatloaves and other east to use forms to freeze while you are already making something with hamburger and have it ready. This will only take one hour and you can get five to seven meals worth of meat cooked.
- Most casseroles make a large batch or you can easily double them so make an extra one once in a while to have for something quick. Even though all of the above negatives still apply, it is different feeding your family a not so perfect casserole once in a while in a pinch than to do it every other night like you would with once a month cooking.
- Certain foods freeze and taste better than others. Find out what your favorites are and use them when you can. Most vegetables freeze great so, instead of spending ages chopping up fresh vegetables for a casserole, grab some frozen ones to save time. The same rule applies with potatoes like hash browns and tater tots. These are all shortcuts that can help you save time without having to resort to marathon cooking.
I have written pages and pages of other ideas on this same subject so it would be foolish for me to rewrite everything here so if you’d like more help, you might consider getting some of our e books, which are filled with lots of great tips and suggestions. We do touch on freezing things in our Dining on a Dime Cookbook, too.
photo by: ohmeaghan