My longtime readers know that the biggest problem I have in keeping a budget is in the area of cooking (or lack of) and eating out. Between homeschooling, blogging, and trying to keep up with cleaning the house, I hardly have time to menu plan.
In addition, we’re a super busy family. We have activities going nearly every night of the week, which makes it difficult to get a healthy meal on the table every night and very tempting to hit the nearest restaurant on the way out the door to soccer practice.
Once a Month Cooking Family Favorites
Several weeks ago I was contacted about an opportunity to review Once-a-Month Cooking Family Favorites by Mary Beth Lagerborg and Mimi Wilson, and I jumped at the chance. Cooking only once a month seemed like it might solve a lot of problems I have in getting dinner on the table for the family.
I received the book a little over a week ago, and I was immediately impressed by the menu plans. There are 7 menu plans: Two one month plans, two regular two week plans, a two week gluten free plan, a two week summer plan that incorporates lots of grilling, and a two week gourmet plan.
A wide variety of recipes are included, including Chicken Scampi, Mediterranean Burgers, Lime Grilled Mahi-Mahi, and Four Seasons Pizza. The recipes average $2.16 per serving, which is a lot cheaper than dinner out at McDonald’s! Healthier and tastier, too!
Each plan comes with a chart that shows you the recipes, the number of servings, the meat used, the reheating method, what you need to serve the main dish, and a space to write what you’d like to serve on the side.
Also included with each plan is a grocery list, broken down by sections of the grocery store, and a pantry list, which lists items you probably have on hand that will be needed in the recipes.
Beyond the menus and recipes, Once-a-Month Cooking Family Favorites also includes tips and tricks, such as what equipment you’ll need, freezing tips, a section on how to get started, and much more!
I couldn’t wait to give it a whirl.
My Once-a-Month Cooking Adventure
Being new to once a month cooking, I decided to start with a two week plan. I set aside last Friday to shop and cook, which the authors don’t advise. They actually suggest shopping before cooking day, but I only had one day available, so I threw caution to the wind.
I followed the instructions for my menu plan, starting with processing the food. I chopped, grated, and sliced…a lot! I found myself very grateful to my husband for the food processor he bought me for my birthday a few years ago.
After processing came the assembly of the dishes. The authors really knew what they were doing when they wrote this book! The directions were very clear, and it was easy to move from one recipe to the next. I started with an egg dish and then moved on to all the ground beef dishes, followed by some pasta dishes, and I finished up with the chicken dishes.
It took me about 5 hours to do all the processing and cooking, but I finally managed to get it all done. I went to bed very tired, but very satisfied that my freezer was stocked with good food. Some of the recipes even made more than I knew my family would eat, so I split them in half to make two meals. So between weekly dinners at church on Wednesdays, our weekly ethnic meal to go with our homeschool lessons, and the 17 meals I have in the freezer, I have about a month’s worth of food.
Is Once-a-Month Cooking Worth It?
I say yes! The 5 hours I spent cooking weren’t very fun. It wasn’t too bad, but you all know cooking isn’t my favorite thing to do. I have to tell you, though, pulling out a delicious macaroni and cheese dish last night and throwing it into the oven was WONDERFUL! And since all I used was a casserole dish, cleanup was easy before we headed out the door for 4-H.
And my groceries were only $300 (and that includes a big Costco run and breakfast and lunch items). So I still have $100 left in my grocery budget this month to pick up fresh produce and milk as needed.
Once-a-Month Cooking Family Favorites gets five stars, in my book. It’s a great way to save time and money!
If you’d like to try before you buy, head over to the Once-a-Month Cooking website, where you can download a one week menu plan. And be sure to follow Once-a-Month Cooking on Facebook, too!
Have you ever tried freezer cooking? What did you think?
Where I lve there are no coupons to take advantage of (I’m jealous of you guys there). Only 2 “supermarkets”both privately owned and no malls and the like. We do have a large store of food on hand, and bulk cooking is a wonderful way to go for my family. Love the site and all the great ideas you share with us all.
Great! looking forward to see how it works out for you. I am wondering if you write about your home schooling days and related. I am curious about it, how it is working out for you? I homeschool my 4 years old and it has really amazing, but some days are tough, when he does not want to do reading, phoenix etc and just play with cars. :-) but we do achieve so much education wise.
Lynnae, I’m so glad you are excited about this! I’d love to see a follow-up post in a few weeks to see if you really use the freezer meals or if McDonalds gets more of your business.
I have a smaller freezer, and it’s just me at home, but I do this anyway and freeze in smaller portions for stuff to take to work for lunches. To make more freezer space available, I have started canning meats and some garden surplus veggies. This was not only to save space in the freezer, but in case of our infamous week long electric outages in the winter storms here… I hate losing fish, clams, venison, etc, that are so much a part of my intake here on the coast.
I also freeze up my family Christmas gifts – the quiches, breads, cookies, and homemade pies, as well as lasagna’s for gifts. Cooking ahead and freezing those gifts makes a much less stressful holiday baking/cooking season :)
And I ALWAYS make up at least a double batch of whatever I make – and freeze half of it or more. Saves a lot of time in the long run – time I can be out working in the garden, playing with the grandkids, or enjoying a rare sunny after noon here :)
I haven’t done a month of cooking, but I regularly do large batch cooking of several different things. It’s still basically an afternoon or evening of cooking, but it’s worth it to have good, home made, ready to heat and eat food on hand. It might be 2 meat loafs, a pot of soup, 2 pot roasts (one to freeze, one to eat during the week), meatballs in sauce, a pan smothered pork chops, etc. I try to cook in a way so that the oven is full as well as the stove top. I usually do the main courses only, but it is handy to have cooked rice or grains on hand for the bottom of the soup bowl or for side dishes.
It’s especially handy if I know I’ve got a crazy schedule coming up.
If I can’t squeeze in the big-batch cooking time wise, I still ususally make double of whatever it is I’m preparing (2 chickens, two pot roasts, etc.) or make extra to convert into other meals for the week. Ex.: Roast chicken one night, fajitas the next, chicken salad sandwiches or chicken stir fry another.
What ever strategy works I say!
Thanks for the blog post though. I’m definitely going to check out the book. Can’t have too many tips and tricks to keep a busy household humming, can we?
A friend and I have gotten together twice to do this, each time ending up with ~15 meals for our small families. It was exhausting. The first time, we decided we shouldn’t do meals from the freezer cookbook that we hadn’t tried, b/c we had enough failures that our families didn’t like. We used tried-and-true favorites the second time, but between the time it took organizing and figuring out that best order (that the book did for you) and shopping and traveling and cooking…and then usually I still had to make a side dish or salad the night of the dinner, I am not sure it saves me personally a lot of time. Then again, maybe if I just did it on my own w/o a friend to chat with…! I much prefer making a double meal on a random night that I’m home and freezing the extra one for a busy night. I can do this just about every time we have soup b/c I always make such big batches and soup freezes well.
The recipe I linked up today is super easy and fast, and it freezes all right, too! It’s a flexible side dish that mimics rice-a-roni. Enjoy! Katie
I don’t know if I could handle cooking for the whole month, but I would like to incorporate your idea even for just a week or two week’s worth of “back-up” dinners. I did a lot of freezer meals in preparation for each of my babies’ births but got out of the habit…thanks for the reminder to get something started again.
I’ve been interested in the once-a-month cooking but have never taken the time to sit down and really do it. My wife and I have done some batch cooking/freezing but never a full month. Currently we have 5 days worth of spaghetti sauce in the freezer, 1 tuna casserole left (from 2 we made at once) and tons of ice cubes of homemade baby food.
The idea of once-a-month cooking is becoming more appealing now that my wife is working twice a week from 4-7. By the time she gets home from work, the little guy is fed and in bed it’s 8pm before we can sit down and eat together. We’ve been lazy those nights and either get carryout or eat soup’n’sandwhich. I just don’t know that we have the freezer space for it and I’m not willing to buy a chest freezer until we have a real garden going and possibly a couple to go in on a quarter cow with.
I forgot to say – I also dream of doing this as a “party”. Having 1 or 2 friends over for the afternoon and ALL getting a month of meals done at once.
I’ve done this in the past and the best part is that all my chopping and 90% of the cleaning up are taken care of in the 1st day.
That said, I found finding all the containers to store stuff in problematic. (but I did this on my own without any advice).
How did you store things?
Ours is a two person household and our freezer isn’t very large, but about once a month I cook a HUGE (up to 8 meals worth) batch of something like chilli or bolognese sauce or curry and freeze it in two person batches. Then all we have to do is cook pasta or rice or couscous and maybe prepare a salad and dinner’s ready. Other times I make soup for several days, salad for a couple of days, coleslaw. When we have new boiled potatoes, I always cook double and then make potato salad. Then meals can go around these side dishes.
Once a month cooking wouldn’t suit me but the principle can be adapted for different households.
Wow! Great review. I’m very tempted to try this, especially in the winter. Thanks for the link. I’m off to try the one-week plan!
I’ll have to give this a try! Thanks for sharing your experience.
I have enough food in my freezer for a month of dinners so am feeling quite smug! I buy fresh produce at Farmers Market and steam that as well as the main item from my freezer. I take the food from freezer night before and thaw in fridge. We don’t eat breakfast at home, we both work. We pack lunches and make 2 days worth of lunches at a shot. I love to come home at night, make fresh salad, plop main entree and fresh veggie in my steamer and by the time I feed cats, change clothes, return a few phone calls, dinner is ready with a fresh salad.
I make meals ahead of time on weekend by using my eletric pressure cooker and my crock pot all at the same time. Divide in 1/2 what I cook on Sat. then do the same on Sun. On the weekends we grill out. If I get my meals going early Sat and Sun I can repeat the process later in the day.
We rarely go out, rarely do takeout, food is top quality, very good, and inexpensive. During the winter I will get fresh produce 2 x’s a week on my way home, we like fresh veggies and always a fresh salad.
I plan my menu’s each week by going thru my freezer. I have the older defrost freezer and it keeps food better then the no frost ones. I can keep for 6-8 months. But most is eaten within a few months.
I don’t get home until 6 or 7 pm and this gets me out of the kitchen quickly, even with clean up. I am looking at getting the freezer bag vacuum system so I don’t have to have all those silly containers which take up a lot of room.
I love cooking ahead! For our family, it does save time, and I can do a lot of cooking when I have the desire and the energy, which makes it much easier to get dinner on the table when I do not have time or energy. I work crazy hours, and we often end up eating late, and nobody wants to cook past 7 PM. So, spending some time in the kitchen on a weekend afternoon and using the microwave or oven later is a big help. I love cooking anyway.
@Milk Donor Mama – I completely agree that the least expensive way to eat is to stock up on deals at rock bottom prices. That said, we live in an area where coupon deals aren’t great, so the rock bottom prices aren’t much lower than regular sales prices.
I don’t have the time to do a big grocery run to the store each week, so doing a “big” shopping trip once a month works better for me. I bought a couple of gallons of milk at Costco, and that will last us almost all month (we’re not big milk drinkers), and I bought fresh produce and plenty of frozen. I honestly won’t have to set foot inside a store for at least 2 weeks.
The frozen meals don’t take up nearly all my freezer space. They take up one shelf. So there’s plenty of room for produce, meat, and bread.
I think like Nikki said, it’s all about what works for your family. I’m glad that you are able to stock up on such great deals, despite working so much. I’m not, so this really does save me time and money. Plus, the leftovers are great for lunch!
This wouldn’t work for my family. I use the freezers to stockpile good deals from the stores as well as garden produce to last through winter. In addition, we get 50# of venison a year from my Dad.
It seriously does not take long to make a grilled turkey and cheese sandwich and throw in a bag of steamer veggies into the microwave. Dinner is done in 10 minutes, you don’t have to “store” it, it’s fresh, and a balanced meal. Likewise you can do breakfast for dinner- omelets take like 10 minutes as does pancakes and eggs, and other easy breakfast foods you can have at dinner.
I work full time outside the home as does my husband. Add in our commute on the bus and we’re gone for nearly 11 hours per day just to work 8 hours, and we have an (almost) 3 yo DD. So we know busy.
I just don’t see how this would save time, or money. You’re still making runs to the store every week for perishables, bread, milk and eggs. You still have to thaw it from the freezer and cook it in the oven. You have to wrap it well and store it, so you may be spending more on foil, plastic wrap or disposable freezer containers, plus the energy to reheat what was once frozen.
I wish I had the freezer space for something like this. I’ve also been wanting to do batch cooking, which is along the same lines. It sounds great to me! When it comes down to it though, you just have to find something that works for YOUR family – and it looks like you’ve done just that!
Once a month cooking always seems overwhelming to me, and some of the recipes that I see out there aren’t things that we typically would eat. A couple of the dishes you wrote about sound good, like the mahi mahi and the pizza.
As is echoed above (maybe fodder for a future post?), freezer space is part of the hang up for me. Mine is full of found-on-sale items (such as meat) and stuff I have frozen from fresh produce availability this summer. Since I have no children at home (sigh) and am not working, I have time and the joy to cook so it is not as important. That said, this is THE best explanation of how OAMC works. Thank you so much for a great posting.
I sometimes make double portions of a meal and freeze the extra. It is wonderful to be able to pull it out when I do not have time to cook or am uninspired to cook.
We have tried freezer cooking in the past, but we only recently got a pan large enough to make double batches. (Yes, we have some big eaters at our house.)
To complicate matters, our freezers are often full of garden produce. In fact, today we’re starting up freezer number three to hold the rest of the tomatoes as well as the applesauce!
The principle is good; it just doesn’t work for us, and I gave away my copy of Once a Month Cooking a decade ago.