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Guest Post: Tackling Meal Planning–One Month At a Time!

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Guest Post by Tricia from Once-A-Month Mom

Meal
planning can be a bit of a challenge to even the savviest of
organizers. Planning each and every week can sometimes be time-consuming or tiring. I use to plan meals one week at a time and found
that it worked for me most of the time, but other times, I was too exhausted or didn't have new ideas or I would make a great plan only to
have plans change and not be able to use the meals, thus ingredients
going to waste! That's when I started doing once-a-month cooking (also
known as bulk cooking, freezer cooking, power cooking, and OAMC).

Most
people are overwhelmed at the prospect of making all of their meals for
the entire month in one day. They hear "8 hours in the kitchen" and
they leave about hyperventilate!

Don't get me wrong, 8 hours in the
kitchen is a long time, and tiring. But when you are finished, you have
enough meals to rarely step into the kitchen for another month! Not
only that, but you can also save money on your grocery bill as well because this method of planning and cooking will save you shopping trips and trips through the fast-food lane.

Here is a look at how a whole day in the kitchen can put more hours in
your day and money in your wallet:

Once-A-Month Cooking Saves You Time
Once-a-month
cooking does require an 8-10 hour cooking day (or split amongst several
days). However, if you do the math on the amount of time that you would
have spent in the kitchen preparing these meals throughout the month,
it would be substantially higher.

Once-a-month cooking saves time
because you are cutting, dicing, mixing, chopping, sautéing, and cooking
"like" ingredients all at once. For instance, instead of chopping onion
several nights each week for the entree you are making, you can chop
that onion all at once, then cook and package the meal.

In
my most recent once-a-month endeavor, I spent 8.5 hours in the kitchen.
At the end of the day I had 30 meals (a mix of breakfasts, lunches, and
dinners). The time I would have spent had I prepared these meals when I
was serving them would have been at least 30 hours. I don't know about
you, but I can find lots of things that I can do with an extra 22 hours
during the month!

One of the other ways that
once-a-month cooking saves time is that you don't have to perform a juggling act to get dinner on the table. The
stretch between 4:00 pm and 5:30 pm has to be the most hectic time of
the day in our household. My husband isn't home from work yet; I am
trying to appease my son so that I can get dinner finished in a timely
manner; and all he wants is for me to play with him—it gets rough! I
find myself frazzled and easily willing to forgo my menu plan to save
my sanity. When I have done once-a-month cooking, I instead pull out
one of my freezer meals, stick it in the oven and go play with my son
until it is ready. That is precious time that I can't afford to miss!

Once-A-Month Cooking Saves You Money
I
am amazed at how cooking "like" meals can really save you money in a
month. The savings comes in the fact that you are buying large
quantities of products at one time, hopefully when they are on sale or
when you have coupons. If you plan to make things that are in season,
you can also save money by buying ingredients when they are at their
lowest price point.

For smaller families, these bulk savings are not
usually possible because large quantities of food often spoil before it
can be consumed. With once-a-month cooking, you are preparing all that
food at once and don't have to worry about it going to waste. And it
will last in the freezer for several months!

In the last two months alone, we have cut our grocery bill in
more than half by doing once-a-month cooking. I decide what we are
cooking, shop the sales all month, and then prepare the meals that we
will be eating the following month. I usually spend approximately $75 to $130 for a month's worth of meals. That is around $2.60 to $4.33 per meal!

If you are
looking for ways to make your dinner time less hectic, spend more time
with your family, spend less money on your grocery bill, or develop an
effective way to menu plan, you should try once-a-month cooking. You
just might surprise yourself at how much you can save, both in your
wallet and by your watch!

Tricia recently had her first child and is getting used to her new
career as a stay-at-home mom in Ohio, where her family resides. She is
expecting her second child in December (don't ask the gender they
aren't finding out). She is trying to show others how to be good
stewards of their time and their money while still providing wholesome
and nutritious meal options to their families. Her website, Once-A-Month Mom, is dedicated to "making daily chores
monthly memories" by providing monthly meal plans, grocery lists,
instructions, recipes and more for families curious about once-a-month
cooking and baby food.

Note from Crystal: If you are planning to join us for our Baking/Freezer Cooking Day Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and are looking for a "plan of action", you might try using the October (Thanksgiving) Menu or the new November (Christmas) Menu. The October (Thanksgiving) Menu has
many make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes and lots of menu items that you
will find on sale right now at your local grocers. The November (Christmas) Menu is
meant to be shopped throughout the month of November, cooked at the end
of the month, and consumed in December. However, you are welcome to shop
and use the menu now. Each menu includes recipes, a grocery list,
step-by-step instructions, and labels.

Subscribe for free email updates from Money Saving Mom® and get my Guide to Freezer Cooking for free!

27 Comments

  • amybee says:

    Which recipe is pictured? Beef stew? Can you post a link please?

  • Honey says:

    All great points. My favorite thing about the point on saving time is that when I am cooking in bulk, I can use 2-3 pots/pans and don’t have to dirty and wash everything multiple times! Make one BIG mess and then clean it up once. Then on rough nights I don’t have dirty pans staring at me.

  • ashley says:

    This is a random question. You posted a week or so ago about 100 custom holiday postcards shipped for only $6. I can’t find that post now and I really want to get some. Has it been deleted? Any ideas? Thanks.

  • Pamela says:

    what is in the bags pictured? besides potatoes (& maybe carrots), I am stumped!it looks yummy!!!

  • LMB says:

    Perfect timing as usually on the OAMC post. I was just thinking about starting back up with more cook ahead meals. I used to do it quite often when the kids were young and at home. Got away from it for a while, but need to get back to it. I’m a career-changer back in college and have the chance to finish a term early, but it will be crazy busy if I do. So an encouraging post to remind me of the benefits of OAMC is just what I needed today. Thanks!

  • Chyehar says:

    I remember reading about your bulk cooking blog, but I couldn’t find it. Could you provide the link please?

    Thanks.

  • Jaden says:

    What a great idea! I don’t know if I have the guts to try it out yet, but I am definitely heading over to her site for more info… Maybe soon I will try this!

  • michelle says:

    woohoo. I am excited about learning more!!

  • Andrea says:

    I may have to try this. The holiday season can get so hectic!

  • Betsy says:

    I really appreciate these ideas….sounds like a wonderful way to tackle things. Here’s my question, though. Do you find that you have enough freezer space? This is a constant challenge in our house with only one average-size frig with freezer. We’ve considered buying an additional freezer, but weren’t sure what the cost would be for the freezer plus additional electricity. Is it worth it? Would welcome advice.

  • Victoria says:

    thank you for this post!! I spend over eight hours every week trying to coupon, cook, plan meals and I can only imagine what I would do with all the extra time if I could do it all once a month.

    Now the challenge of trying to do this with only a refrigerator freezer and very little knowledge of how to freeze food without having it spoil begins, but I’m convinced that this is the way to go.

  • Jennifer says:

    I was wondering the same thing about the freezer. I assume people who do this have a separate freezer. Has anyone figured out if the cost of buying and operating a freezer offsets any grocery savings, or if you still come out ahead?

    **********************
    Money Saving Mom here: Yes, you come out way ahead from all the figures I’ve heard. However, I don’t have a deep freeze. I just have two refrigerators so I use the second refrigerator freezer to store my month of meals. I’ve cooked/baked ahead with only one refrigerator/freezer before and if you’re creative, it’s totally possible!

  • Once A Month Mom – The reader that found the link to the recipe is right, it is Freezer Beef Stew from Real Mom Kitchen (http://realmomkitchen.blogspot.com/2008/08/freezer-beef-stew.html). It is on the September Menu (http://onceamonthmom.com/september-menu-grocery-list-instructions-labels-and-podcast/).

  • Stephanie says:

    Great post! I am gaining more and more courage to leap into OAMC each baking day I do. I love having the meals ready to go, it makes life so much easier.

    I was wondering what is pictured in the bags too? Looks like the makings of a pot roast or something?

  • Heidi says:

    Do you have any tips, or can you recommend any sites, on how to keep certain foods from getting a weird texture in the freezer. I’m new to the whole cooking ahead concept and I’ve had some difficulty in freezing dishes with potatoes or pastas. Thanks!

  • OAMC rocks! We do a lot of once a month and bulk cooking too! You can see our recipes (along with photos!) here: http://www.engineeradebtfreelife.com/2009/07/bulk-cooking-recipes-oamc-freezer.html

  • Dina-Marie says:

    You have enboldened me! I have for quite awhile, planned monthly menus. This step alone cut our food bill in half! I am the mom of 10 children and any time saving tip is greatly appreciated!

  • I have never thought of cooking my meals ahead of time and freezing them. I’m so excited to try this!

  • Haila says:

    Does anyone have a good idea of what to do with young kids in one of these marathon days? I’m not daunted by 8+ hours of work – I’m daunted by the thought of what to do with my 10-month-old and 5-year-old (well, the older one wouldn’t be too much trouble – but the baby…).

  • Brooke P says:

    I have the same trouble with the kids running around and having to pick up others from school. Maybe do it when the kids are sick:) Mine don’t move much when they have a fever! Or it could also be a good time for daddy to take the muchkins out for a day-long outing to the children’s museum 1 hour away. Good for me, good for dad, and good for the kids.

  • Brooke P says:

    Another thing I’d like to know is how to do the OAMC for vegetarian families. So much of it is meat-based. Thanks!

  • Christy Carden says:

    OAMM’s has a guest post on OAMC using only a refrigerator/freezer:

    http://onceamonthmom.com/oamc-with-only-a-refrigetor-freezer/

    I once fit tons of homemade baby food and breast milk in my freezer and now I wonder how since it is so full of food all the time—I guess if the baby food fit, so could the meals!!

    Mine is a side-by-side and the freezer door opens flush with the wall (and against a window sill) so there is not a not a lot of room to manuver!! Can’t wait to have a house with a garage and buy a second refrigerator/freezer (yes instead of a deep freeze) – our fridge is always full too!

  • Tiffany says:

    Great post! Thank you so much!

  • Michele W says:

    This may be a silly question (and I am going to ask it anyway) 🙂

    Are you actually cooking the food and storing it in freezer bags/containers or are you preparing it and you will stir fry/bake/fry it when that day comes? Are these meals 1 pot meals (like your picture above)? What if you want to make something such as Meatloaf and 2 sides? I am just trying to figure out how on earth will you freeze that?

    I think it is an excellent idea, I just need more information. I am all for saving $$$.

  • Margie says:

    I’m in a OAMC club. Each club member makes the same meal seven times over, then we swap, so you come home with seven different dishes! I love it. You send your cost in, and then we figure out how to split so the $$$ comes out even. Everyone in the club loves to cook, so the food has been great. It is super easy to make the same dish seven times over! Great way to cook once a month.

  • Jessi says:

    Same deal here with the kiddos — this isn’t very feasible right now with a 14 month old underfoot who happens to be obsessed with every appliance that we own (and no grandma nearby–boo hoo!). Just making one meal is a challenge! But I look forward to doing this once he can be occupied in other ways–I agree it’s the way to go!

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