Saving Time and Money with Once a Month Cooking

A few years ago I went through the process of Once A Month Cooking, or OAMC, so I could have a month’s worth of prepared meals at the ready for hectic evenings. The practice is just like it sounds; you take one day to cook and make entrees for an entire month. It is tremendously nourishing to come home to the best of both home cooking (flavor, control for likes/dislikes) and takeout (heat and eat). Every winter I attempt some version of OAMC (usually less ambitious than a full month’s worth of entrees). Winter is always the best season to cook at home because it’s dark and cold outside.

I must tell you that my initial experiment was successful but personally unsustainable. 

Attempting OAMC is a big undertaking. You go the store and buy a whole month’s worth of ingredients, then come home and cook as if your life depended on it. Every burner on the stove is going with chicken, ground beef, pasta or rice, and once you’re started there’s no stopping the gravy-making train. At the end of the day you have the satisfaction of using every bit of your ingredients in a variety of dishes and employing every casserole dish at your disposal. Unfortunately, you may be so wiped out that you need a week to recover. You would happily eat cold cereal for days just to not have to wrestle another sheet of heavy duty foil and a freezer bag. 

I couldn’t consistently find a full day each month to dedicate to volume cooking, so I eventuallly gave up the full-scale effort. However, I strongly recommend you try the practice at least once and decide for yourself. I still use many of the lessons I learned and cook ahead as often as I can comfortably manage. With proper planning you can save on your grocery budget, but the time advantages are even greater, particularly if you don’t get home until  later in the evening when you’re wiped out and starving. Our deal was always to put the entree in the fridge the night before so it could begin thawing. Whoever got home first started the oven.

Several cookbooks are available with ingredient lists and recipes for large scale cooking, but don’t invest in one until you’ve tried it out at the library first. (Interesting fact: Cookbooks have been one of the top categories of loaned books during this recession, according to a Hoover librarian.) There are also several websites with tips and ideas.

A few additional notes about OAMC: One month of pre-made meals is likely to last more than four weeks thanks to leftovers. Unless your family will wipe out an entire 9×11 lasagna in one sitting, you’ll have a couple of lunches or mis-matched servings leftover each week, helpful on light nights or when everyone is eating in shifts.

Glad ovenware (or similar) is perfect for this type of cooking, because you can reuse the containers or give them away. For example, if you have a friend who is ill or could use a dinner, you can grab one of your frozen entrees and a bag of salad and drop them by. The best part of the favor is that your friend doesn’t have to worry about returning a dish.

Also, don’t forget to pull out your meal the night before and thaw it in the refrigerator. If you forget, you are almost no better off because the defrosting time added to the reheating time will likely put you behind your schedule. There is nothing more frustrating than realizing you went to all that effort to plan ahead and still don’t have a bite ready to eat. A breakdown over a frozen casserole isn’t a pretty sight for the kids (thanks heaven again for cereal).