Monday, August 17, 2009

Once a Month Cooking

Several folks on my facebook page asked me to blog about my recent status boasting about my full freezer so here it is :-) My friend Anna and I have been talking lately about what we could do to help our families eat better without breaking the bank. Just as important, we want to help our families eat better without killing ourselves (have you tried to cook with a toddler underfoot lately?). We needed something that would be quick and easy for those nights when we knew we'd be tempted to order pizza yet again. Anna had told me about the Super Suppers they had been getting to have on hand for those occasions. We KNEW that we could do something similar a lot cheaper though so we decided to give it a go. My mom had done the once a month cooking thing when I was growing up so I looked through the OAM cookbook I had borrowed (okay, confiscated :-)) from her while I was in Div. School to get an idea of where to start.

Our process started with deciding what we were going to make. We made a list of 13 dishes and all of the ingredients we'd need to make them. I sent Anna a list of everything we needed as well as everything I already had on hand. She took inventory of her kitchen and then made an excel sheet that indicated what we still needed. We split up the list and each took a store. She went to Publix for the meat, dairy, and produce and I hit Wal-Mart for the rest. Then, Anna tallied up how much each of us had spent (along with adding in what each of us had on hand already) and we evened it up. We spent about $260 ($130 a piece) for 50 meals (25 each), so $5.20 per meal. Not bad considering we bought mostly organic meat!

Of course, there are much easier ways that we will definitely try next time. The book I have (and countless blogs and other books, I'm sure) has several menus where you simply follow the step by step process (that is, it already has all of the ingredients listed for a month as well as the most efficient steps to chop, cook, assemble, and freeze). You know me though...never one to do it the easy way. In all seriousness, I just wanted to make sure we picked dishes that we'd almost certainly like the first time around. I didn't want to get too adventurous. Plus, I didn't want to eat soup or stew in the middle of the summer.

ANYWAY, we decided that we'd split up our cooking over two nights instead of one full day. In retrospect, we definitely needed three nights or a full day (Chad helped us out on the second night or we wouldn't have finished until well into the morning!) . We're going to shoot for a full Saturday next time so that we only have to clean once. Total, we made 13 different dishes, which yielded approximately 25 meals per family. We made chicken packets (4 meals), chicken spaghetti (2), wild rice chicken (1), mandarin orange chicken (1), teriyaki chicken (1), teriyaki burgers (1), linguine with ham (2), veggie pizza (1), Balkan meatballs (1), spaghetti sauce (5), Mexican stroganoff (2), bird's nest pie (2), and calzones (2). We made all five chicken dishes on the first night and the other 8 the second night. Why I thought we could do 8 in one night, I'll never know!

Many of your favorite dishes can be frozen. Basically, you just follow the directions on the recipe, leaving off the last minute things. For example, we froze the "stuffing" for the chicken packets. When we get ready to make them, we thaw the filling and put it in crescent rolls to bake it. On the stroganoff, we mixed up the meat stuff and froze it. When we want to eat stroganoff, we'll have to boil the egg noodles and mix the sour cream in with the sauce. You can freeze a casserole without the cheese that goes on top for the last 5 minutes. (You get the picture.) We froze most of our stuff in freezer bags, but a couple of things froze better in pie pans, aluminum dishes, etc. However, freezer bags definitely make the most of your space!

Even though we just did this last week, I'd definitely recommend it. I had friends in over the weekend and it was so nice to eat at home without having to spend hours in the kitchen. Plus, freezer dishes are a wonderful way to extend hospitality to others when they are sick, someone dies, a baby is born, etc. If you want to give it a try, but are intimidated by the up-front time commitment (or are afraid your freezer is too small!), consider what you could do with the stuff that's already in your fridge, freezer, and cabinets. Start there. Or, consider doubling the recipe the next time you cook and freeze half of it. If you want to do a little more, try freezing two weeks worth of meals to see how it works for you. That way, you can cook every other night for a month. If you want to go whole hog, here are a couple of resources that you might find useful. Jennifer sent me this one and Susan told me about this resource. I'm sure there are tons of other options though. Some of these books may be on my Christmas list this year (boy, am I old!).

Thanks for reading about our adventure in the kitchen. Feel free to ask questions, but (as you can tell), we are no experts! We were just looking for a way to save ourselves some time (and our sanity!). Many thanks to my mom for her example. She showed me that it was possible to work outside the home and have homemade meals. Thanks too to Anna for cooking with me. I don't think I ever would have been motivated enough to do this alone.

Stay tuned for an announcement about our next crazy inspired project. Oh, and for the record, neither of us has an extra freezer...yet :-)


Megan said...

The frozen dinners you made sound delish! Great post full of lots of good ideas...thanks for sharing :)

Anna said...

Love it! Can't wait to do it again! Linked to your post :)

Rita Bird said...

Yay! Thanks for sharing, Great tips!

Melissa Walker said...

I enjoyed the bird's nest pie. :o)

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