When I’m asked, “Laura – how do you cook once a month?” I usually end up staring back blankly, not sure where to begin.
To me, batch cooking has been a natural evolution of my cooking. I didn’t just start cooking once a month. It started when I was in management, working long hours while somehow managing to Coach on the side. I’d get home from work, exhausted and hungry. Quite often, my husband and I would eat out, trying to salvage whatever time together we could. The monthly expenses got higher and higher while my passion for cooking got less and less. I love to cook, but finding the time to make good meals was a challenge.
On weekends, I’d sometimes double a recipe and stick half of it in the freezer for meals during the week… then it dawned on me. If I’m doing this for a couple of meals, why not just spend an entire day prepping and cooking?
It’s nearly impossible to wake up and decide to cook an entire month’s worth of meals that day. You’re going to want to get yourself, your supplies, your family and your kitchen prepared.
- Plan your menu – I generally choose 10-12 recipes that can be frozen or prepped in advance. The number of servings for each recipe will determine how many meals will be created. For example, if your menu includes Tuna Casserole (6 servings), lasagna (6 servings), Sweet Potato Burritos (8 servings), you will create a total of 20 servings. With these 3 recipes a family of 4 would enjoy 5 meals. You can decide how many meals you want to create. Also, if you see a recipe you think will be a good one the next month, save it so that you aren’t scrambling to find recipes.
- Make a grocery list – Start by going through each recipe. Write down the ingredient and quantity you need. You’ll notice, there will be several recipes with the same ingredient so just add them together. ALSO, make sure you write down any pre-cooking ingredient preparation needs such as, green peppers (chopped), rice (cooked) and so on.
- Determine storage container needs – I generally make casseroles in small 8×8 foil pan, crock pot mixtures will go in large Ziplock freezer bags as do single food servings, meat patties and burrito style recipes. Remember, your freezer is going to have to hold all of this food so you’ll want to select storage containers that are easy to use and not bulky.
I recommend that you do NOT cook and shop on the same day. You will need your energy. Allot a couple of hours to purchase the food & storage supplies you will need as outlined on your grocery list. Buying in bulk (such as at COSTCO) saves you time and money.
‘Twas the Night Before Cooking
This is my favorite part of once a month cooking! Picture this: my husband and I turn on the music, pour a glass of wine, and together, we laugh and make small talk while we chop vegetables & prepare any grains needed for the recipes. It only takes about an hour, but its so fun.
When we made our grocery list, we indicated how much of each vegetable we would need and how it needed to be prepped, so we just go down the list. One of us might be chopping carrots while the other is chopping celery. All of these prepped food items are refrigerated in bowls, plastic containers or baggies until the next day when the cooking-fest begins. Do not skip this step – it’s key to time-saving!
Another important activity to do in advance is to label all of your freezer bags or containers that you will use to store the recipes once complete. The 8×8 foil pans fit perfectly inside Gallon freezer bags. Label the container with the recipe name, how to reheat it and the date.
The Big Day Arrives
I remember my first big cooking day. I was scared to death. It also took me until after midnight and I had to go to work the next day. Why? I didn’t chop my veggies in advance, nor did I review the recipes. I even went grocery shopping that same morning. Lesson learned!
So your vegetables are chopped, the grains are prepared, all the storage containers are labeled… and all that’s left is to assemble ingredients. That’s it. Wear comfortable clothes, stay hydrated and have fun.
Assemble the recipes that will take the greatest amount of time to cook first, then while they are cooking, prepare other recipes. One of the easiest recipes to make is to combine raw items in a Gallon zip log bag for a future crock pot dish. You don’t usually even need to cook these items BUT they are ready and waiting for the day you decide to hull them out of the freezer and throw them in your crock pot. Simple!
Why do I do this?
Once a month cooking saves so much time! All of those trips to the grocery store add up, so does the expense of the gas in the car to get me there. That’s time and money I can put to other uses.
Speaking of time, it’s so much easier to cook several items at one time than a different meal each day. You come home from work and dinner is already prepared, all you have to do is re-heat it. That’s it! Also, buying in bulk is so much more affordable. We have reduced our grocery bill by about 50% because we buy only what we need and at a reduced price. Of course we love our fresh vegetables but we only purchase them when we need to.
Why didn’t I start once a month cooking earlier? Seriously!