Once a Month Cooking – Awesome or Not?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average American female spends almost 1 day per month (23.4 hours) just shopping for food PLUS an additional 35.2 hours per month preparing that food! We spend a lot of time with our food. AND that doesn’t even include how much time we spend EATING our food. Therefore, food is a very important part of our society, especially since time spent at work (whether mentally or physically) is increasing as well.

Because food takes up so much of our time, our nation has opted for faster, quicker and easier food regimens. Hey, isn’t there something called fast food?  Yup.

Once a Month Cooking (OAMC) is a developing trend.  Basically, OAMCers donate one day a month to cooking in bulk and freezing for future meals.  Thus, it’s no surprise why the popularity is growing.

But, the ultimate question – Why? What are the Benefits? Are there Benefits?

By cooking in multiples, bulk grocery shopping is a natural progression. Buying in bulk is almost always cheaper so planning to cook on the large scale works out to have a cost savings upfront.  Secondary cost savings include eating out. By having a freezer full of delicious meals, you are less inclined to call up the Pizza guy or hit your local diner on the way home from work.

Speaking of eating out, you’re also saving calories. Generally, meals prepared at home are so much healthier. Have you ever watched your omelet get prepared? Don’t. The amount of oil used is enough to… well, let’s not go there.  Home cooking boasts fresh foods you have prepared yourself. You know exactly what’s in them. You know exactly how they are prepared. This is especially helpful for Diabetics or individuals with food sensitivities.

Time management is critical with OAMC.  Unless you live alone, and you’re only feeding yourself (no the cat does not count), the time required to prepare all this food can monopolize you.  That’s why planning in advance saves you time. Many OAMCers devote an entire weekend to the cookfest.  Sound horrible? Not really. One pattern involves a grocery shopping day, followed by a labelling day (you’re going to want to know what’s in your freezer), a vegetable chopping day and then finally the assembly day.  If you work full time, this technique is very easy to follow and will not destroy an entire weekend.  You will thank me. Just remember, reheating food is definitely easier than compiling a full meal and cooking it from scratch.

THE PROS

There are plenty of benefits for families of any size. Buying in bulk and cooking in bulk at home offers many rewards.

1. Eat out less

When your freezer is full of delicious homemade meals, eating out is not as tempting. And when you don’t eat out as much, you save money. The 2010 Restaurant Industry Operations Report looked at the average check per person in an average full service restaurant in three different categories. It’s startling to see that the expense of dining out adds up very quickly. One meal for a family of four can easily total an entire week’s grocery bill. In addition, home cooking usually has fewer calories, less salt and less fat than restaurant or fast food options.

2. Shop less frequently

Grocery shopping, as indicated at the beginning of this post is a major time suck. It’s hard to imagine that we waste nearly 24 hours a month grocery shopping – that’s nearly 281 hours a year! This doesn’t include travel time or the car gas we end up using.

3. Perfect for busy people

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a meal made for you each night? Nothing is worse than a long day of work, you’re starving, the kids are being brats, your spouse is grumpy… and there’s NOTHING ready, OH and Bobby has to get to baseball practice. Having a stockpile of ready made meals is a great way accommodate a busy schedule and keep your sanity.

4. You extend the shelf life of fresh meats, seafood, and produce

Freezing extends the shelf life of meals and ingredients. How many times have you looked in your fridge to figure out what that nasty odor is? How many times have you found yourself throwing away produce that wasn’t eaten on time? Does the casserole pass the sniff test?  Yes, you may have produce in your fridge to accompany your pre-prepped meals, however it’s easier to manage on the smaller scale.

5. Precious family time

The kitchen has long been called the heart of the home. Couples and families can all work together to create the month of meals.  Extra hands in the kitchen are a big help when you’re cooking in bulk.  Couples often enjoy their veggie chopping night with a nice glass of wine, and families can put the kids to work pre-labeling storage containers and bags.

THE CONS

Even though there are so many pros to once a month cooking, not everyone is a fan. Some argue that it’s overrated when you examine other factors.

1. Freezer space

Most everyone has a freezer but not everyone has a stand alone freezer.  If you’re planning on cooking a month of meals you’ll want to invest. There are many affordable small uprights these days that tuck nicely in a garage or basement. You don’t need a great big chest freezer, though having one would definitely offer convenience.  Again, it depends how large your family is as to what type of freezer set-up you’ll require.

2. Get Organized or else

You can’t just wake up one morning and decide to cook a month of meals. Well, you can… but it probably will grey any remaining hairs on your head. You’ll need to figure out what to cook and get your shopping list organized. You’ll also need to get your prep game plan together.  If the meals you are cooking require cooking (crock pot meals generally do not) organizing a cooking schedule can be just as tedious. You’ve only got a set so much oven space and cooking surfaces, so maximizing your cooking area and cooking time requires forethought.

Trust me: You will not remember what everything is. You also won’t remember what final preps it might need. You may not even remember what’s in it.  You need to clearly label and date all foods. Some OAMCers like to keep a list of their freezer meals with the last minute prep instructions on it, while others prefer to put the final prep instructions right on the label.

3. Hidden costs

Since most of us (ok, all of us) don’t have multiple 8×8 baking dishes (I think I have ONE), you will spend money on disposable pans and foils. This cost is relatively low given the benefits but it is still a cost. Clean up is a breeze with OAMC, as many foods can be warmed in their storage containers. In addition, freezer usage adds slightly to the overall electricity expenditure of your household – another hidden cost.

4. Variety is the spice of life?

If you’re the type of person who loves to try new things ALL the time, OAMC may not be your cup of tea. Why? Well, quite simply not all ingredients freeze well. This may limit the type and style of cooking you can enjoy.  There are no rules however. You can be a part time OAMCer to keep your pallet happy.


In Summary

Once a month cooking has many pros and cons. It’s a perfect fit for some while others call it insanity. Until you try it, you’ll never know if it is something your family could benefit from.  I recommend experimenting with it. In the beginning, you may simply decide that each time you make dinner, you make a double batch so that you’ve got another dinner for another night.  Overtime, these extra dinners in your freezer add up and before you know it, you may just have a month of meals. That’s how I started… and now my husband Rob and I are OAMCers who eat happily ever after.

PS. Interested in learning more?  I occasionally offer Online Once a Month Cooking classes. Contact Me if you’d like to hear about the next one.

Helpful Resources:

  • http://onceamonthmeals.com/
  • http://www.livingonadime.com/once-a-month-cooking/
  • http://fortheloveofmom.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/who-would-like-to-cook-once-a-month/
  • http://www.frugalmom.net/blog/2010/05/7-steps-to-once-a-month-cooking/

5 Comments

    • Thank you Deb! I’m glad you’re inspired – saves us so much time & we just love the little surprises in the freezer when we’re tired after a long day.

  1. Great article Laura! I have enjoyed doing this with you. Since I don’t eat too much red meat (ie beef) I found the recipes for the January class better suited for me. Have you thought of adding some vegetarian meal options? I know some people who are now vegetarians that will cook “meat” meals for their spouses but eat only vegetarian. I know some people wonder how I find cooking for one so easy to do but I find I just cook dishes that serve 4-6 and freeze the left overs for lunch or dinner another night. This is why I love OAMC so cool! I am sure this is one reason I’ve been able to maintain my weight loss 🙂
    Thank you SO much for the effort you put into the OAMC programs!!

    • Thank you Lynn! I appreciate your comments and like you, I also enjoy vegetarian meals and I look forward to including them in my Freezer Meal Program as it evolves.

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