Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Once-a-Month Cooking

There's a movement afoot that I've enthusiastically joined--the Once-a-Month Cooking approach to meal management. And I get asked frequently, "It sounds overwhelming--HOW do you do that?" I explain that I studied this for quite awhile before I ever got the nerve to try it. One of the best little books I found was To Busy to Cook: The Busy Person's Approach to Cooking, by Lori Rogers. (It's her information I am sharing here.) But I know there are lots of other good books out there on the subject. When I finally got the gumption to attempt it, I was really glad I did, and I found it wasn't as difficult or exhausting as I had assumed.

So I thought, in the case any of you are interested in this time-, energy- and money-saving method of making family dinner hour possible, I'd explain what a once-a-month cooking day looks like.

I start first with some advance preparation (cupboards, pantry, fridge and freezer cleaned out; enough freezer containers accumulated for all the food that will be prepared). Then it all boils down to a routine that includes:
  • choosing the day (I try to make it the same day each month) and getting it on the calendar
  • choosing menus
  • creating a grocery list off the menus
  • shopping for the ingredients
I've found it's best to make sure I'm rested and mentally ready to tackle the job--this doesn't work well if I'm in a big hurry and try to squeeze it in amongst a dozen other things I need to do that day. In other words, once I've chosen the day, I'm sure to keep it as the priority of that day. Here are the 5 steps to basic once-a-month cooking:


Step 1: I start the night before cooking day. For instance, I boil all the chickens and refrigerate the broth (this makes skimming the fat from the broth much quicker). While the chickens are still warm, I peel the meat from the bones and cut it into bite-sized pieces. I also put a brisket in the crock pot to cook overnight.


Step 2: I  begin the cooking day by performing all the chopping, grating, shredding, slicing, and draining that needs to be done. When I have finished this step I have bowls of green chilies, onions, mushrooms, cheeses, carrots, celery, olives, water chestnuts, and green peppers ready to be assembled into main dishes.


Step 3: Next I prepare the meat/poultry. I start with ground beef, preparing what doesn't need to be browned, such as meat loaf and meatballs. My chicken is already in a workable form from the night before, so I prepare the rest of my meats. I brown the remaining ground beef and drain it. I do the same with the Italian sausage. Finally, I cube the ham. I then put the brisket in the freezer and begin my spaghetti sauce in the crockpot.


Step 4: Then I assemble the ham dishes--sausage dishes, chicken dishes, ground beef dishes, and the vegetarian dishes. Because I want to serve less meat and more veggies, I am doing two things: I'm minimizing the amounts of meats that are going into the meat dishes, and I am minimizing the number of meat dishes I'm serving--compensating with more veggie meals.


Step 5: I label all these dishes and freeze. This approach to my meal management has saved me a LOT of money (due to buying bulk when things are on sale) and time over the long run. And you can see how much more convenient this makes getting a meal on the table. I love how I can comfortably delegate a dinner when most everything is already prepared.


Now here's one last bit of information (again, from the Lori Rogers book) that I found to be extremely helpful that you'll want to save should you decide to tackle once-a-month cooking yourself. These equivalents will help you implement your favorite recipes into this method of cooking:
  • 1 lb of cheese grated = 4 cups
  • 1 lb of lean ground beef = 3 cups
  • 1 lb of ground sausage = 3 cups
  • 1 lb of cubed ham = 2 1/2 cups
  • 1 cooked whole chicken = 4 cups
  • 1 chopped yellow onion = 1 cup
  • 1 chopped sauteed onion - 1/2 cup
  • 1 chopped carrot = 1 cup
  • 2 stalks celery = 1 cup
And one last point: Not only can we once-a-month cook, we can once-a-month bake. It's so nice to have batches of cookies, quick breads, muffins, cakes, etc. already prepared ahead of time. I have friends who get together on a regular basis to cook and bake for the month. They share the food costs, the work, the mess and the clean-up. They really have fun with it. 

So I'm wondering, do YOU once-a-month cook? Please share YOUR tips, ideas, experiences, even recipes. Take a minute to either email me or leave a comment. We're all in this together, so let's help each other out--there's no need for any of us to reinvent the wheel when we have each other. And until next time, here's getting it done ahead of time as we make family dinner hour possible!

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