I’m writing this lying on the sofa putting my feet up after a marathon cook-fest – not quite sure how I feel about it all!
I now have the best part of 20 meals sitting in my freezer waiting to be eaten over the next few weeks – which I have to confess gives me a vague sense of achievement – I say ‘vague’ because it is somewhat buried in the memory of hours of shopping / chopping / grating / roasting / kneading / wrapping that it took to produce them.
Maybe the stress-free weeks of ‘sorted’ mealtimes I can now enjoy will wipe out the memory of all those not-exciting hours in the kitchen. At the moment, I’m still uncertain!
But let me tell you what I’ve now learnt, in case you ever want to have a go – and so I can remember for next time.
(The Once A Month Meals website has loads of information if you’re interested and will give you recipes, shopping lists and work plans. This website: Life as a Mom also gives some great advice.)
A Beginner’s Guide (that’s me) to Once a Month Cooking
This really needs to be spread over three days, but – be reassured – not three whole days!
Day One: Planning
Make a Meal Plan and Shopping List
- Have a look at what’s on offer at your ‘usual’ supermarket – especially meat (the expensive part – cooking for a whole month at once can be expensive)
- Plan 4 weeks of meals – taking into account the offers available.
- Make sure that the meals are:
- familiar family favourites (you want recipes you know how to make and will be a success if you’re going to make several batches reasonably quickly)
- freezeable (you can get advice here)
- probably relatively easy to prepare – too many fiddly meals and you’ll never get out of the kitchen in a day!
- Write your shopping list (remember to include any freezer bags / cling film etc that you will need). If you do internet shopping arrange for it to be delivered the day before you want to cook.
Make a Work Plan
It is definitely worth writing down what you want to do in the order you think sensible. You don’t want to have to cook AND think on your preparation day so include as much detail as you can – ingredients you’ll use for each meal, oven temperatures etc.
I used a spreadsheet (Excel) for this:
- From the meal plan, write out everything that you hope to prepare.
- Dice lamb
- Make lamb kebabs (x 2)
- Make pizza dough etc etc
- Include the ingredients for each meal on your list.
I found this really useful on cooking day – once you’ve chopped 12 peppers you don’t remember (and – I admit – probably don’t care very much!) which recipes they were for, so it’s great to have something that tells you without having to look up the individual recipes.
- Now – take a deep breath – have a good look at the list of what you have to do, and rearrange it into what looks to you like a sensible order for your cooking day.
(There are websites that do this for you – see above – but then you have to use their recipes, which I didn’t want to do.)
I wasn’t aiming to cook all the meals – partly to cut down time on cooking day, but also food cooked fresh always tastes better and you can reheat the leftovers if you’ve frozen too much. But there will probably be some cooking, so start with that, and with any other things that take a long time (e.g. making pizza dough).
Mine ended up looking like this:
- From the meal plan, write out everything that you hope to prepare.
Day Two: Shopping
- Today make sure you have ALL the ingredients that you will need. Also the freezer containers / bags / foil / clingfilm etc needed to wrap and freeze the meals.
I shopped the day I also cooked and that made the day very long!
- Print out the work plan ready for tomorrow. I ended up with an A3 size sheet, but it was invaluable!
- Some people suggest doing some preparation today – chopping onions etc. I didn’t – possibly a mistake – I had to wash the food processor
a million timesalot on cooking day
Day Three: Cooking
- Start the day with everything clean (pans, bread maker, food processor, freezer containers etc).
Also make sure the kitchen is tidy, worktops clear, rubbish and compost bins empty with room for all the rubbish you’re going to make.
- Follow that work plan!
After the first 2-3 steps I just wanted to be told what to do
- Wrap everything carefully as you go – and be careful not to leave it out too long. If you’re cooking for hours it’s easy to leave things out for several hours if you’re not careful which isn’t so good in this hot weather. Also putting things into the freezer in stages is probably better than putting everything in at once
- Finally (and most important): Sit back – pat yourself on the back for your great organizing abilities – and bask in a healthy glow of achievement
How long did it all take?
Remember – this was my first time!:
- Working out what I had to do and planning it, probably took 2-3 hours
- Shopping – about 2 hours
- Cooking – about 4½ – 5 hours (I got interrupted so many times that in the end I stopped noting the times!)
Cost – £78.91
What’s the verdict?
Well, at the moment this doesn’t feel like an unqualified success. Yes, it only took ‘a day’ (9-10 hours) but it feels like more time than I would be prepared to give up regularly to this (even if only once a month)!
Perhaps it’s worth mentioning here that dyed-in-the-wool Once A Month Cooks will make more meals and take 6-12 hours over it. I can only be impressed.
Still, I now don’t have to write any meal plans for the next month. And there is the great thought of all those suppers just waiting to be eaten – so maybe I’ll just have to try it once more!
What would I do differently next time?
- Plan to repeat meals on the menu plan as often as possible (and as much as the family will stand!). Perhaps plan for a fortnight and then repeat – it’s easier to do one recipe in bulk than several different recipes
- Have ALL the shopping in the house the day before
- Get a good audio book to listen to or do this with a friend!
- Perhaps aim for meals with even easier preparation? Three hours chopping and wrapping is probably my limit!
- Make worksheet more detailed. After the first 2-3 things you just want someone to tell you want to do! It may also show other ways to save time – e.g. if chopped onions are needed for several of the meals, chop them all together in the food processor.
- Use a timer for the things you are cooking. It’s easy to forget them when you’re doing other things – my pastry cases got a little browner than intended!
What about you? Would you ever consider once a month cooking? What tips do you have for making weekday meal prep easier?
And what about this week’s meal plan – that’s easy (as long as I remember to get it out of the freezer)!
I’m linking up to Mrs M’s Meal planning
Monday Tuesday where you can find other lovely ideas for meals and how to prepare them.
Have a good week!
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