Is Once a Month Cooking Right for Me?

Freezer cookingIs once a month cooking (what I like to call freezer cooking) the right meal planning strategy for you?  That depends.  All meal planning strategies work well but not all strategies work equally well for all families, so read on to find out what freezer cooking is, how to do it, and whether freezer cooking is right for you!

What Is Once a Month Cooking?

Freezer cooking is all about making it easier to get dinner on the table every night.  As the name implies, the basic idea is that you do the bulk of the cooking on one day a month and then just do the final cooking, baking, or simply reheating when it is time for dinner.  This requires a lot of cooking on one (or two) days a month (which can be difficult), but it does make it much easier to make dinner each night.

Who Is Once a Month Cooking Great For?

Freezer cooking works great for:
  • Families with super busy weeknight schedules but more flexible schedules on the weekend (or at least they can make time at some point in the month)
  • Homeschoolers, especially if you follow a non-traditional school schedule (you can stretch the “once a month” to “once every two months” or “once every six weeks” to fit your school schedule so that you have less cooking to do when school is “in session”)
  • Single people or couples (you can make bigger batches of food and freeze what you won’t use right now)
  • People who do not love to cook (we’re talking homemade convenience food here people!)
  • People who have time to cook NOW but not LATER (I think this is especially a blessing to expectant mothers – I know it has been for our family – and we also used this before I did my student teaching because my husband could mostly handle getting dinner on the table or I didn’t have to think too much about it)

Who Should NOT Try Once a Month Cooking?

Freezer cooking might not work for you if:
  • You have babies in the house (those long cooking days only get longer if you have to stop all the time to take care of the baby; that being said, I first used this strategy when my oldest was a baby and it worked well for me at that time)
  • You really don’t have a large chunk of time to spend planning and cooking (although there are some meal plans out there that people put together pretty quickly, it is still going to take a few hours between the planning, shopping, and prep)
  • You cannot stand/sit to cook for long periods of time
  • You love to cook (you will miss the time you spend in the kitchen every day)
  • You don’t have much freezer space
What it comes down to is that you need to be able to cook for a long stretch of time.  If there is some sort of physical limitation or family situation that stops you from doing that, then I don’t recommend trying freezer cooking, no matter how tempting it sounds!

Once a Month Cooking How-To and Resources

The traditional way of doing once a month cooking is to make casseroles, soups, and other freezer friendly foods for each day of a month and freeze them in disposable containers, but there are lots of ways to adapt this strategy to meet your family’s needs.  Here is how we did it:
  1. Make a menu – Choose recipes that work well for the freezer (avoid cheese dishes and never freeze potatoes – these don’t keep well in the freezer).  In our family, I would make a three week schedule and then repeat it for a six week meal plan.  I would also have only three recipes per week which we would have once and then again as leftovers (with a day in there for extra leftovers, spaghetti, or going out to eat).  If you have never done this before, I HIGHLY recommend using a pre-made menu to help you prep and freeze the meals right so that they reheat the best way possible.  Remember that quick meals that you use now can be a part of your meal plan and do not necessarily have to be prepped ahead of time at all.
  2. Make a grocery list – Make a thorough list of everything that is called for in the recipes (EVERYTHING, including salt and pepper and freezer bags), combing amounts to determine the total you will need for the month (you will probably be surprised at how much basil you will need).  Then go through your cabinets and mark off anything that you already have (do not assume that you already have something because forgetting something is pain on cooking day).  Make a categorized grocery list of everything that you need (it will probably be a very long list), putting everything into categories really helps (I just do produce, dry goods, meat/dairy, and frozen foods).
  3. Do your grocery shopping – Do this the day before, not the day you are planning on cooking.  Plan on it taking quite a while and leave little ones with someone else if possible (this is not a necessity, as I certainly always took mine with me, but it does make it faster).
  4. Do the cooking – Plan to spend the entire day doing the cooking.  Find some good cooking shows to inspire you while you work, or turn on those podcasts you keep meaning to listen to.  Pick one of the meals (an easy one) to be dinner that night and remember not to freeze it.
  5. Enjoy the fruits of your labor!
You have decided that once a month cooking might be right for your family, what next?
  • Start small – Although it is called “once a month cooking,” I don’t recommend actually starting with doing a whole month of cooking.  Start with two weeks and see how you like it.
  • Use some of your family’s favorite meals – Most foods can be adapted to freezer cooking, and good once a month cooking resources (see below) will include instructions for adapting recipes for going in the freezer.
  • Find additional resources – The book that I learned from is not in print and is super hard to find – it was an early edition of the popular one by Mary Beth Lagerborg and Mimi Wilson.  Look for one that has lots of instruction, a few full meal plans, and some good recipes.  You should also check out Once a Month Meals for lots of great recipe links (they also have a subscription service, but you can get many recipes for free).

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