A beginner's guide to once a month cooking
Once a month cooking -- or "OAMC" -- is a wonderful tool you can use and modify to suit your needs. It is a simple idea, really, of cooking ahead and then preserving your food using a variety of strategies: freezing, canning, drying, refrigerating. Here's a guide through the basics!The basic idea is that every time you cook, make sure it counts! Whenever you are going to prepare a family favorite -- double, triple, even quadruple the recipe -- if it will keep in the freezer. (You can check below in the freezer section to see what freezes well and what doesn't.)
JUST GIVE IT A TRYThe most important tool in OAMC is your freezer, whether you have a large one or just the one on top of your refrigerator. Yes, you can fit a month's worth of meals into that small freezer space -- it just takes a little more creativity!
If a month's worth of cooking is to much for you to even think about, start out by trying a week's worth and see how you like it. Give yourself a much-needed break! cook ahead today so you can relax tomorrow.
STRATEGIESThere are several different approaches to once a month cooking. You may like one approach better than another, or you may find using a combination of strategies is the best for you. Try each one and see what you are comfortable with! Experiment! Take chances! There is no wrong way to do OAMC as long as you are using common sense and being safe! (See the safety section if you have any questions.)
Strategy #1: Cook twenty different recipes and freeze -- This works fine for some people and not so well for others. You make 20 or more different dishes, which can be a lot of work, but gives you a lot of variety.
Strategy #2: Master recipes -- You cook a few master recipes that can be used for several different dishes, such as baking a turkey, cooking a large roast, preparing a large batch of chili which can double as taco meat and ravioli filling, etc. This is one of my favorite techniques, and you will find I have used it is many of my plans.
Strategy #3: Bulk cooking -- You make large batches of several recipes and plan to eat them more than once. We eat pizza every Friday, so we make lots of pizzas and freeze them. We change the toppings for variety. You can plan around these "bulk cooked" recipes with quick and easy meals that do not need freezing so you are not eating a whole month of chicken meals or hamburger meals. Other techniques I use to supplement the bulk cooking technique are described below.
I use bulk cooking to stock up for months at a time. I especially focus on meats that are on sale, then do a huge cooking session of that particular meat which lasts for a long time. This is how I have written my plans. I did the chicken plan one month, the hamburger plan the next, ham another month. Each session gave me months worth of dishes. I even had a month off because I had made so much food!
Note: I never use all of the recipes in a plan, but I put extra recipes in the plans for variety, so I can go back and use the same plan but make different dishes. I still have items I made a few months ago! After a few months of bulk cooking, you will have a nice variety of different dishes in your freezer at the lowest possible prices.
Strategy #4: Busy cooks' triple batch cooking -- This is the "busy cooks" method that Lynn describes on her website. Every Saturday, she makes a triple batch of a main dish. She eats one batch for dinner that night and freezes the other two. Then, during the week, she takes out two different frozen meals from other Saturday cooking sessions. That way, she is always restocking her freezer with very little effort, a she has two entirely different freezer meals she can take out whenever she needs them. You could make a couple of different double/triple/quadruple batch recipes to get stocked up and then start this easy plan.
Strategy #5: Fill in the gaps -- This strategy goes hand-in-hand with bulk cooking or with the busy cooks technique. If you do the chicken plan tomorrow, you still are going to want to eat more than chicken this month! So how do you supplement what you just made? By filling in the gaps! Be extra clever and double or triple recipes on these nights -- they can be frozen, used in lunches, or used in subsequent dinners. Here are my methods for doing this:
Grilling -- especially in the summer! Designate one night a week or at least two nights a month to grilling. It is easy, delicious, and your hubby can get in on the act. Don't forget to grill extra! Grilled meats can be used in salads, pitas, as fajitas, in sandwiches, you name it! Imitate those fancy restaurants, but make it yourself! Yum!
Crockpot -- This incredible invention can turn almost any cheap piece of meat into a tender, delicious, morsel. I like to make roasts in the crockpot and treat them as master recipes. I shred the beef and use it in hot sandwiches, enchiladas, etc. An absolute must for the tightwad cook!
Leftover night -- As old as time itself, I think. Make sure your leftovers get used. They are essentially a free meal! The best way to get your family to eat them is change them into something new. You can also label and freeze leftover meats for future use. Get creative!
Soup/Stew night -- This can replace grilling in the winter and use up leftovers. Plan to have soup and sandwiches once a week or twice a month. You can make big batches and freeze ahead , so next time, it comes right out of the freezer! Make every cooking count!
Quick and easy meals -- I try to plan at least five of these a month. These are meals your family likes and take less than half an hour to prepare. They may be recipes you have cooked so many times you know them by heart. OR they may be recipes that rely on already cooked meats to make them fast. Whenever I bulk cook, I always freeze 2-3 cup portions of chicken, beef, ham, etc, just for this purpose. I also keep quick and easy recipes together where they are easy to find, so that I can whip them up fast. Items I consider quick and easy: Burritos, spaghetti, enchiladas made from frozen cooked beef or chicken and frozen sauce, stir fry, casseroles, etc.
Pizza and movie night -- I got this idea from my OAMC buddy, Robbyn, and it is one of my family's favorite nights. We always have homemade pizza on Friday nights to celebrate the end of the week. Afterwards, we watch a movie and eat popcorn. Sometimes we rent a movie, most of the time we borrow one from a friend or the library, and sometimes we watch ones we have owned for some time. It is so much fun, and I always know what we are eating on Friday nights!
Chain cooking -- This is technique of intentionally cooking extra to use in something completely different in a subsequent meal. When you make spaghetti, you can cook extra pasta to use in chicken cacciatore, or use pasta from one meal to make pasta salad. You can cook lots of spinach as a side dish one night, to go into a lasagna or casserole the next. This is basically "organized" leftover cooking.