Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Once a Month Cooking (OAMC)

Ok, I have had several friends ask about how I do the once a month cooking, so I thought I would share a little bit.

First off let me share what once a month cooking how it is done.  There are several ways you can do it.  You can do "bulk cooking" (another term you will hear used when talking about OAMC) in several different ways.  You can choose 1 day and cook several meals for a whole day and end up with 20-50 or more meals. You can choose one type of cooking to do (chicken, beef, meatless, breads, desserts, sides, breakfast, etc) and make a day of it.  You can cook a meal for dinner, like lasagna and make 2 or 3 or more of them so you can freeze the extras.  So first thing to realize is there are several different ways you can do it and what works for one may or may not work for you.  I normally do a day or two of cooking the main bulk of my meals and then supplement little stuff in on days when I have time.

Why do we do it?  Well, I have 6 people in the family and homeschool, so we are home for 3 meals a day. #1, I don't have time with everyone's schedule to always cook and make something for 3 meals a day (some days I do but not all and kids don't all get home from dance till after 8:30 so if I don't have a plan, and meal done, then we eat out and that gets expensive.)  But if I already have food in the freezer, all I have to do is take it out and cook.  I don't have to search to make sure I have everything, or make sure I have time to do it.  #2, it saves me a ton of money.  Before cooking once a month, I would spend $500+ a month of groceries and still come home and feel like I had nothing and didn't know what to make or cook.  Now, I spend under $200 and have tons of food.  We eat out less, and are eating healthier.  Right now, in my freezer I have over 70 meals (Round Steak Bake, Loaded Baked Potatoe Soup, Spaghetti sauce, Stuffed shells, hamburger casserole, chicken picatta, ham and scalloped potatoes, pizza's (not frozen carboard ones), plus many more) plus sides (mashed potatoes, garlic mash potatoes, sweet potato casserole, corn casserole) and several desserts (french silk pie, cookies, pumpkin cookies, and cherry and blueberry cheesecakes).  You get the idea..lots of food.  It doesn't have to be all casseroles, and food you would never eat. 

When I first looked at the idea of cooking like this, I said we would never do casseroles, because I didn't grow up on casseroles and to me when I thought of casseroles I thought of tuna noodle casserole and "old" type foods and for several months  I wouldn't even try them.  However, we have been eating more and more casseroles lately, because quite frankly, they are cheaper, and everything goes in one pan so less clean up.  So before you get hung up on the casseroles, there are plenty of other foods you can do, but just know that there are casseroles out there that aren't that bad. :-)

I also at first precooked everything, so when I took it out of the freezer all I had to do was thaw and reheat.   Now, I assemble and cook on that day, for most foods.  Either way is good.  Just a personal preference.  

There are TONS of good websites and books out there to research and get ideas.  My personal favorite is . I use her book and software to organize everything. You do not need the software, but it does make it very easy and less thinking on my part. But the book, does have all the forms you need to do it manually, you will just have to do all the math in your head.  I guess I am jumping ahead of myself a little..

To start, you need to decide how many meals you are going to do.  For the sake of showing you how to do it, let's say we want to end up with 15 meals.  So pick 5 meals. I am going to use an example of what you can do.

Chicken Picatta
Chicken Parmesan
Chicken Noodle Casserole
Sloppy Joes

We are going to make each one of these 5 meals 3 times each.  So when you finish you will have 3 Chicken Picatta's, 3 Chicken Parmesan, 3 Chicken Noodle Casseroles, etc..get the idea?

So when planning you are going to take your recipe, and triple it.  So for the chicken picatta, instead of 6 boneless chicken breasts, you will need 18.  Same with the chicken parmesan, for the Chicken Noodle casserole you need 3 for each recipe, so now you need 45 chicken breasts total.  Now, bear in mind, that with kids, you don't need a whole breast.  Not really even for the adults, a serving is the size of a deck of cards so really you could take the 36 breasts from the picatta and parmesan and cut them in half (atleast for most of the servings)  (i.e. when I make picatta, the chicken breasts were huge, so I cut in half and put 7 in each if Dave still was hungry he could have more..however, he wasn't so we ended up with an extra piece the other day.  But you will learn to do that over time and save money, because then you don't have the leftovers that stay in the fridge and never get eaten.  However, if you are a family that does eat the leftovers, you may want to use more.  It is totally up to you, but I would recommend cutting them in half and starting there so you aren't having everyone wasting food cause they don't want it all.   So if you think about it instead of 36 if you cut them in half you really only need 18 breasts plus the other 9 for the casserole so 27 total.  If there are 6 breasts in a package (frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts) and each bag is $7 (I can find them about $6) but we will use $7 you will need 5 bags.  The other thing to keep in mind is that you don't want to go out and buy the most expensive meat/ingredients you can find.  I had a friend that made the same meals as I did one month and she paid $250 for 16 meals.  I paid $125 for the same exact meals, and same quantities, but shopped at Aldi's (something that took a lot for me to do because I didn't like shopping there, I felt like they didn't have what I needed and I ended up spending more.. but that was before I had a plan and knew what I really needed) and I also shopped for the remaining few ingredients that Aldi's didn't have at Walmart.  But the point is I spent 1/2 of what she did for the same foods!  We had pork roast (mine bought at Aldi's her's at Giant Eagle), we had meatloaf, we had beef barley soup, and Hawaiin Chicken. (each multiplied times 4).  They tasted the same and the "men" couldn't tell the difference between "cheap" and "good" meat (her husband wouldn't eat stuff from Aldi's)  We have never had a problem with meat or food from Aldi's.  So don't think you are going to sacrifice quality for are not going to.

So you continue to figure out how much of each ingredient you need when multiplied and here is where you save money.  How many times do we buy something for 1 recipe and only use 1/2 c. and are left with something that sits in the fridge till moldy or we throw it away.  Well now, if you are making 3 of a recipe, you still only need 1 bottle of whatever, but you use the whole thing.  So no waste, and you have saved yourself the price of that times 2..because the next time you want to make the recipe, you would have (before OAMC) bought a new one..and again the next time.  So now, if it was a bottle of something that cost $2.50 than you just saved $5.00. 

I made the Chicken Picatta the other day, and it takes about 15 minutes to prep the recipe before cooking it.  It took me 20 minutes the other day to make the recipe times 6!  And, all for the same amount of money as it cost me to make 1 of them. (with the exception of sour cream which I had to buy extra) everything else I needed was enough in that 1 container. i.e. apple juice, I needed 1 c. but for 6 I needed 6 c. well, there was about 8 c. in the bottle. cost $1.98 
I also needed lime juice (2 Tbsp. but times 6 I needed 12 Tbs. again, all in 1 bottle) cost $.99
same with the lemon juice cost $.99  Also needed was flour (which I already had).  It needed chicken broth (which I made myself from a previous recipe) so again, no cost. I needed 3 bags of chicken breasts so that was $18  but for $22 I made 6 meals.  You try and go to the store, and pick 6 main dishes and try and spend less than $22.  You will probably have a hard time.  We had mashed potatoes and carrotts and homemade bread with the meal.  Total cost if including all components for 1 meal is roughly $6.00...I don't know about you  but if we go out to eat (even if to McDonals, each person pays close to $6.00)  so you can see the savings.

Ok..part 2 will come later...cause I need to get some things done here...