It saves time (You only
have to do mountains of dishes one day a month, not every day!
You also dont have to start dinner at 4:30 p.m. or earlier
just pull dinner out to thaw in the morning.)
and money (You can usually save quite a bit by buying in bulk).
We are brought closer
together as we spend a special day as a family cooking these
This is an excellent
lesson in Home Economics for your children. Mom always has the
oldest girls plan the menu, grocery list, and strategy for the
cooking day. She often has us do the grocery shopping, as well.
Proper planning is essential
for a successful cooking day. I usually start planning at least
a week in advance. First, pick which day will be your cooking
day. Clear your schedule that day. You will want to focus your
energies entirely on cooking.
Menu Planning: After you have
chosen your cooking day, begin menu planning. Go through your
cookbooks and find recipes suitable for freezing. Strive for
variety. My list usually includes: one-dish dinners, meatloaf,
meatballs, layered casseroles, soups, chili, hamburgers, meatless
dishes, and so on. Make sure that you include a number of family
favorites, in addition to any new recipes you may be trying out.
You do not want to fill your freezer with meals your family wont
find appetizing! When you write down your menu, make sure and
write down the cookbook and page number the recipe came from.
In addition, mark whether you are planning to double or triple
Make Your Grocery List: Using
your menu list, write down the quantities of ingredients needed
for each recipe. I like to categorize like ingredients on five
to seven different lists (meats, vegetables, cheese, pasta, spices,
etc.). Take these lists and combine all like ingredients onto
a final list. For example, if there are fifteen recipes calling
for one pound of ground beef, you will write 15 pounds
ground beef on your final grocery list.
After you have made your final
grocery list, make sure and check your cupboards to see what
you might already have on hand. You probably have most of the
seasonings. But be sure that if you need four teaspoons of garlic
powder, you actually have that much in the jar. I have not checked
thoroughly before, and it has been real headache.
I have found it most helpful
to keep a separate food preparation list along with
my grocery list which states what is to be done with the items
which I need large quantities (Such as, if one the items on your
list is 20 pounds of chicken breasts, note beside
that item how many cups need to be cooked and diced, how many
chicken breasts need to be cooked and left whole, how many need
to be left frozen, etc.).
You will also want to make sure
you have plenty of freezer bags and foil on hand. These will
be essential on your cooking day.
Cooking Day Strategy: It is
wise to develop a basic cooking day strategy of what you will
do when. This does not need to be an exhaustive list, but it
will save you time and effort if you have planned the basic order
of what you will be cooking when. If you are going to be working
together as a family on cooking, plan who is responsible for
what tasks. Although everyone will need to be flexible, it will
definitely save hassle to have most of the schedule worked out
ahead of time.
Shopping: The day before you
begin cooking, do your grocery shopping. Make sure you do not
rush through this. Read your list thoroughly and check to get
the best deal.
The sooner you can start in
the morning, the better. Begin by cooking the meats, grating
the cheese, chopping the onions, or whatever bulk preparations
your food preparation list says you need to do. If
you have planned to make soups, you should start these early
on, as they usually need to cook for longer.
Cooking the meat is one of the
most time-consuming projects and you will probably find you end
up browning ground beef and boiling chicken most of the day!
As much as is possible, use all of the burners on your stove
at the same time.
Keep soapy water in the sink
at all times and take turns being on dish duty. As
soon as a dish is used, wash it. This will save you from having
an enormous mess at the end of the day. You might also find it
helpful to take a five-minute kitchen cleaning break every hour
or so to wipe down the counters and put things away which you
are no longer using.
What do you do with the completed
dishes? Here are some guidelines for freezing:
We always designate the
kitchen table as our finished recipe zone. We often
have someone who is specifically just working on labeling things
and taking them to the freezer from the kitchen table.
Proper labeling is a
key factor in making sure you know what you have in freezer.
Make sure you label the containers with the recipe, the cookbook
it came from, the page number, how many it serves, and any additional
instructions for the dish. Also write out a list with all of
the recipes you make and freeze and how many they serve on the
outside of your freezer.
Transfer soup to a big
bowl and cool for about an hour. You can either place the soup
in plastic freezer bags or plastic containers with lids (32 oz.
cottage cheese and yogurt containers work well for this).
Most other recipes can
be transferred to plastic freezer bags. Do not fill the bags
very full, as foods expand when frozen. Do not put anything which
is still hot into bags. You will likely split the bag at the
seams and have a gigantic mess to deal with!
Use smaller labeled bags
for cheese or anything else to be sprinkled on top once the dish
is cooked. Make sure you keep these in a very accessible place
in the freezer.
If the recipe is something
like lasagna which cannot be frozen in a plastic bag, freeze
it in the size of pan the recipe calls for, cover with foil,
I wholeheartedly encourage you
to give once-a-month-cooking a try. If you are like us, you will
soon wonder how you ever lived without cooking this way! You
could also simplify this plan and just cook for two weeks at
a time to start.
For further information, ideas,
and recipes, I highly recommend you read Once-A-Month-Cooking
by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg and Dinners in the
Freezer by Jill Bond.