I've heard a lot of questions recently about the once-a-month cooking thing, so I'm posting run-down. If you want an entire website dedicated to it, see onceamonthmom.com. That's where I started and I still find great recipes and tips from her.
Why would I torture myself with an entire day of cooking?
It's not actually an entire day - I can get it all done while Monsoon is in school.
It's healthier. Even if the meals I cook aren't necessarily "health foods," they're still much better for us than eating out. I've found that when we have food ready, we're going to stay in and eat what's here 99% of the time.
It's cheap! Each dinner usually averages out to under $5. That's for the whole meal, not per person. Since there are only 3 of us, we usually have enough left over for lunch the next day, too. Healthier than McD's and basically a free lunch.
Up front honesty portion:
The grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning up part all blow banana chunks, BUT they are so worth it for the end result: an entire month of dinners, ready to go. No more, "I don't know what to fix for dinner" 5 minutes before bedtime and then all the "That again?!?!"
The gist of it:
You take one day to put together a bunch of dinners for the whole month so that they're all ready to stick in the oven or crock pot on the day you want to eat them.
I find 10 recipes that we'll want to eat that month, and plan on doubling them. That gives us 2 of each dinner, enough for 4 weeks of Monday-Friday dinners. This means I only have to find dinner 8 nights of the month (we like Pajamas & Pizza Friday and quick-n-easy stuff like spaghetti or sloppy joes or grilled cheese).
The grocery list seems a little intimidating, but it can actually be very simple. I get my recipes, blank paper, a pencil and a cup of coffee (optional). I make categories (produce, frozen, meat, canned, dairy, etc...) because it's easier for me to shop in categories. Then I go through each recipe, writing down the name of the item in it's correct category and - here's where it gets simple - make a tally mark for however many I need for that recipe. Some call for a # of cans, amounts in ounces, measurements in cups, and so forth - I put a < next to the item and mark oz or cups or whatever. As I go along, writing ingredients for each recipe, I add to the list and mark amounts or tallies for each repeat item. At the end, I can add each one up and get a total amount.
Organizing that one cooking/put-together day took some practice on my part. I am the type of person who organizes herself into confusion and maybe can't find her pants when she rearranges her closet. You just have to look at what you've got and decide on the best way to go about it. While one thing is on the stove and doesn't need much attention, use that time to dump something else into a freezer bag or measure out your ingredients for another dish. You'll probably get it faster than I did - you can probably find your pants, too.
First thing you need to know: You don't have to cook all the meals on the big cooking day! YAY!!! That's my favorite part. I look for "dump" recipes where you can just throw all the ingredients into a freezer bag and that's it until you stick in the crock pot or oven for dinner.
Here's a fun trick: Figure up how many total pounds of chicken or beef need to be cooked before freezing (NOTE that some meals do not require the meat to be cooked prior to freezing), and put it in the crock pot overnight with enough water to cover. I do chicken in the crockpot and ground beef the regular stove top way (in a huge pan or stock pot). If all your meat is already cooked, it makes even less work on your one cooking day.
Freezer bags, freezer bags, freezer bags. Gallon size or smaller, depending on how many you have to feed. If you want to save the planet, wash and reuse your freezer bags. Yeah, you can do that.
For lasagna or other meals that need to be layered in a pan, the cheap disposable ones from the dollar store work just fine but are not reusable (it's not very green of me - I know). Important: DO NOT bake the lasagna until you defrost it for your dinner.
For casseroles that you have to cook in a pan, you can still just dump them into a plastic bag for freezing - when you thaw them out, you can just dump the mixture into a pan before you cook it. Again, don't bake the casserole until you're ready to serve it.
Pinterest and Bloggers. I've found most of my recipes on cooking blogs (many through pinterest). I look for easy stuff with normal ingredients that might be in season or on sale this time of year.
Think about sides. My family is easy - we'll do mac-n-cheese or a can of veggies. Carrots, celery (stuff that keeps a little longer) or frozen garlic bread are all good things to have around.
For picky eaters, cook a little extra chicken and ground beef to keep on-hand for those nights you serve something he/she won't eat. Add some BBQ or plain old salt & pepper the chicken, and there ya go. Scoop some ground beef into a taco shell (keep in a zip-loc bag so they don't get stale after they're opened) with some cheese. I always put whatever we're having on Monsoon's plate and ask him to at least lick it. **Before you go judging me for making an extra meal for my picky eater, know this: Pttthhh!!! Ok, commence judgement - but keep it to yourself.
I've made my grocery list for this month and will soon be on my way to the store (in my pajamas, unless I can find my pants).
Sanity or Patience: choose one.
Do you ever have one of those moments where you think, "HA! I am sane!" Then you step in dog poo with your bare feet and remember it was your idea to get the puppy...?