The hardest thing about cooking once a month (or even just every two weeks if you don’t have the freezer space) is just deciding where to start. I started doing it out of necessity. This past spring, both of our boys were playing baseball and we had 6 practices per week between the two of them and of course, all at different times, and different fields! We couldn’t afford to eat out every time, health wise or money wise. So I started by looking for things that I could fix quickly.
During the busier months I didn’t do many casseroles or things like that because for one thing, my kids are picky eaters. They do better with a meat and sides added. But also, I knew if I cooked the meat part ahead of time, everything I made to go with it would cook just about as quickly as whatever I was reheating.
So…first I made a list of things I knew we all liked and then moved on to looking at who had what meat on sale…b/c that is where the bulk of your money can go…to meat and premade foods. (TIP: A great place to get ideas is the freezer section at the grocery store. If they can make it and freeze it, so can you, but without some of the added “junk” they put in and you can control the nutritional aspects.)
Hint: You can almost always find chicken on sale. If you have a Sam’s or Costco card, just as good!!
You will need to dedicate an entire day to this (and maybe even a little bit the next day…depending on what you cook.)
When I first started, I split boneless skinless chicken (usually breasts, but I hear thighs are good too and usually at a good price…I’m using them this time, so we will see) between three different crock pots. I know what you are thinking and YES…I have 3 and I use them ALL, all the time! (TIP: you do know that the size of your crock pot has an effect on how your food cooks, right?)
Anyway, I did one with chicken, jane’s crazy mixed up salt/pepper/onion powder/garlic powder/chicken bullion cubes (Plain Chicken.)
The next pot had chicken, BBQ sauce and coke (BBQ chicken).
The last had chicken, salsa and a little taco seasoning (Salsa Chicken).
From these 3 pots, I can make all kinds of things (b/c isn’t remembering to thaw meat and then cooking it the most time consuming process??)
First I shred it all, then proportion it into freezer bags and label it for what I want to use it for. Examples:
Plain Chicken—almost every casserole calls for 2 cups shredded chicken, so put that much (or however much you want) into Ziploc bags. You defrost it in the microwave on high for5-7 minutes. While that’s doing its thing, mix together your other ingredients and your casserole is ready to cook and in the oven super quick. Usually 30 minutes later, supper is on the table!
TIP: You can also make casseroles ahead of time, but that’s for a later discussion!
BBQ chicken--(just defrost/heat in the microwave, add in a little extra sauce or thaw in fridge while gone during the day, put it in a casserole dish with extra sauce, cover with aluminum foil, heat on 350 until warmed through.)
BBQ chicken tacos--heat the same way as above, but serve in a soft tortilla topped with corn and cheese (slaw or lettuce if wanted)
BBQ chicken Pizza—heat as above; spread BBQ sauce on a pita, top with chicken, red onion, bacon crumbles and cheese—something with cheddar is my favorite.
Salsa Chicken—if it’s Mexican in nature, you can use this! Quesadillas, Mexican casseroles, tacos, chicken chili, just Salsa chicken over rice…anything.
Next up…ground beef/turkey. First of all, I put carrots/onions/bell peppers in the food processor and add it into all of my ground beef/turkey (which we pretty much always use turkey—93/7—b/c they can’t tell the difference in taste and it’s actually cheaper per lb. This will bulk up your meats, add flavor and sneak in some veggies at the same time.
Ideas: Meatloaf (recipes/flavors are endless here) and hamburger patties (keep raw when freezing both of these), sloppy joes, tacos, veggie-beef soup, chili, taco soup, spaghetti sauce, really anything you can add hamburger meat to, brown it…cool it…freeze it. Thaw in the microwave or the fridge…cook to your heart’s content.
I’ve also done pork loin/chops/boston butt. I don’t cook those ahead of time, but I have pre-seasoned them. I just thaw in the fridge and then cook as usual.
Sides: Mac-n-cheese (the homemade kind) hashbrown casserole, twice baked potatoes are things that I’m pretty sure make a bunch and freeze well. I haven’t tried anything else, but feel free to let me know if you do! Sides are the easy part for me usually.
So, how else do I get started??
If you aren’t a list maker, this probably will never be your thing. It requires planning and a good bit of it, but once you do it a few times, you’ll figure it out. The first time you do it, you’ll think you are spending more than usual, but I promise it will even out within a couple of months. Look for the sales. I do NOT go to several stores rounding up stuff. I usually shop at Walmart, Kroger, Sam’s or Publix. I just check ahead of time. If you have a local chain that you like, ask your butcher what day the mark meat down. It’s usually a certain day of the week and it’s usually a few days before the “sell by” date.
Every month I print out a blank monthly calendar. I sit down and decide what we want for supper as the main dish. (I make out my bulk meat list from that…including what seasonings or sauces I’ll need for whatever I’m making.) After that I add in the sides (which is where my weekly or bi-weekly shopping comes in). People, I own my OCD-ness…but I’m telling you, it helps.
I take my job as the house manager seriously. It’s my job to feed us, which it’s my job to be thoughtful about the nutrition as well as the money we spend on it…not to mention the time management that comes into play with it as well. I spent too long wasting money on guess work, sometimes over-buying, lots of times having to go back more than once a week (which sometimes I still do…I’m still learning).
Alright, you’ve decided to do this.
You’ve made a running list of things you like.
You’ve written out a calendar of the meals you’d like to have (INCLUDING SOME MUCH NEEDED OUT TO EAT BREAKS FOR THE HARD WORKING/COOKING MAMA!!)
You’ve made your bulk shopping list.
Time to shop…If you have crock pots, get the crock pot liners!! You won’t be sorry…and don’t forget the freezer bags! If it’s something “saucy” I double bag, just in case of leaks when thawing. Plus, if you thaw in the fridge, you won’t stink up everything. (I hate it when that happens!) I usually use quart and gallon size. Some will be reusable…some will not. It’s not something I get hung up on, for now. (Also, if you have a Kroger in your area, they have the disposable aluminum tins that have the flat tops on them. Most places have no top or the plastic one that wastes at least an inch of space. I find the flat top kind to be most useful for casseroles/sides.)
Time to cook…start with a clean kitchen. You are GONNA MAKE A MESS…A BIG’UN!! Just accept it.
I figure out how I’m cooking my chicken first (because I always do it in crock pots! The meat gets more tender, plus, I strain and use the broth for soups.) When that is decided and doing its thing, that frees me up to take care of the other prep that I need to do with the pork/ground beef/veggies or whatever.
TIPS: Use the internet. Look for other people who do this. Look for recipes. Take short cuts where you can. I don’t like the tediousness of doing my own meatballs, so I buy them already cooked. I have found that if I grill meat ahead of time, that for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem like it tastes the same after it’s been refrigerated…so any grilling I do, it’s for eating then, or I let Tyson do the work.
I’m not particularly good at couponing, I try…but I look for stuff we use, brands we like, and when Publix puts something on BOGO…I use it then or at Kroger. After doing all of this, I just don’t have the brain strength sometimes, haha!
Things you can make in bulk and freeze:
Breakfast: pancakes/waffles/muffins/ham-egg-cheese cups (I’ve seen, but haven’t tried), I’m sure there are more, but we aren’t huge breakfast eaters. We’re good with cereal, muffins and pop-tarts!
Suppers we like: enchiladas, tacos, spaghetti, quiche, meatloaf, meatballs, BBQ, sloppy joes, chicken fingers/nuggets, fish/shrimp, soups, pork chops/loin, hamburgers, hotdogs, ham, roast, lasagna, breakfast…
Well, you get it. Not all of us like everything, but we make it and serve it and that’s it.
Doing it this way has saved my sanity and our budget for sure. Lots of times we have left overs, stretching what I’ve made even more.
If you have a friend, you can even trade meals!
I’ll try to get around to posting more recipes soon. Click here for the first time I did this. We also have some quick stuff on hand that I didn’t list here, but I can be more detailed if requested. If you see something in my freezer right now that you’d like to try, let me know and I’ll send the recipe along to you! Or if you want my blank calendar forms, I can send those, too. Just shoot me an email…firstname.lastname@example.org Here are a few other websites to get you started:
Once a Month Mom
Thanks for the interest and happy freezing!