Cooking for a month sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Daunting and perhaps a little impossible!
Cooking for a month: I remember helping my family do this when I was in high school. We had a great time all in the kitchen together, but when we were finished cooking (for what felt like a 20 hour period of time) the kitchen looked like Chernobyl part 2! It was a mess. Remember that scene in Daddy Day Care, with Steve Zahn (one of my favorite actors) and Eddie Murphy? Eddie Murphy walks into the bathroom after one little kid who was clearly having trouble. He was staring, with disgust, as he stated something to the effect, “It’s all over the floor, it’s all over the walls, it’s all over the ceiling, it’s everywhere!” That’s how it sometimes feels when cooking for a month. Especially the “Cooking For A Month” Brand. I much prefer crock-pot meals to any other, frankly they’re just easier to make and easier to clean up. When I do my batch cooking, I don’t cook anything! I dump it all into freezer bags! Below is a step by step process of how I plan, make lists, organize, shop and make all my meals!
The first step is to make a list of meals you like or new ones to try! I always try to make a few favorites and make a few new ones. There will always be hits and misses with this process, but you will expanding your family’s repertoire of recipes that are easy, affordable and most importantly, TASTE GOOD! There are several websites that I go to when I need recipes.
1. www.5dollardinners.comThis lady, Erin, is great! She has meal plans, recipes for under $5 (obviously) and she breaks each recipe down and makes it super easy to make! My ONLY issue with some of these recipes is this: because they’re $5.00 there are a lot of beans and rice added to the recipes for fillers. Now, these are great, especially when you’re trying to stretch your dollar. However, I’ve taken out some of those options and either replaced it with veggies or left it out altogether. My favorite recipe of Erin’s is Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin! YUM!
2. www.stacymakescentscomFirst off, she’s not just a recipe site, she is all about frugal, debt-free living. She has loads of recipes that are simple, easy and tasty! I particularly like her “ranch chicken and potatoes”! So creamy and rich. These recipes can be easily modified into clean/paleo/gluten free etc.
3. www.moneysavingmom.comShe has tons of content on her blog and everything I’ve read on there is fabulous! She has recipes, tips of couponing and getting the most out of shopping at certain grocery stores etc. This is a great resource for once a month cooking!
After searching these sites and my own personal stash of recipes I compile a list of roughly 25 meals. Some months it’s more, some it’s less, it really just depends on what sounds good to me at the time. I make 25 ish meals because we’re a family of two adults and one five-year-old. He doesn’t eat as much as we do (most of the time). I can cook a meal for 4 adults and have plenty of leftovers for lunch! So I’m not cooking twice in one day usually.
The next step in this process is to find the recipes so you can make a grocery list. I usually sit at my kitchen table, with all my recipes in a pile, with my pantry doors open and look at what I have and what I need. I am a cheapskate so I try to only get the products in the quantities that I need them. This means that I don’t always shop at Costco or Sam’s for what I need. If I have a recipe that calls for two tablespoons of soy sauce, I don’t need a five-gallon bucket of it. I just go to my local grocery store and buy a small bottle. Now for this step, I have tried a few different things. I usually shop in 3 phases. I try to get this done within one day so I have all my groceries at the same time.
The first phase of grocery shopping is our local damaged freight store. Some people may think this is ghetto or beneath them, but there is no cheaper place to get non-perishables. On occasion, I can also find produce, meats, and some frozen foods. This is my first stop, I take my list and get everything here, from my list that I possibly can. In this process, I make a few substitutions based on availability and prices at the damaged freight store. Substitutions can include ground turkey instead of ground beef for example.
The second phase of this process is a warehouse store for any bulk items that I might need. Some months I need a lot of onions, or chicken or hamburger and on those items that I need in bulk, Costco or Sam’s usually has the best price. It’s always a good idea to check your regular grocery store, especially if they have a shopper’s reward card. At times they have deals that might be comparable to the warehouse store. The difference between this being worth it is your cost of gas to get to the warehouse store. That’s usually my deciding factor.
The last phase of this process is my regular grocery store where I get everything else of my list. Usually, my car if filled with bags and boxes, but I have everything that I need to conquer the hardest step of the process!
Now, the hard part! The packaging of the food!
When I get home from my trip I get right to work. It’s more of a pain to put everything away then pull it all back out again the next day. I try to sift through the products I’ve purchased and put away the items that aren’t for the meals. This would include sliced cheese for my son’s lunch, milk, apple juice, cereal etc. Everything else stays on my counter tops.
I have my list of meals to make usually tapped to the wall or window in front of my “station”. I don’t want this to get too messy or wet. Close to my station I have my pile of recipes that I need to make. I don’t have a recipe for each and every meal, some are just in my head! Take BBQ chicken for example. That’s a bunch of BBQ sauce, a few chicken breasts and half a can of coke then you’re done! I do recipes like this first because they’re just easier AND it’s a productive way to get more space on my counters for the more intricate meals that I will be preparing. I start with a gallon zip-lock bag and label the meal that will be in there AND any cooking instructions. My BBQ chicken bag will read something like this: “BBQ ckn. C8L. W/veg & rice”. This is my own little shorthand for “BBQ Chicken. Crockpot for 8 hours on low. Serve with a vegetable and rice.”
Every time I get a meal prepped and sealed up I put it in a box or on a cookie sheet to wait its turn to go into the freezer. This process takes between 4-5 hours usually, depending on what I’m making that month. I also check it off my meal list so I know what meals I have left!
When we’re all done, my kitchen is a MESS! I won’t show you a picture of that cause it’s just gross J
I’ve used almost all my measuring utensils. I’ve used almost all my stirring bowls, spoons and really just about every dish I have! It often takes two, sometimes three, dishwasher loads to get completely clean! But it’s SO worth it! I keep my meal list in my kitchen close to my week-at-a-glance menu! Now it’s a grab-and-go situation! I love my crockpot so most of my meals are crockpot based meals, but there are lots of soups, stews and baked dishes as well. Mixing things up is always a must, though!
I hope you will try this process and that it works well for you! It’s taken me the better part of a year to tweak this process to where it works best for me and our schedule. The KEY to this PROCESS is definitely ORGANIZATION. For this to work and work well, you MUST be organized. It’s vital that you have lists and label things and do this in an orderly fashion. Tweak this process for what works for you and you’ll have a month of yummy, healthy meals in your freezer!