Once a month cooking, or “OAMC,” is a great time-saver — and a money-saver, too.
In part 3 of this series, Frugal mom Kim Tilley guides you through cooking your first OAMC meals. (Read part one: an introduction to OAMC; or go to part 2: Planning and shopping.)
[ Part 1: OAMC introduction | Part 2: Planning & shopping | Part 3: Cooking & freezing ]
by Kim Tilley
Cooking your meals for the month
There are several approaches to the cooking part of OAMC. Do what is comfortable for you. Some people like to divide the days into Day 1: shopping and prep day, and Day 2: cooking and assembly. If you have kids, you may want to get a babysitter for your cooking days — or like me, divide the cooking into three of four evenings. My first OAMC (the chicken plan) took me six days. Now I can usually get things done in about two days.
The secret is to work smarter, not harder. Prepare long-cooking items like soups, stews, slow cooker recipes, doughs and large meats first, then work on things that take less time, such as chopping, grating, mixing, and measuring. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get as much done as you want to, just put it in the fridge and do more the next day. Practice makes perfect.
>> Cooking & baking: How to make emergency food substitutions
Do these steps however you want, taking a day for each, or combining, but do them in order!
- Preparation: This is your day/time to prepare master recipes, chop vegetables, shred cheeses, etc. Combine all similar steps in recipes and do them at once. For example, if several recipes contain chopped onions, chop all the onions for all the recipes at one time. (You can go even further and chop all of the onions you have and freeze them, for present and future use). You can also prepare doughs, sauces, marinades, etc.
- Cooking: This day/time is the nitty-gritty of OAMC. Finish cooking your master recipes, then prepare them for use in the other recipes you are making them into. For example, cook the turkey or honey baked ham, then divide into the parts for the other recipes (such as turkey or ham slices, potpies, etc) that they will be used for. Boil, bake simmer, fry, do all of your cooking steps today. Check out the cooking steps worksheet for more ideas.
Tips to make the job easier
- Make sure your counters are clear of clutter and you have lots of paper towels, sponges and towels for quick cleanup, along with aprons and a mop!
- Have your recipes where you can see them. You can tape them up, put them in see through plastic protectors, whatever you want!
- Take the phone off of the hook, put the dog outside, send the kids to the sitter (or your spouse) and get cookin’!
- Good suggestion: Plan on eating out, eating a dish already in the freezer or throwing something in the crockpot for dinner. You will be very tired at the end of cooking day! I always throw something in the crockpot before I start cooking day, it’s my “insurance” that dinner will be taken care of. You can even double of triple the recipe so it is an OAMC dinner.
This is the day/time that you “wrap up” your cooking. If you have planned well on prep day, and made progress on cooking day, it should go pretty fast. Assemble your dishes, cook if needed, or freeze.
Freezing your meals for the month: Supplies & how-to
Make sure you label everything that goes into the freezer and put any reheating instructions on the label if you think you may forget. You can also tape items to the main dish that are to be served with it, such as taping a bag of tortillas to a container of taco meat.
- Zippered plastic bags: Very handy. I buy cheap freezer bags to put the meats in (you can’t reuse them after meat is in the bags), then double bag them in the nicer freezer bags that I can reuse again and again. You can also freeze sauces, shredded cheeses, chopped veggies and other items in ziploc bags, close them tight and put them on their side, patting them flat. You can get a lot of food in a small freezer this way.
- Freezer containers: These containers, in a variety of sizes, are a necessity! I find the most useful sizes to be the 2-cup (good for sauces and gravy), and 5 cup (good for entrees that are put on rice or pasta) sizes, as well as the larger 11 cup sizes (good for casseroles, fried rice, any dish that is served whole with nothing else added). I try to buy most of my freezer containers at yard sales and thrift shops.
- Aluminum foil: Great for freezing in, I like to wrap up pizza in foil. Just don’t forget to label your foods!
- Plastic wrap: another alternative to double bagging. If you want to reuse ziploc bags, wrap the meats thoroughly in plastic wrap, freeze on a cookie sheet, then place in a ziploc. Take the meat out of the ziploc before it thaws, so no blood gets in the ziploc. If in doubt, throw it out! Don’t take chances!
- Foil containers: Some people love to use those disposable foil pans to put large entrees in. I don’t use them, but some of my friends love them, and even line them with aluminum foil, then lift out the frozen dish and reuse the pan. You can do this with baking pans too.
- Casserole dishes: I like the Pyrex casserole dishes a lot. They cost about $10 each and you can use them to bake, microwave and freeze in. I bought myself one a month as a reward for doing OAMC. I stopped at four! I bought the 11 cup size, which is very versatile. I have prepared lasagnas, deep dish pizzas, pot roasts, roasted chickens and casseroles in them. I take the dishes straight from the freezer, take off the top, then defrost, then bake. No broken glass! I think these are worth the investment. They are deep enough to store baked goods in also.
- Freezer inventory: Keep a list of everything you freeze, and mark it off when you use it up. This is very important! I like to keep mine with my meal plan, usually on the refrigerator.