Once a month cooking: Meal planning & shopping

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Once a month cooking, or “OAMC,” is a helpful way to prep lots of meals ahead of time — and you can modify the basic idea in any way you like to suit your needs.

Here’s a guide to help you through planning and shopping for your first OAMC ventures.

[ Part 1: OAMC introduction | Part 2: Planning & shopping | Part 3: Cooking & freezing ]

Produce at a grocery store

by Kim Tilley

Planning for OAMC

Choosing recipes

Your first job is to decide what you are going to cook! If you are cooking for a whole month, pick about 10 to 20 recipes, depending on the above strategies you are going to use.

Are you cooking 20 different dishes? Are you cooking master recipes that can be used to assemble several different entrees? Are you cooking things that can be doubled and be eaten more than once in a month? You call the shots! Some tips:

Try not to overdo it the first few times.

Select recipes with ingredients that you know your family will eat, and that will freeze well. Most items with mayonaisse, sour cream and cooked eggs do not freeze well, but there are ways around this! Check in the next part of this article for what freezes and what doesn’t.

>> Cooking measurement conversion charts

Don’t cook and freeze things that save little or no time.

Some things can be whipped up faster when they are not frozen, such as batter for pancakes and waffles (you can make them up ahead and refrigerate), pasta salads (they don’t freeze well anyway), and some meat salads, like tuna fish.

Plan around what’s on hand

As you are planning your meals, take a look at what you have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. This will save you money as well as time that you would spend shopping. If you keep a well-stocked pantry using the technique of bulk buying, this will be easy!

Plan around what’s on sale

Check your local papers and flyers online for weekly sales. If you start using a price book, you will come to know which sales are actually bargains and which are not. I try to plan a bulk cooking of on-sale meats that will last several months. This is why many of my plans are centered around a certain meat, so you can take maximum advantage of what is on sale.

>> Save money: See the latest grocery store sale flyers here

Finding recipes

Need recipes and menu ideas? You can try traditional cookbooks, cooking sites and Pinterest, plus search online for “foodservice recipes.” (To get you started, see foodservice recipes provided by Land O LakesKraft, Idaho Potato Commission, Whole Grains Council, General Mills and the American Egg Board.)

Worksheets to use with recipes

Use worksheets to plan the meals you will cook and freeze, and the ones that you will use to “fill in the gaps.” There are three approaches you can use: the calendar method, the list method, and the table method. These may help you organize you OAMC planning efforts. Use what is most comfortable for you!

Gather your recipes

Bring all of your recipes together for easy reference. I like to put mine together in a “plan” or staple them together. You could also put them in a notebook, or in plastic protectors that you can hang up and see while you are cooking, or in a file you upload online so you can access it on your laptop or tablet.

Potatoes in the produce section

Shopping for once a month cooking

Master lists: Once you have gathered your recipes, make a “master grocery list” of all of the ingredients listed in the recipes. Combine like items and make sure you will have enough for all of the dishes you are going to prepare. Make sure to include side dish ingredients, desserts, snacks, etc that you may need.

Bulk buying: This is one of my favorite techniques for saving money on groceries! When you see a good price on an item, stock up! There is no law that says you have to only buy a week’s worth or a month’s worth of groceries! If toilet paper goes on sale for a killer price, buy a year’s worth if you have the space! There are many items you can stock up on that will keep just fine. You can also freeze large quantities of items bought at their lowest prices and use them in future OAMCs.

>> 10 tips & 10 must-haves for authentic Italian cooking

Short on storage? Put your purchases in unconventional places: canned and other non-perishable items can be stored under a bed, in a linen closet, in the basement. Get creative!

Short on cash? Give up a few luxury items or junk food items to free up money for bulk buying. Or cut down on eating out. You can also pinch money from other items in your household budget to fund the bulk buying. As you start to save more money from bulk buying items and not needing to replace them at a higher cost, you will free up even more money. Another approach is to start bulk buying in the spring, when heating bills go down, giving you a little more money to play with. You can also bulk buy fresh veggies and fruits in season during the summer months and freeze or can them. The possibilities are endless — give it a try!

Price book: This is perhaps one of the most effective tightwad tools around. After you set up your price book, you can track prices on items you use and only stock up on those items when they are at their lowest price. As with many things, you only get something out of your price book if you put something into it! See some price book examples at Pocket Change Gourmet and The Budget Mama.

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