Saving time and money are the catch cries of our modern era. Anything that claims to do this will always gain attention to see if the holy grail of ‘less time and less money’ can actually be achieved. In cooking for the family, one popular money and time saving idea is Once a Month Cooking.
The basic idea is the planning, shopping and cooking of a months worth of family meals is all done in 1-2 days. This can be economical due to the savings from buying in bulk, reducing leftovers and minimising the need for takeaways or eating out. It is also a huge time saver because there is minimal time required on a daily basis to produce the family dinner – simply pull a meal out of the freezer, defrost and dinner’s ready.
However, as with anything that does claim to be the ultimate time and/or money saver, there is usually some sort of a catch. With once a month cooking, the catch is that you need to set aside a large chunk of time to plan, shop and cook for a months worth of meals.
For some families, this idea might be quite appealing. But to get the benefits this type of cooking can offer, it is important to be very prepared. Here are a few simple steps to undertake for once a month cooking success.
1. Assemble your recipes
You’ll need about 25-30 recipes. Some of these can be doubled to give two meals. When compiling the recipes, look for ingredients that are repeated. This will allow for bulk buying and therefore savings when you go shopping. Meat in particular is an ingredient where considerable savings can be made if you use a similar cut or type of meat (or poultry or seafood) over several recipes.
To keep things interesting for the family, try not to use the same recipes month in month out. Incorporate a few new ones each time alongside some of the well loved ones.
It would also pay to start compiling the best recipes for this type of cooking in a folder, ring binder or recipe book. You can add to the collection as your recipe repertoire expands and it will become an invaluable resource.
2. Prepare your shopping list
Ideally this should be done on a computer. A spreadsheet is the best format to use for compiling the list and can be saved for next time. After a while you will find there are staples to buy every month and the quantities can be filled in easily. You can also add and delete ingredients as required as well as adding a recipe column so that ingredients can be aligned with the recipe to be used.
3. Plan your shopping
Now that you have a list of ingredients, before heading out to the shops, take the time to go through recent supermarket, butcher and other food retailer catalogues. See if there are any deals and discounts you can capitalise on. It may be necessary to visit a few different stores to get all the ingredients and maximise savings – take the time to plan this out before going shopping.
4. Go shopping!
With your list in hand, this step is pretty straightforward. Don’t get distracted by unecessary items on sale – this is where you can waste the money you’re working hard to save. Stick to the list and only get the ingredients required.
5. Preparing the Meals
Time to cook. Again, before starting try and formulate some sort of a plan and order in which to cook the recipes. Those that take the longest should be started first. If you are cooking several dishes with the same main ingredient, plan to cook these together as you will only need to assemble and chop the ingredients once. For example if you are preparing several meals that require chicken strips, you only want to chop the chicken once – so plan to cook them together and chop all the chicken at the one time.
6. Store the Meals
Most of the meals will be frozen so ensure you have plenty of containers on hand (you may need to add this to your shopping list), and there is ample space in the freezer. Try to have containers that will be the right size for each meal quantity being frozen as you don’t want too much air space in each container.
Dish the meals into the containers, label and freeze.
By following these simple steps you are well on your way to once a month cooking success. While it’s not a difficult process, it does take a fair amount of preparation, planning and time to execute. Ultimately it will save time and money, so you just need to decide if it’s right for you and your family.
If (like me) the thought of cooking that many meals in one hit does not have great appeal, you could perhaps consider once a week or even once a fortnight cooking. There will still be great benefits in terms of money and time savings, just less time required for preparing the meals.
So what do you think of Once-A-Month-Cooking? Does is save time and money or not? Please leave your comments below.