Saving money and saving time: how cooking once a month saves your family and sanity

I, too, have shuddered at the words, “Honey, what’s for dinner tonight?” With both adults working full time and a hungry family to feed, I used to think it wasn’t fair that I was always the one who had to think of something tasty and nutritious for dinner that everyone in the family would eat.

This is what I started with when learning how to incorporate Once a Month Cooking, or OAMC, into my life. I worked 3rd shift, my husband worked 2nd shift and we had a family of 6 living with us with a wife who didn’t know how to boil water without burning the pan and a husband who could cook anything that came in. can. Vegetables were what they chose from the frozen empanadas that were their main staple on nights when there was no Chinese take-out or pizza. I knew there had to be a better way. Everyone in the house loved my cooking, and would even eat the vegetables I sneaked out for them most of the time, but I was having a hard time keeping up with the 9 people in the house.

So I found OAMC. I thought of myself “Hey, I’m NOT Martha Stewart! There’s no way I can do this!!” I took a good look though, because I was desperately trying to get dinner on the table, take a nap before work, and be awake and conscious when my husband got home. Turns out it wasn’t all that hard after all. Sure, the idea of ​​cooking for 8 hours straight sounded a bit daunting at first, but then again, that’s what I did in college and if I could do it for a bunch of strangers why would I not? I do for my family? It’s also just one day, instead of cooking 8 hours a day, all week. The other benefit was that I was able to get the whole family involved in the process, cutting down on packing time.

The first step I would tell anyone before going on a once a month cooking journey is to clean out the fridge and freezer. You’re going to need all that space for the food you’re cooking or preparing to cook, and you’ll be surprised how many things in the freezer and refrigerator are already on the shopping list. It also gives you a chance to clean things up, get rid of things that are past their expiration dates, and see what you might need on your shopping list. Note: The first time you cook once a month, I suggest you only buy what you need for the cook and make a separate shopping trip for your regular household supply. This way, it will be easier for you to see exactly how much money you spent on cooking and you won’t have to separate the items on the bill.

Next, compare your pantry with the grocery list. Again, this is a good time to clean things up, get rid of items that are past their expiration dates, and see what else needs to be replenished. Add items to your other shopping list as needed. Check the cabinets for aluminum foil, wax paper, plastic wrap, gallon and quart zip-top bags, and whatever else you need to pack up all this delicious treat you’re going to make.

Now that you have a firm grip on what you have on hand, go through your shopping list and determine where to get the best prices on the remaining items. If you have a local butcher who offers a great price on bulk meat purchases, then by all means get the meat for the cook there. Try to limit your shopping to fewer than 4 stores, as part of the benefits of Cooking Once a Month is limiting the amount of gas you spend driving to the grocery store. I found that I could do my shopping at just three stops: the local warehouse club for large quantities of cheese, eggs, vegetables, and packaging goods; the local butcher shop where I got a really good deal on boneless, skinless pork loin, chicken breasts and thighs; and my regular grocery store, where I could pick up everything else.

Now that the fridge is clean, it will be much easier to store all the goodies you will bring home to cook. I always suggest shopping a day or two before cooking, as it gives you time to go through the recipes and the list to see if you missed something or bought something too small. Make sure everyone knows the food is for the monthly cook, so no one decides to make burgers out of the ground beef you’ve collected to use in the meatballs and lasagna you’re making. Also, now is a good time to clear all the kitchen counters and table, since you will need all this space to prepare and pack your food.

On the day of the cook, get up early, prepare a good breakfast, and start taking out all the preserves you will need. Place them with the recipe at the top, if it helps you keep track of where you are in the process. Designate one area for vegetable prep and one for meat prep to reduce cross-contamination risks. From there, you’ll follow the instructions outlined for you, usually to make a massive vegetable mix (since most of the recipes this month called for onions, we had to chop up 5 pounds of them) and a massive meat mix ( two recipes this month called for browned ground turkey, which totaled 5 lbs. Easier to do once than to clean the pan twice!)

As the dishes are ready, move them to the refrigerator to chill before putting them in the freezer. Do the dishes as you go, or have the kids do it, so you’re not bogged down at the end of the night with a mountain of pots and pans. Label everything and, if you can, put reheating instructions on the package, such as “350°F, 45 minutes or until bubbly and heated through.” This will help avoid confusion if you’re not the one taking this out of the freezer to make dinner one night.

Last but not least, after everything is ready, take your family out for dinner or place your order! No one is going to want to face cooking that night, and since you’re now cutting your restaurant bill substantially by eating at home every night, you can afford to splurge once in a while.

Now that I’ve talked about the method, what about the savings? I’ll list them as I see them.

  1. You’ll save money on your grocery bill by using economies of scale: Anyone who shops at a warehouse club is familiar with this idea, though not the name. The more you buy in bulk, the more money you can save.
  2. You’ll save money on things that weren’t on your shopping list, because you’ll make fewer trips to the grocery store and be less exposed to whimsical items at the end of the aisles and in checkout lines.
  3. You’ll save money on gas because you’ll make fewer trips to the grocery store or to pick up takeout.
  4. You’ll save money by not buying takeout, stopping at drive-thru, or ordering food delivery.
  5. You’ll save money on replacement food because you’ll be cooking and eating all the food you bought; things won’t sit and spoil in the fridge as often as they have.
  6. You’ll save time because you’ll already know what you’re having for dinner, pop it in the oven or slow cooker, and just relax until dinner is ready.
  7. You will save time by not going to the supermarket two or three times a week, or going out to get take-out food.

You can also enjoy the added benefits of losing weight, since the food you cook and store will be healthier and more nutritious than the food you get from take-out and delivery restaurants. I’m sure it’s healthier than anything you’d get at a drive-thru! You may also find that you’ll stop at self-service less, since you already know you have a nice dinner waiting for you at home.

For the record, our first month it cost us a little over $400 to feed 9 people for 30 days. Prior to that, our average grocery bill was around $250 per week. We saved about $600 on groceries in the first month alone! Now our family is down to three people, and we spend about $225 a month on our cook, which we do as if we were cooking for 6, so we have leftovers to take to work and save money on lunches. That works out to about $1.25 a serving for dinner or lunch. If that doesn’t motivate you to at least look at the idea, I’m not sure what will!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *