Thursday, December 22, 2011

Once a Month Cooking: Planning

Once a Month Cooking (OAMC) is this crazy idea where you spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals that go directly into the freezer to be eaten at a later date. I know several people who do this on a regular basis so that way they can still serve their families wholesome meals during the week when they're busy with work and whatever else. I do a OAMC day whenever I know that I have a few crazy weeks or months coming up. It really helps to have a stockpile of meals ready to go in the freezer so I don't find myself panicking at 5:00. This time around, I did it because baby #2 is due in a few weeks and I know we'll still need time to adjust after my mother-in-law, mom and husband all finish taking care of baby and I the first week or two. And I can only handle so much take-out.

Plan of Action

This is one of those things you gotta plan. You can't wing it. I happen to love few things more than a good list. I compile all the recipes I want to make and then go through each one and list the ingredients needed to make it. Then I check my kitchen to see which of those ingredients I have and which ones I need to pick up from the grocery store.

I also tend to plan about half of my recipes to be beef and half of them to be chicken so that way we aren't stuck eating the same kind of meat too often. Sometimes I go really crazy and throw a few vegetarian meals in there (the husband prefers when I don't).

I also plan to have a few of the recipes be ones that I simply have to chop stuff up for and throw in a bag because these are the fastest OAMC meals to make so you can get more done in less time. Usually these are crockpot meals, or in the summer, things that I'll grill.

You can also see on the list that next to each meal, I wrote what kind of container I was going to freeze the meal in. This helps to make sure you have enough bags, pans, etc.

What Recipes to Use?
Some foods/meals don't freeze well. Generally I stay away from using anything that has raw potatoes or cream in it. Rice and noodles also technically don't freeze well. However! You can use them in freezer meals as long as you only cook them about 3/4 of the recommended time so that they don't become soggy when you defrost the meal later on. Also, I've yet to have a problem with using sweet potatoes so I'll often substitute those.

Later on today I'll share the recipes I used last week in a separate post.

Ways to Simplify
#1- Get a cooking buddy. Whether it's your spouse or a friend who also wants to benefit from OAMC, get somebody to cook with you. It'll make the time much more fun and take half the workload off your hands. My cooking buddy is my husband...but he hates to cook. Yet he is still incredibly helpful because he takes our daughter for some intensive daddy-time so I can cook uninterrupted.

#2- Double it. If you look at the photo above, you'll see that I used about 10 recipes the last time I did a OAMC day. However, I ended up with 20+ meals because I doubled every single one of those recipes (and tripled a few). This cuts down your kitchen time like crazy and makes planning your grocery list so much simpler than if you made 20 different meals.

#3- Host a freezer-meal swap. I did this a couple times with friends. Basically everyone makes a beef, chicken and vegetarian freezer meal for each person participating. So when I did it when four friends, I made five chicken teriyaki meals, five beef enchilada meals and five vegetable soups. But after we swapped them I had fifteen different meals. It's important to make sure you and those in your group have similar tastes. Our group made a "no-casserole" rule because half of us have husbands who can't stand to eat them. Later I did a 10-meal swap with a friend from that group because our families had the most similar meal preferences.

#4 - Slowly Stockup. You could also plan a week or two where each night for dinner you'll make something that can also be frozen. Double up the amount you would normally cook and then freeze half. After two weeks you'll have 14 meals in your freezer without really having to think about it.

Packing it Up

Use freezer bags instead of regular plastic bags.

For foil containers, cover the top in plastic wrap and then cover it in a layer of foil. This way, if the top layer gets punctured or torn, you'll have a backup layer.

To eliminate frost from getting all over your meals, don't place piping hot foods in the freezer. Let them cool a bit first and then throw them in there.

When freezing soups or other bagged items, lay them flat on a freezer shelf so that later you can stack them up and use less space.

Be sure and label everything. I use labels written with sharpies on everything. Include the thawing/reheating/cooking directions on the label so you have it handy later on.

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