Cooking all the food for a month in just one day? I must be crazy.
Oh but I’m not! Freezer cooking, or once a month cooking, can save you time and money. It’s not really as difficult as it may seem. All it takes is careful planning. Here is what you need to know to get started, so you can cook just once a month and free up the rest of your month to do other things.
You’re going to need them. Heavy-duty plastic or glass is great for freezing food. You can also use gallon-sized freezer bags if you wish. Also gather a way to label your containers. If you are using plastic or glass, you could use pen, paper and tape or stickers. With freezer bags, a permanent marker will do.
You will also want to make sure you adequate room in your freezer. If you have a deep freezer or a stand-alone freezer, even better!
Start gathering recipes that will freeze well. Start with recipes your family already loves. Stews, casseroles, spaghetti sauces, chicken, meat and dough all freeze well. Pasta noodles do not, but you can always prep the sauce and meat, and just cook the noodles as needed. Most vegetables freeze fine, but some like potatoes do not keep their texture.
Now it’s time to make your shopping list, using your recipes and what you already have in your pantry. Look through all the weekly ads for your local stores for what is on sale or special. Also look through your pantry for staples and dry goods that you already have on hand.
Using these 2 resources, compile a list of enough recipes that will last your family a month. The amount you need to make will differ from family to family, depending on size and also by how big eaters you are. If your family doesn’t mind doubling up on some dinners during the month, you can get even more bang for your cooking time, by simply doubling a few recipes. You are already chopping and cooking the ingredients; you just need to doubles the portions.
To save even more money, search online for coupons on the things you need. If you need fresh vegetables in any of your meals, stop by a local farmer’s market for a great deal on produce.
Another List and Then Shopping
Once you have your recipes and shopping list, you can group like ingredients with like ingredients. Write down each ingredient and make a tally mark for each meal, or serving, you will need to make. You will be able to shopper better and smarter this way. If you have 5 recipes that call for ground hamburger, you can purchase a larger pack, and save yourself some money. Also consider shopping at bulk warehouses if you are going to need larger amounts of meat and vegetables.
The Day Before Cooking Day
Okay, so doing work the day before kind of negates the whole “one day cooking” thing, but trust me, you will want to do some work this day. You don’t have to do any real cooking, but some prep work will greatly help you tomorrow.
Remember how you grouped ingredients together? Now is the time to pull that list back out. Look over it and see what can be prepped. Have a few recipes that need chopped onions? Do it all at once and store them in the refrigerator in one container. Need carrots diced? You get the idea. Doing all the chopping, cutting, slicing, grating and crushing at once will make it easier on you, and will cut down on the time you need to spend in the kitchen tomorrow.
Marinate any meat or chicken that needs to soak overnight. Make sure the rest of your protein has been moved from the freezer to the refrigerator to start defrosting.
Gather all your cooking utensils, pots and pans and slow cookers for tomorrow. Having everything set up and ready will make your cooking day much easier.
The big day. It seems like a large task to tackle but once it is done, you can relax for the rest of the month. Start with the meals that will take the longest, such as those that need to go into the slow cooker. If you are making bread dough for pizza, start your bread machine early.
Move on to the recipes that need to simmer, such as chili, stew and marinara sauce. Now when you start cooking ingredients for these recipes, think of any other recipes that call for the same ingredients. If you need ground hamburger for the chili, brown all the ground hamburger you will need for the day. Same with your onions and other vegetables. Sauté all the onions for the day and set aside the rest for the remaining recipes.
From now, you can move from type of food to type of food. Start with ingredients that can be cooked together to save time. When that is done, start assembling your meals and finishing each of them.
For casseroles, you can choose to cook them and then freeze them in the pan or in a container; or you can simply assemble it in oven safe pan and freeze as it. When you need to cook it, take it out of the freeze a day ahead to defrost and then pop the whole thing into the oven.
Clean Up and Freezing
By now, you should have majority of your recipes completed. Once they have properly cooled, you can start packing them up. Label your bags or containers with the date, name of the meal and any special instructions the food requires such as oven temperature, cooking time and any additional items the complete meal may need.
Once everything is packed in the freezer, you can relax. It was a busy day, but you don’t have to cook for another month. And don’t worry, the more you freezer cook, the easier it gets. You will get used to checking the ads for sales and planning the day, and faster at moving through each recipe on cooking day.