Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cooking Revisited

Several weeks ago I told you that I don't like cooking.   Within hours of posting that, my friend Molly called me and told me about Once A Month Cooking.  It's basically the same idea of the Dinner's Ready thing we had been doing (which isn't available anymore) except that I would do all the food shopping, prepping, and freezing.   I immediately started doing research.

One of the first sites I found was Once a Month Mom.  They create a bunch of different menus (traditional, vegetarian, whole foods, gluten free/dairy free, baby food, diet) and give you the recipes for them.  Each menu has several breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.  Every month a new menu is made.  Cool, less thinking for me to do!

Then I saw that they not only give you the recipes, they also give you a shopping list for ALL the recipes.  So if one recipe calls for 1/2 cup of carrots, and another recipe calls for 2 cups of carrots, the master shopping list says to buy 2.5 cups of carrots.  Woohoo, even less thinking for me to do!

And then I noticed that they had set up both the lists and the menus on Google Docs spreadsheets so that I could change the number of servings I wanted.  When I did that all the amounts of ingredients on both the recipes and the shopping lists changed, too!  At this point I was totally sold.

But it got even better.  They even tell you exactly how many freezer containers you'll need for everything and have labels you can print out with the directions for how to thaw and prepare each meal.  Each frozen meal could be thawed and prepared by Geary!  I think I may have jumped up and down and pumped my fist into the air a few times.

So I chose the Gluten Free/Dairy Free menu and set it up to give us 4 servings per meal.  I'm counting all three kids as two adults.  Then I printed out my recipes and the shopping list and the labels.  And then I noticed two more things that added to the ingeniousness of this whole plan.  A Chopping List and a Cooking Day Master Plan.

The Chopping list is a list of everything you need to chop and in what quantities.  Things like, 2 medium onions--diced.  1 medium onion-sliced, 1 medium onion-minced.  It also told what things you should prepare ahead of time like rice, since some of recipes called for cooked rice.

The Cooking Day Master Plan was a road map of which order to cook things in on Cooking Day.  For example, prepare the banana bread muffins.  While those are baking prepare the orange spice muffins.  While those are baking, make the stir fry.  Everything was laid out for me!  Giddiness ensued.

Next, I plugged in everything on the Shopping List into  I didn't want to go grocery shopping and find out that this plan was going to cost $800.  I told myself that if it was under $300 I would just go ahead and order it from Safeway.  Sure, I could have gotten better deals by shopping around, but I was saving time and tantrums but not going shopping with three antsy boys.  My total was $203 and change including delivery.  I chose not to buy spices (and some flours)  from Safeway because I didn't want to spend upwards of $6 per spice jar.  Instead I took my Shopping List to the bulk section of Fred Meyer and bought a smidgen more of each spice that my  list told me to get.  13 cents for parsley?  Sounds good to me!  So that was another $17 worth of grocery budget.  Safeway didn't really have any gluten free flours and stuff so I also had to go shopping for that stuff.  This was what really drove numbers up, things like xanthan gum and rice vinegar and tapioca flour.  But now I have it on hand so next month's grocery bill won't be as high.  All in all, I spent $248 and change on groceries.

Saturday was my Cooking Day.  I was going to do all my chopping on Friday night but something big came up and I didn't do it.   I started at about 9 in the morning.  Geary took the boys out for a tour of a bunch of libraries in our surrounding area.  They also stopped at Grandma's house for a while.  I turned on Pandora and listened to approximately 3.5 songs before I realized I was listening to a Christmas station.  I switched to Gungor radio and commenced cooking.  At around 3:30 pm I was only a bit more than halfway through and my back and feet were killing me!  I took a little break to whine about it on Facebook (and got loads of encouragement, thanks friends!) and then I switched my music to my The Mamas & The Papas station and got back to work.  Thankfully the last few recipes involved little to no actual cooking.  It was just sorting things into freezer bags and maybe mixing up a couple sauces.  I finished (sort of) by 6:45.  I still had an egg strata to make but somehow I didn't have enough eggs (I thought I had a full carton in the fridge when I did my shopping, but it only had 4 eggs in it.) So I called it quits, cleaned up the ENORMOUS mess in the kitchen and then took a shower.  When I came out Geary was home and had brought me a gluten free sandwich from Subway.  Then he rubbed my feet while we watched episodes of the West Wing.

I finished the egg strata today.  So now, in my freezer I have two each of the following 4 serving meals:
Updated on 5/7/12 to let you know how we liked each meal.  We rated each meal on a scale of 1(gross!) to 5 (amazing!):

  • Blueberry Pancakes
Rating: 3.  Jeana liked them but the kids didn't like the flax seed texture.  Geary didn't really care for them either.
  • Banana Bread Muffins 
Rating: 5.  Super delicious!  We've made them a few more times since then.  Make sure to use VERY ripe bananas.  
  • Orange Spice Muffins 
Rating: 4.  This was the recipe that I accidentally put a tablespoon of salt into instead of a teaspoon.  Oops!  They were very salty.  But I made a new batch with the proper amount of salt and they were pretty good!
  • Thai Vegetable Soup
Rating: 3.5.  Jeana LOVED this soup but the kids weren't crazy about it.  Geary is not a fan of Thai food and wished it had meat.  If I make it again I'll be sure to add chicken or something.  It was especially good served over jasmine rice.
  • Chicken Fried Rice
Rating: 5.  Everyone loved this.  
  • Minestrone Soup
Rating: 4.5.  We ended up adding ground beef to the recipe and although the kids aren't crazy about soup/beans they ate it.  Geary and Jeana both really liked it.
  • Egg Strata
Rating:  4.  It was pretty good.
  • Roasted Red Pepper Meatloaf
Rating: 4.5.  Everyone liked it but it was a little spicy for the kids.  Ketchup helped.  If I make it again I will use less peppers for sure.
  • Buffalo Chicken Meatloaf (was supposed to be burgers but I didn't feel like making patties so it became a meatloaf)
Rating: 4.  Everyone liked this but it was also kind of spicy for the kids.  
  • Raspberry Chicken
Rating: 5.  Everyone LOVED this.  It was also good as leftovers.  I ate it cold on top of a salad.  Yum!
  • Lemon & Spinach Stuffed Chicken
Rating: 4.5.  Really tasty!  It would have been even better served with some type of risotto or something.  
  • Beef Brisket Pot Roast
Rating:  4.  We've had better pot roast but this one was pretty good.
  • Sweet Pork Tacos
Rating:  3.5  I think everyone would have liked them better if I had bought flour tortillas instead of corn.  
  • Pork Chop Rice Casserole
Rating: 2.5.  The rice was added dry and was supposed to cook when we baked the casserole but it didn't.  It just stayed dry and hard.  The pork chop part was okay but we're also not big fans of pork.
  • Burgundy Mushroom Stew
Rating: 1.  Nobody liked this.  I should have guessed--it was very heavy on the mushrooms and also used sweet potatoes which was just an odd combo.  The original recipe got rave reviews so some people evidently love it...just not us.

No wonder I was exhausted!!

Now that I've had a good night's sleep I know I definitely want to try this again.  Here's what I'll do differently in April.
  • Carefully read through the chopping list and all the recipes.  I bought a fresh ginger root and then had to mince the whole thing (it was used in a lot of recipes).  I don't even know what you're supposed to use to mince ginger root so I ended up using a really fine cheese grater.  This took forever and had I known better I would have just purchased a jar of minced ginger.  The same goes for garlic.
  • Borrow a food processor and do not skip Chopping Day!!  I'll need to save up some money to buy a good one (this month's allowance went to a new cell phone since I put my old one through the washer--again).
  • Consider doing all the baking on Chopping Day to make Cooking Day go faster.
  • Wear shoes.  And maybe a back brace. 
  • Create a measuring cup and spoon station.  I kept misplacing these and I'm pretty sure I accidentally put 1/2 tablespoon of salt into a recipe that called for 1/2 teaspoon.  Next time I'll know better on how to organize my working spaces.
  • Plan break times and have little snacks prepared for myself to grab throughout the day. 
I can see how this will be good for my family.  I still don't love cooking but I like this plan. And trying new recipes was actually kind of fun.  I've never cooked with shitake mushrooms or parsnips before.  I tasted the Banana Bread Muffins (amazing! And they are gluten, dairy, and sugar free! Here's the recipe), the Thai Vegetable Soup, and the Chicken Stir Fry.  We had the Blueberry Pancakes for breakfast this morning.  So far everything has been delicious!

Here's the website again in case you don't want to scroll all they way back up: Once A Month Mom  Oh, and did I mention that all the plans and menus and everything are totally free?  It's seriously awesome.  I noticed a button on the website for people to donate money which I will be doing because I am super thankful that they've taken the hardest mental parts out of the whole process for me.  There are also posts on how to create your own menus and shopping lists in case you don't like all the items on the current menu.

So there you go.  My first experience with Once A Month Cooking.  If you read this whole thing you are a champ.  Pat yourself on the back.


  1. count me as a champ:) i loved reading this. so helpful, and interesting and i'm so delighted for you! keep us posted on how it goes throughout the month and what you end up doing next month!!

  2. Holy Cow! That sounds like an exhausting, but well-worth-it day. Good for you. Now you get a break for a whole month!

  3. Hmmmm....i remember my mom doing this when I was a kid. Maybe it's my turn to try it. Thanks for the tips!! :) Enjoy that food!!

  4. Wow. That sounds great! I love this idea, and have read cookbooks about once-a-month cooking etc. But I've never been brave enough to actually try to make a whole month's worth of meals in a day. You are amazing and should be super proud of yourself! I'll have to check out the website. I love that they customize your grocery list for you. One question, do you have a big freezer or did you just clear out enough room in your regular freezer to fit everything in?

    1. I don't have a big freezer. Everything fit nicely on the top shelf of the freezer in my kitchen. We have the type of refrigerator that has a freezer on the top third and refrigerator on the bottom two thirds.

  5. Fascinating... I am so interested in this! The whole making menus and planning meals is my weak point... I do love cooking though-- too bad we don't live closer I could help you out with that part! So glad to know about this -- think I'm gonna explore the idea!!!

    1. I wish we lived closer all the time. :)

  6. Oh, also for what it's worth... Fresh ginger is much easier to "mince" if you freeze it first and then grate it. I use a little microplane type grater. When it's not frozen I feel like it just turns into this big, frustrating, mushy mess of juice and pulp.

    1. Yes, that's exactly how it was! Thanks for the tip about freezing ginger and for which type of tool to use. I'll have to pick up a microplane grater.

  7. Very impressive. You must love dinner time now.

  8. We are trying this. Going shopping tomorrow. Pretty excited about the April GF/CF menu. It looks yummy. We've decided the breakfasts are going to be snacks for me since they won't work for breakfasts for me, and the lunches are going to be dinners, since we already pretty much have lunches figured out. We weren't really struggling with knowing what to have for breakfasts and lunches. Just dinners. And snacks for me. And this increases my lunch options because yay leftovers! We will also add, on the side, Asperger-friendly fare for Sir James the Picky.

  9. Ooh what a good idea! I hate cooking too - not so much the actual cooking part, but just the taking time to cook when I'm already hungry part. Lol. This way the laborous part is already done when you want to eat!

  10. I am just planning out our meals now. I'm glad I stumbled across your website today.


Linharts love comments!