Once a month cooking can save you time

Even if you are keen to learn to cook, doing it everyday can be time consuming. Therefore, have you considered once a month cooking?

If you are a busy professional, student or enjoy a hectic social life, this way of managing your time in the kitchen may appeal.

So let's look at what this entails.

Shopping for once a month cooking

OK, so grocery shopping is not the highlight of your life! But doing things this way can enable you to get everything done in one visit, so it is well worth planning in advance.

You might want to take a look at my weekly meal planning page, to start you off. So print out 4 copies (or 5 depending on the month) of my weekly meal planner and decide on your meal choices for each 7 day period.

Doing more than one week at a time will help you to vary the meals and ingredients that you serve.

Once you have your planners filled in you can move on to working out how much of everything you need.

If you have picked 3 recipes that need a tin of chopped tomatoes for example, then you need to add them to your shopping list. Buying two tins will mean a further trip to the store later in the month, but buying a pack of four, if they are on special offer, is an excellent decision! Do remember to check your current stocks before leaving home, as if you already have 2 tins of tomatoes buying the pack of four is not the best investment at that time, however.

When you first start working in this manner you will make mistakes. For example if you have put down porridge for breakfast for a number of days, you might find that one packet of oats is not enough. If you need to buy more during the month remember to keep a note of this so you can adjust things next time.


Freezer containers for your once a month cooking

Before we move on to the actual cooking process, take the time to check that you have enough containers and labels to store the prepared food.

You will require a number of different containers. Your collection of pots and boxes will grow as the months go by, but you will need to ensure that you have appropriately sized tubs for what you are going to cook.

The size will depend on how many you will be feeding at each meal, to some extent. However, even if you are feeding a family of four you might prefer to freeze things in individual portions. That way if someone in the family hates one dish you can defrost something different for them.

Ensure that your tubs are freezer proof, and ideally dish washer safe as well. Having saved the time by cooking ahead you don't want to spend all night washing up by hand if you don't have to!

Labeling your containers is very important. You might think that you will remember that the curry is in square tubs, while the casserole is packed in circular ones, but a month is a long time and it is likely you will forget.

You might want to write the contents on each label, but another option is to use freezer labels with colored borders. All the beef dishes could have red borders and chicken green, for example.

I find that these erasable food labels are really useful. You can freeze the food, put them in the dishwasher, and then write the contents on again when you reuse them.

When you pack the food in the containers, do make sure that you lave a little room for expansion, otherwise you could find that the lids pop off as the food freezes! As well as writing the contents on your labels, also add the date when the food was prepared.

This 30 Piece Freezer Storage Container Set would be a great starting point. It has different sized containers, which will stack well in your freezer therefore taking up as little space as possible.

Another option would be this Premium 7 Piece Food Storage Container Set. It has clip lids that are secure, and again they will stack together neatly.

Once a month cooking recipes

So now you have your ingredients in the cupboard, your freezer containers and labels to hand, you are ready to start cooking!

If you can arrange it, try to make your cooking day as soon as possible after your shopping trip. This ensures that all your ingredients are prepared and cooked while still at their freshest.

Give your kitchen a thorough clean before you start and ensure you have your pots and pans ready to use.

It is advisable to start by cooking all the recipes that use the same basic ingredients in a batch cooking manner. To give an example, let us imagine that you are going to use mince (ground beef) for a number of dishes. Our finished meals will be as follows...

I like to tackle this is one of two ways, either...

  1. A basic mince mix, frozen in suitable containers, to complete later
  2. Completely prepare the meals and freeze, ready to serve

Either way is suitable for once a month cooking. Option 1 will be quicker on your cooking day, but option 2 will leave less to be done throughout the rest of the month.

My basic mince mix for once a month cooking

To make my basic mince (ground beef) mix, I use the following ingredients...

  • Mince (ground beef) 
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Dried mixed herbs
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Red wine (optional)
  • Stock cube/pot
  • Gravy powder (optional)

You will notice that I haven't given any quantities in the list above. This is because it will depend on how many you are feeding at each meal, and how many meals in the month will use your basic mince mix.

Method:

  1. Peel and finely chop the onion, carrots and mushrooms.
  2. Tease the mince (ground beef) apart with your fingers so that it is loose and not in a lump.
  3. In a large saucepan, gently cook the mince without adding any extra fat. The meat will release its fat content as it slowly cooks, which you can then drain off to avoid your meals being too greasy.
  4. Add the onions and carrots and continue frying gently.
  5. As the onion starts to go "clear" season well with the mixed herbs, worcestershire sauce, red wine (if you are using it) and add the mushrooms.
  6. Cook, stirring frequently for around 15-20 minutes. If the mixture seems too dry, you can add some stock. If, on the other hand, their seems to be too much "juice" you can stir in some gravy powder which will absorb the liquid and thicken the dish nicely.
  7. Once cooked, leave to cool before filling your freezer containers, labelling them and freezing in the fast-freeze section of your freezer.

Thawing and making up the dishes

To use the basic mince mix, ensure that it is removed from the freezer the day before. Defrost naturally if possible, away from any pets or direct heat.

Once thawed, you can then proceed to make up your dish.

At this stage you might like to add some tinned tomatoes (they don't freeze well) and serve with spaghetti as a bolognese. You could also layer it in a pie dish with sheets of lasagne and cheese sauce for a tasty lasagne dish. With the addition of mashed potato on top it makes a wonderful shepherds pie. Another alternative is to add tomatoes, peppers, garlic and spices and reheat to serve in tacos or Fajitas along with salad and sour cream.

The cooking time is of course reduced if you make up the complete meal when you do your once a month cooking. You might like to use the cooked mixture as a filling for Cornish Pasties, to take on a picnic.

You can do a similar thing with casserole beef, or chicken. By cooking the basic ingredients and then splitting and seasoning each differently, you can create an assortment of meals that are convenient, economical and nutritious.






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