Saturday, March 24, 2007

Once A Month Cooking

Once-a-month-cooking (O.A.M.C.) or Bulk Cooking is a very old concept. Your mom's and grandma's perhaps practiced it without really knowing they were starting a trend!

And maybe even you have done it! Have you ever been making a meatloaf or a pan of lasagna and decided to make two? Freeze one and bake the other for that night? Well that is basically the concept of O.A.M.C. It is a fantastic way to keep food costs down and can help to cut back on the number of times that your family may eat out each month because there is always something easy to make at home.

You do not need special recipes to do this, all you need is to multiply ingredients from recipe's you already use 3-4x and have a good number of freezer safe containers to put them in or freeze them in disposable foil pans. Of course freezer wrap / paper is helpful to keep things from freezer burn.

Some recipe's you will only need to prepare parts of it to freeze as the other items such as noodles or rice will need to be prepared fresh.

Keeping precooked/preseasoned meats in your freezer can be just as time saving and cost saving as preparing the entire meal and freezing it. It all depends on what your lifestyle requires. You could also co-op with other busy moms and do your bulk cooking together in a weekend.

Getting Started:

The idea of O.A.M.C. can be very overwhelming when you first get started. The thought of cooking 20-30 meals in one day is a lot to do! Here you will learn exactly how to do O.A.M.C.
If doing one big cooking day is too much, then start off with 2 Saturday's in a row or a Saturday and Sunday. Cook one weeks worth of meals and call it once a week cooking. The practice of once a month cooking is to simplify your life - not to burden you down!

Remember: Plan, plan, plan.

The more you plan, the better prepared you will be. This includes planning your time, your menu and most importantly your grocery list.

Here are the basic steps to Once a Month Cooking:

1. Decide on a day or days to cook. Be sure you choose a day that is free of other obligations or activities. If possible, have things planned for the kids or have someone take them for the day so you can focus on cooking. Another option is to cook in smaller batches in the evenings once the kids are in bed. An entire day is best but not always possible. Pick a day when you know you will have few or no interruptions.

2. Find your local store ads. When you check the local groceries stores for what is on sale, you are working towards saving money. Plan your meals around the things you can get on sale.
Purchase lean ground beef in bulk, this saves you money because in the long run you pay for meat not the fat. Whole chickens are the most economical priced, however if you watch for boneless breasts to be on sale and stock up, then freeze it for future use, you will save money and time in the long run there too. (Be sure to wrap them in freezer paper and label before freezing!) Boneless pork chops can be found on sale at times and purchased and frozen the same way as the chicken breasts, for future use on your O.A.M.C. day. Pork and Beef roasts can also be purchased in bulk and wrapped carefully and frozen. Or you can crock pot cook them and freeze the cooked meat. This is great for pulling out say 1 lb to thaw and use for hot or cold sandwiches or for meat to put into a casserole. Cubed meats properly wrapped and frozen for stews, casseroles and stir fry's is a great time saver also.

3. Meal Planning. Use a notebook or calendar and plan out each months meals. Not every meal has to come from the freezer as many recipe's are not adaptable to being frozen for up to a month. List the favorite meals your family likes and list the ingredients as well.

4. Plan you Grocery Shopping List. As you go through your recipes one at a time list the ingredients that you will need to buy. Then compile a master list of the total amount of meats, noodles, potatoes, rice, onions, celery, etc. right down to checking your spice cupboard to be sure you have them all on hand as well.

5. Grocery Shopping. This should be done a couple days BEFORE cooking day. If you plan your shopping ahead of time, you'll have time to find the best prices and sale items!

6. Cooking Day. Think smart and plan. Combine steps for recipes if possible. How many chopped onions will you need? Do them all at once. How many pounds of browned ground beef will you need? Save a pan and do it all at once! Then you simply divide it up once it is cooked. Do you see the importance of planning in saving time?

7. Freeze your Meals. - Here are some common methods for freezing meals:
Freezer Bags - This is the main way that to store food. The bags lie flat on the shelves and they all stack up nicely on top of each other. It is very efficient use of freezer space!
Purchase bags that are specifically freezer bags. Remove as much air as possible before sealing. Particularly for meals that have a lot of liquids.

TIP: Seal (zip) the freezer bag almost all the way and insert a drinking straw in the remaining opening, suck out the air and seal the bag as you pull the straw out.
Vacuum Sealer - These are great because they help to protect your food from freezer burn allowing the food to stay really fresh tasting. Any disposable, or reusable containers that are for the freezer. If you want to go from freezer, to refrigerator to thaw then to oven, you will want to use heavy duty foil pans.

Label all the food that you put in the freezer. Using freezer tape and a permanent marker, write what the meal is and the cooking instructions. (Freezer tape can be found in the section where freezer paper is sold.)

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