Here are some things to know before getting started Once A Month Cooking.
1) Take inventory of your pantry/refrigerator.-There is nothing worse than over buying or not having enough of an ingredient while you are in the middle of cooking. *TIP: look inside your spice jars to be sure you have enough.
2) Shop the circulars & clip your coupons.- When you are buying enough food to last a whole month the price can seem like sticker shock, but if you shop the sales and use your coupons wisely you can really reduce your spending. In my area, the grocery store circulars are usually in the paper on Thursdays, and the coupons come on Sundays. However, you can always go online to your specific grocery store and find out their weekly deals. I've also listed some great sites on my home page to help you get started saving money on your grocery bills. Also, don't shy away from bulk stores like Costco and Sam's Club, they are definitely worth the price of membership when you are able to buy in bulk.
3) Plan your menu- If you are planning on cooking for an entire month you will want to select about 6-8 different entrees that sound appealing to you, and you know your family will eat. This may not seem like enough food, but keep in mind that you will be doubling or tripling the recipes, and most likely be eating out a few times per month. *Tip-Get creative, that Oven Baked Chicken recipe one night could be turned into Chicken Ceaser Salad another night.
4) Make your list and check it twice!- Re-read your recipes and make sure you take into account the amount of ingredients if you are doubling/tripling/quadrupling the recipe! *Tip: http://www.allrecipes.com/ will allow you to add their recipe to your shopping list and create a printable list with all of your added up and organized by section.
5) Pick your shopping day- This is not your normal trip to the grocery store. You will probably want to leave the kids/pets at home for this one. You will be buying a lot of food! This is best NOT to do this on the same day that you are cooking, especially if you are visiting several stores to get the best prices. Trust me, you will be tired and get burned out from OAMC...boo! *Tip: Try shopping early in the morning or other off peak-times.
6) Prep Day- This is a day where you chop, slice, and dice all of the vegetables that you are going to use for your recipes. Also, cook any chicken, brown meats, and make any sauces, gravies, or noodles that you may need. In recipes that call for chicken, I like to buy whole chickens and boil them. Then I shred the chicken, and use the bones and skin to make my own chicken broth. *Tip- Your food processor is your friend!
7) Cooking Day- I always do one crock pot meal and start that first thing in the morning. By the time the day is over, it is nice to have dinner waiting for me in the crock pot. Plus, then I bag and freeze the leftovers.
Also, I cook according to type of meat. Always start with vegetarian dishes first, then move on to beef or turkey, and then chicken. This is to prevent cross contamination of foods. *Tip: Get a friend to cook with you and assign one person to the chicken, one to the beef, etc. This way at the end of the day you split up your entrees, and can be done in separate houses if your kitchen isn't big enough for 2 people.
8) Freezing- Start by setting your freezer's temperature to it's coldest setting. Now, I don't know about you, but I don't have unlimited Pyrex and casserole dishes in my cupboards so what I like to do is: line each dish with heavy-duty foil, leaving plenty of overhang (this will be used to finish wrapping the dish later). Then, once my dish is cool, I finish wrapping the dish and I place it in the freezer until it is solid enough to hold its shape. Then, I pop it out of my dish and either finish wrapping it tightly in foil, place it in a Ziploc bag, or use a vacuum sealer. Now, your dish is clean and ready for another entree.
*Tip: Don't forget to date and label your dish. Mystery dishes are never a good thing!
"Failing to plan is planning to fail." This is so true when it comes to OAMC. It may seem like a lot upfront, but the time you will save in the long run is invaluable.