Once-a-month cooking, known by those in the know as OAMC, is a great way to save not only money, but in the long-run, time — by cooking a majority of your meals for the month and freezing them to be finished later. But don’t let the name scare you away. It can also be done once a week or bi-weekly for those who just can’t spare that much time in a single day. All it takes is a little planning, the right tools and a basic understanding of the chemistry of food and you’ll be OAMC-ing like a pro in no time.
Benefits of OAMC
Once-a-month cooking is a lot of fun. It also has several benefits to the time- and savings-conscious among us.
Planning your entire menu for the month allows you to make the most of the ingredients you choose by ensuring they go into multiple dishes and don’t go bad before you use them.
While OAMC is a lot of work for a few days a month, eventually, you’ll find that you have a lot more time in the day to get the kids to practice, take up a hobby or even just spend quality time with the family. Those extra hours you spend planning and prepping actually buy you an extra half to full hour a night!
If you go out a lot during the week because you’re just too tired or busy to cook a meal, you’ll find that you spend less money on to-go food and eat healthier meals because you know there’s something delicious and easy-to-make waiting at home.
Myths about once-a-month cooking
Before you start this venture, there are a few things you should know. Dispelling these myths early on will help you make the most of the endeavor and keep you from getting frustrated early in the process.
- You don’t actually have to cook 30 different meals. You’ll really cook about 10 (15 max if your family is used to more variety) and make extra portions to have the same meal two or three times a month.
- It takes more than one day to do once-a-month cooking. You should spend one day planning, another day shopping and prepping your ingredients and the third day putting it all together.
- Three days of work won’t get you out of cooking for the rest of the month. You’ll still have to finish cooking the meals, whether that means putting it in the oven (or crockpot) or just reheating it. And lets face it… some days, you’ll just want something special!
Quick tip: You also need a stand-alone freezer. If you fill a standard top- or bottom-load freezer full of frozen meals, it will take over 24 hours for them to freeze, which could lead to excess crystallization (causing your food to lack freshness and taste freezer burned) and may introduce bacteria into your food.
How to OAMC (or OAWC)
The first day, decide which recipes you’ll want to make for the following month. Collect your recipes and make your shopping list. Especially if you’re starting slow with once-a-week cooking, try to plan for recipes that share ingredients in common. That doesn’t mean you should have chicken for every meal, but try to incorporate perishables that come in larger quantities (especially those that are on sale) into at least two dishes.
The second day (which may even be a few days later), do your shopping. When you get home, prep your ingredients. If you know several dishes require onion, for example, julienne and chop the required amounts, put them in a baggie or storage container and save them for cooking day. Wash all produce that can’t be pre-chopped (because it’s highly perishable or because you don’t plan to cook for another week or so) and tenderize and marinate meats as necessary before you put them away.
The third day, start putting your meals together. Keep in mind, you don’t necessarily have to cook them all the way through. For example, if you’re doing a lasagna, boil the noodles and cook or blanch any meats or veggies. Put the lasagna together, then freeze it to be cooked in the oven the day you’ll eat it. It may take some time to get the hang of this part, but there are multiple websites and blogs that cover once-a-month cooking and you can turn to them for helpful recipes and tips.
Speaking of tips, not all foods freeze well. Sour cream, for example, can get a somewhat grainy texture when frozen. Raw onions, unless flash frozen, may not have the pep or texture they once had when defrosted and cooked later.
The third day will be the longest day, which is why planning is so important. If two dishes require cooked ground beef with no special cooking preparation, cook two or more pounds at a time and divide them as needed.
When you’re finished, pack all your foods into freezer-friendly storage containers, allow them to cool uncovered until no longer steaming, label and date the containers (marker on removable masking tape works well for this) and log them. That’s right, log them. Keep a freezer log of all the items your freezer contains so you don’t get any less-than-friendly surprises later. You just need to know how many of each dish you have, when it was placed in the freezer, and if necessary, where it’s located. Make sure your log lets you mark off the dishes as you take them out.
Overwhelmed? Start slow
OK, so maybe OAMC isn’t for everyone. But you can also start off slowly. Maybe just do a bit of batch cooking by making several recipes of the same dish and freezing them for use later in the month.
You can also try cooking with a partner. Once-a-month or once-a-week cooking can be overwhelming if you do it alone, but it’s a great bonding experience for both newly weds and veteran couples (and even for parents and older children). However you decide to do it, you’ll find that it’s a rich and rewarding experience for all involved.