Monday, September 19, 2011

Preparing a Month's Worth of Food in One Day

You may have heard of "Once a Month Cooking" or "OAMC" as it is often referred to.  It always seemed like a great idea, but I never really took the plunge.  I knew it was something I definitely wanted to do the next time we were pregnant and I was going to be going on maternity leave.  How nice would be to have 2-3 mos worth of meals in the freezer, ready to thaw and cook or heat up?  I have been gathering all of the recipes I wanted to use for when that time came and never really thought much about doing it before then.

Lately though, I have been getting really frustrated with my evening schedule and have felt kinda stuck.  After work, I pick up the munchkin, then we go home.  We hang out for a little while, but then soon I have to start on dinner.  I spend anywhere from 15 min to an hour preparing dinner.  I try to involve her if I can, sitting her on the counter, letting her "help" me, but there usually isn't a whole lot she can do yet and she gets bored.  There's no time to stop anywhere or run errands after work because dinner really needs to be made before Joe leaves for school.  After eating, I pack up our lunches, usually with the extra I made of dinner, and then clean the kitchen. Sometimes it's 7:00 by the time we are finished (or even later) and depending on if it's bath night or not, I don't have much time left to just hang out and play before bedtime at 8:00.  Seeing as how this goes on 5 nights a week, I really feel like I am missing out on alot of time I could be spending with her.

So last week, I started really thinking about spending a whole day making our meals for the month.  I figured if I could do that, I would have alot more time in the evening to do what I wanted.  We take all of our grocery money for the month out of one of Joe's paychecks, and it just so happened that paycheck was last week.  I figured it was as good a time as any to give it a go.  I also purchased a book online called "Don't Panic - Dinner's in the freezer". And although most of the recipes were not very useful to me,  there were alot of tips in there.  Like how to prep and wrap the food for storage in the freezer, how long things would stay good for and conversion charts for making large batches of things.  Since the book was so cheap, it was worth the price just to have all of that info.  I did make the Orange Teryiake Chicken and I may try more of the recipes in there at some point, changing them up a bit, but I already had most of what I wanted to make picked out for this weekend.

I was also doing things a little differently then the more common OAMC method.  I didn't want to have everything pre-cooked as I think this would make it lose some of it's nutritional value.  I also don't use a microwave, so it all would have to be in the oven for a while either way.  Other then the chili and the red pepper sauce, most of the food was just being prepped and assembled, then frozen to be cooked later.  I am fine with the cooking time in most situations anyway.  I can do other things while that's going on.  It's all the prep work that keeps me in the kitchen for so long, along with all of the dishes it dirties.

I warned Joe that Sunday, I would need him to be free to help out.  Mostly to hang out with the munchkin and to assist me some.  Some of the stuff I was making required chicken stock and mayo, both of which I was running low on, so Friday night I did a little prep work.  I boiled a chicken for a couple of hours with some veggies and herbs.  I then pulled all of the meat off and shredded it.  I put the bones, skins and other parts back in the pot and set it to simmer overnight.  I packed the shredded chicken up in half pound increments to be frozen and stored for later use.

Then, I made some mayonnaise and let it sit out on the counter overnight to ferment.  I have a new recipe!!

Joe also helped me to patty and season 4 lbs of hamburger meat to put in the fridge for burger nights.  Everything is labeled with the name of the food, the date and any cooking instructions.

Saturday morning, I turned of the stove and let the stock cool for a couple of hours.  Joe slept in and I had breakfast with the munchkin.  Anytime I pick up my phone, she usually wants me to take a picture of her. I still can't believe this little girl is two years old!

We went to visit my mom, then I needed a couple of things from the grocery store.  After we got back home and I put the munchkin down for a nap, I strained the stock through a cheesecloth and put it into mason jars to be stored in the freezer.  I would have rather stored them all in smaller mason jars, 2 cups each, but I had to work with what I had.  I decided to put 3 cups into quart jars (you need to leave room for expanding when freezing) and then make little 1 cup ones in tupperware for supplementing. I am slowly turning all of my storage containers over to glass ones, but it's expensive so it's taking a while.  I filled one mason jar with 4 Cups and set it in the fridge for sunday.

Then Sunday was everything else.  I think I may have gotten a little overzealous, and will probably not take on so much in the future, but with Joe's help we still got everything done.  It also would have helped if I had started before noon, but whatever.  I may have stayed out a little too late the night before hanging out with my girl Stacy and her hubby Allen.  She just had her baby a month ago and it was their anniversary, so obviously we haven't been out together in a very long time!  We had a blast!

Back to Sunday morning....  I was multiplying each of the recipes to make at least 4 meals for us, with enough to have leftovers for our lunches the next day.  Plus I had just made the shredded chicken Friday night and pattied all the hamburgers.  This all together makes a total of atleast 28 meals with leftovers for lunches... thats atleast 56 meals!  The sides will be whipped up that evening, usually a steamed veggie or a salad.  On the evenings we want to have something different, I plan on making extra batches to freeze for another night's meal.  This way I will have a constant stock of food going in as we take food out.

My list of things to make Sunday:

  • Chili - Recipe later this week
  • Meatloaf 
  • Creamy Red Pepper Sauce (awesome topping for grilled chicken, seafood or as a pasta sauce)
  • Orange Teriyaki Chicken (recipe from Don't Panic - Dinners in the Freezer)
  • Salmon Patties - I made a few minor changes from the original recipe and pattied them out to be fried in grassfed butter on the stove instead of wrapped in bacon and cooked in the oven.  Although that way is amazingly delicious too!  Thanks again Sarah for sharing this yummy recipe, we love it!
  • Tartar Sauce
  • Ranch Dressing

I never made it to the tartar sauce and ranch dressing, but these are easy things to whip up now that I have a bunch of homemade mayo made up.

First I got all of the non-refrigerated items out and lined them up on the counter.

I had mapped out my plan that morning, making a list of everything I was going to do in order.  First on the list was to chop and prep all of the vegetables.  I divided them up as I went into bowls for each recipe.

Then I threw 4 pounds of hamburger meat into a big stock pot, along with onions and peppers to start them cooking.  I put onions and garlic in another pot to start my red pepper sauce.  Then some onions and garlic in another pan for my salmon patties.

Seems like so many good things start with onions and garlic sauteed in butter!

At this point, the munchkin went down for her nap and Joe came in to help me out.  He ended up pretty much taking over the chili, which was awesome.  I had marked up my recipe, multiplying everything by 4 to make it super easy for him.

While the chili and pepper sauce were cooking, and after my onion and garlic mix cooled, I threw that in with the other ingredients to make the salmon patties, I assembled them all and put them in ziploc bags, trying to press out as much air as possible.  These will be thawed, thrown on the stove top to be fried in butter, and eaten with homemade tartar sauce.

Next I started on the meatloaves.  I was making 4 of them, so this required 8 lbs of hamburger meat.  I was going to divide it all up into 2 bowls since they couldn't all fit into one, and then make 2 loaves from each bowl of ingredients.  I wasn't thinking straight and took out a 4 lb package and divided it in half for each bowl. Uh oh...

It was about dinner time, so Joe cleaned and trimmed 20 boneless, skinless chicken breasts for me.  Four for dinner (and me and the munchkin's lunch the next day) and the rest for the orange teriyaki chicken.  He threw the chicken on the grill and I made some sweet peas.  We covered the chicken with some of the red pepper sauce.  It was so good!  I am glad I made so much of it... about 8 cups.

After dinner was done, I finished assembling the meatloaves and thought they were a little smaller then usual, but didn't think too much of it.   I then made the Orange Teriyaki sauce and poured it over the chicken in ziploc bags separated for four meals.  When we pull them out later, they will thaw and then we will just toss the marinade and throw then on the grill or into the oven.

At this point it was time for the munchkin's bath.  Since it now takes two of us to give her a bath, because of her new fear of them (I am still going to post about this later), we had to put a halt to everything.  After her bath,  I read her a book and put her to bed.  As I was reading her a book, I suddenly realized why there was still 4 lbs of ground beef left in the fridge.  I had only used half of the amount I was suppposed to in the meatloaves.  ARGH!!!

After tucking her in, I went to the kitchen, pulled out all the meatloaves from the freezer, dumped 2 in each big bowl and added 2 lbs of meat to each bowl.  I mixed them all together and reassembled my loaves all over again.  That sucked.  Plus the cheese wasn't rolled up neatly in the middle anymore.  It was more crumbled and mixed in throughout.  Atleast I realized it before they were frozen.  Or before we went to cook them.  It's still super annoying to have wasted so much time on an already jam packed day.

Then I packed up the rest of the red pepper sauce to go into the freezer.  Isn't it a pretty color?

The chili was still way too hot (it had simmered for several hours), so I left that for right before bed.  I had tried to clean as much as I could throughout the day as I went, but there was still a pretty big mess.  I cleaned it all up and hopped into the shower.  Actually, there wasn't much hopping going on.  I was pretty exhausted!  My back was also a little sore from standing in the kitchen all day.  After my shower, it was already 9:30. I hung out with Joe for a little while, finished packing up our lunches for the next day and then the chili was finally cooled.

We put 8 cups into each ziploc bag and set out enough for dinner the next night.  I laid the ziploc bags into cake pans to freeze them flat.  After they are frozen, I can stack them all in the freezer and save more space.

I felt good about the day.  Although It was alot of work and very tiring, I am really looking forward to having more time in the evenings to hang out with the munchkin. With no prep work for the meal, we will have alot less dishes to do too.  I will still be making some non-frozen meals throughout the week and I am going to double or triple some of them and freeze the rest to add to my stockpile.  This way I won't have to make as much all in one day again.

Here's a peak into the middle part of my freezer on my side by side refrigerator.  Above this is one shelf that I am using to store all of the one cup chicken stock dishes.  On the top shelf in the pic, you can see two of the meatloaves and the bags of chicken in the orange teriyaki marinade.  Below that is the hamburgers and salmon patties, along with my ice cream maker bowl.  I have saved some room for the chili once its frozen flat in the cake pans in the deep freezer downstairs.

My goal is to eventually have all glass containers to store everything in.  Right now, I only have enough to rotate for our lunches so that we can heat them up in the toaster oven to eat and to store leftovers in the fridge.  I will have to start stockpiling more of them for storing food in the freezer.

On the bottom half of the freezer, I have my chicken stock lined up on the left, the shredded chicken and the red pepper sauce.  Below that are some of my baking supplies, and on the bottom is a big drawer where I keep any frozen vegetables or fruit and there's usually a loaf of the Trader Joe's Sprouted Whole Wheat bread in there too.

I did put two of the meatloaves in the deep freezer downstairs.  I think I could have made everything fit in here if I had wanted to, but I am glad I didn't have to.  This is totally possible without a deep freezer or extra freezer space somewhere.  You just have to pack everything up in space saving ways and the heavy duty ziploc freezer bags help out alot with that.

Honestly, I am not sure why I didn't do this sooner.  I am thinking this is the way I am going to be doing things from now one.  I am really looking forward to more relaxed evenings now!

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday The Pennywise Platter,  Monday Mania and Fight Back Friday.


Lil' Woman said...

Wow that is productive girl! :) Way to go!

suzyhomemaker said...

Wow, very organized. Thanks for posting this.It will help when I can start cooking again in a couple months.

Sarah Smith said...

Amazing! I've never devoted a whole day to this, but it sounds like a good idea. I keep meaning to get burger patties ready to go in the freezer, but have never gotten around to it (mostly because we buy our meat in bulk, so I'd have to thaw it, pat it out, then re-freeze).

I also like freezing an extra portion of many meals for a quick "fast-food" dinner (although it still takes at last an hour to re-heat in the toaster oven, but better than eating out). So at any given time there are probably at least 5 family-size frozen meals in the freezer (plus lots and lots of single-serving meals that my husband takes for lunch to work). I recently tried making homemade lunchmeat. It was okay, but the second time around I figured I was just as well off just freezing the chicken in 2-cup portions that could be used for anything from lunchmeat to stir fry. Back in the days when we were eating grains, one of my favorite meals to freeze was burritos. I'd buy lots of whole-wheat tortillas (not sprouted or soaked, but still okay anyway) and have a burrito day when I'd freeze about 25 big burritos (beef/cheddar/potato/green chile was the favorite combo). Mmm, I look forward to eating those again someday.

Anyhow, this is inspiring!

Amanda said...

I tried this about a year ago and really liked it, but I am always looking for new recipes. Thanks for sharing both your plan (OAMC fails without a solid plan) and your recipes! I am following from The Pennywise Platter Thursday. I would love it if you checked out my blog too:

Jill said...

This post is so informative. I would love for you to come
share it at FAT TUESDAY. I hope you will
put FAT TUESDAY on your list of carnivals to visit
and link to each week!

Sarah said...

This is great! I'll be having a new little one this May, and I'd love to have a month of healthy, quick dinners saved up for when he or she arrives! I'll be using your tips!

Anonymous said...

This is just a suggestion but if you have one of those seal-a-meals it works wonders for those oam cooking. i use mine for everything and it reallys keeps the frost out of the food in case in it in the freezer longer than you plan. I freeze soup in individual bowl and then take them out and put in seal a meal bags. Wonderful when you just need one serving og something.