Memories and healthy recipes for your dinner table.

30-Day Meal Plan: Planning and Shopping for the Month Saves Time and Money

Make it Simple:
The idea of once a month cooking is to simplify life. If a month sounds too overwhelming start small. Try once a week cooking, gradually adding more meals as you become acclimated. Trouble finding the time? Hire a baby sitter, cook in smaller amounts during the day, double favorite recipes and freeze the excess, cook with a friend.

Meal Planning:
A few days before the beginning of the month begin assembling a menu for the month. I am a list person. On my menu I like to write down the name of the recipe, where to find the recipe (including the page number if it is in a book). My sister Allison uses recipe cards she pulls out and keeps together for reference. Choose 6-14 recipes. This number is based on the probability of eating a particular dish several times throughout the month. My sister-n-law Natalie has three monthly menus she rotates. She gets the kids involved in planning the menu by having them choose a few of their favorite recipes. Or designate one day out of the week to each child and let them come up with the menu for that day.

Now that the menu is in order it is time to compile a shopping list. Go through each recipe to determine how much of each ingredient is needed. Factor in how many times a particular recipe will be used that month. (If using a OMC recipe the amount should already be calculated for 4-6 meals) Other products to include on the list may include freezer bags-gallon and quart, freezer wrap, aluminum foil and aluminum baking pans (optional).

Grocery Shopping:
Utilize the weekly sales flyer to plan meals around sale items for maximum savings. To get the most for your money shop around for the best deals and consider buying in bulk from a warehouse. Warehouses tend to have the best deals on spices, meats, dairy and bread. Use store circulars to compare prices on fruits and vegetables.

Plan to go shopping on a day when you will not be rushed. Hire a babysitter or trade babysitting with a friend. Give your self time to frequent several stores to get the best prices.

Once the food is home take care of your purchases. My sister uses shopping day to separate and bag the raw meat by quantity per recipe or sauce. She freezes chicken or beef in marinades to be used in simple dishes. She does not cook anything on shopping day. Some once a month veterans shop and cook on the same day.

Cooking Day:
At home divide the meat for each meal into bags. Add a sauce or marinade if needed to the bag. My sister puts the rest of the groceries away then goes through the recipe cards and organizes them by meat or sauce- chicken, beef and tomato. Then she picks the meals she wants to make that week. Instead of making every meal at once she prepares according to what is on the menu that night. If it is a tomato sauce night, she doubles the recipe to make sauce for general purposes and then makes other tomato based dishes to freeze. When beef or chicken is on the menu she checks her recipe cards for other meals that have the same basic flavoring and doubles the meat to assemble the other recipes. Add garlic and onion to beef for an Italian flavor. Add chili power the next night for tacos and an egg with oatmeal for meatloaf the following night. Double each meal then freeze.

Freeze your Meals:
Once your meals are cool, find a place for them in them in the freezer. Label all meals with the name of the meal, cooking instructions and the date it was frozen.

Freezer Bags – The bags spread out flat and they stack up nicely on top of each other taking less space. Pour cooled liquid such as soups and sauces into freezer bags and lay flat on a shelf in the freezer. For casseroles, freeze in the pan then pop out and store in a freezer bag. Remember to remove as much air as possible from the bag to prevent freezer burn.

Foil Pans or Freezer Containers – For casseroles such as lasagna or enchiladas, put a layer of plastic wrap on top of the food then cover with foil. Make sure that you use enough wrap to cover over the entire top of the dish.

Vacuum Sealer – These are great because they help to protect your food from freezer burn allowing the food to stay really fresh tasting. Never seal liquids unless they have been frozen first. Same goes for raw meat. The suction can cause the juices to enter the sealer and damage the unit.

Recipe Links:

Cooking Tips:
– Do not freeze pasta in sauces or soup. It turns mushy (I learned that the hard way). Grains such as barley may be added after the soup cools. Use fresh beans cooked until slightly tender. Canned and over cooked beans turn to mush in the freezer.

– I have tried freezing raw potatoes, not a good idea. They do say however mashed potatoes are fine to freeze.

– I read once it was not a good idea to free meals with cream of soup in them but every recipe labeled OMC pretty much has some cream of soup in it. I am guessing it must be ok.

– Use marinades for raw meat.

– Cooked meat has a shorter life span in the freezer than raw.
Never refreeze meat. That includes cooked meat that was once frozen.