Sunday Morning Coffee Musings 8/19/18 – Once a Month Cooking

OAMC. It’s an acronym for Once a Month Cooking. It can be the greatest thing you ever do to get your food budget under control. It can also be the biggest headache you ever voluntarily give yourself, other than asking yourself the question, “does my mother-in-law truly like me?”

(Here’s a hint – I don’t ask myself that question any longer. My first one didn’t, and I like my new Mother-In-Law far too much to want to strain that relationship by messing with my head that way.)

We dabbled in OAMC about 15 years ago, when we had a family living with us that had children, and we had a child. 8 people in one house with one bathroom, and three adults who were working. I stayed home and failed to keep house, but I did do the cooking.
I found out about OAMC, got a cookbook about it, and did it for about 6 months.

Firstly, it did cut down on the food bill HUGELY. We weren’t grabbing pizzas and other take out food nearly as much when we had a home cooked meal ready to eat. Also, we weren’t using as many convenience foods as we had been, and as anyone who has had to buy diapers at 2 a.m. will tell you, convenience costs money. We also saved money on lunches for work, as there were leftovers to take. We did the math and we were able to feed 8 people dinner every night and give three people lunches for work every work day for about $400 a month. (Yes, I ate lunch from the left overs as well.) We did buy snacks for the kids to take to school, and we did send them to school with bagged lunches.

Secondly, we ate dinner together as much as possible. Due to the schedules, some of the adults were working one shift, some another shift, so some of the leftovers were actually their dinner portions set aside for them.

Thirdly, we ate much healthier. There were more vegetables in the dinners than we got when we were ordering pizza or Chinese take-out, and there was far less salt and trans-fats going into our diets because we were using less convenience foods. I don’t know if any of us lost weight, and in any case that’s not the only sign of getting healthier. I do know we didn’t have as many of the problems that go with diets that are high in processed foods – we didn’t experience gastrointestinal distress as often as we did previously, our heartburn went away (for the most part), and my husband says we did lose some weight.

The down side of doing this was the sheer amount of planning and cooking and packaging that goes into this. Once a Month Cooking sort of implies that you cook ONCE. One day. You do all your shopping, cooking, and packaging on ONE DAY. I’m here to say yes, that can be done – but only if you have done a lot of steps to prepare for it.

1. Pantry Inventory – you will need to go through your pantry and verify what you already have, so you aren’t duplicating stock that needs to be used.

2. Cold storage inventory – both fridge and freezer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown out freezer burned meat because I forgot I had it. That’s wasted money right there! Keeping an inventory of what you have in the fridge and freezer is vital to cutting down on waste.

3. Ditching expired goods – seems like a no-brainer, but if you aren’t doing a pantry inventory and a cold storage inventory on a monthly basis, you are going to have expired goods in there that aren’t safe to use. I’m not talking about the can of tomatoes that expired last month, I’m talking about the cans of things that expired YEARS ago that you forgot in the pantry.  We had a bottle of hot sauce that had expired three years ago. It wasn’t bad, per se, but the smell was a little off and the taste was slightly off. It didn’t make us sick, but it didn’t taste as good as the next batch of wings we made with fresh hot sauce. I suspect the pepper oil in the old one had gone off, but since it’s such a small amount, it didn’t affect us.

4. Making your menu – I own a couple of OAMC cookbooks, and I have to say that those books do a LOT of the work for you. You don’t have to think, you just pick your menu plan, print off the shopping list, go through the pantry and fridge and figure out what you already have, and buy what you need. They tell you the steps to doing your cook so you aren’t running around like a lunatic trying to make too many dishes all at the same time. For example, if your menu has chili, tacos, tamale pie and shepherd’s pie in the same month, you will have a bit where you are instructed to brown up five pounds of hamburger to divide for these dishes. That’s a time saver – you won’t have to cook up a pound for this, and two pounds for that, and then a pound for this. And you only have to wash the skillet ONCE.

5. Creating your shopping list – Since you’ve made the menu, done the inventories and know what you have on hand, you should now know what you need to buy and how much. This saves a lot of money when you do the shopping because chances are good you can now take advantage of those bulk packs at the grocery store or shop at a local meat outlet where the packages are bigger and the prices are lower. You will probably only go to one or two stores, which saves gas. Or if you are very lucky, you will be able to go to the warehouse club and get 90% of your groceries there.

6. Packaging! I almost forgot about this one. There are things, such as lasagna and other casserole dishes, that don’t pack well in a zipper bag or a vacuum sealer bag. Part of your shopping list and inventory is going to be making sure you have enough zipper bags, vacuum sealer bags, foil baking dishes or other baking dishes to actually store all this food you are going to be making.

7. STORAGE SPACE – Here’s something I didn’t even think about until I got an RV with a tiny little freezer. OAMC relies on you having the storage space to keep a month’s worth of food in the freezer. I’m fortunate, I have a small chest freezer in the basement as well as a freezer upstairs for my refrigerator. If you have a large family, you’re going to do one of two things: invest in a chest freezer, or split the OAMC into TAMC (Twice a Month Cooking) and do it every two weeks instead of just once a month. Some of the books now take that into account.

8. Mind Set – this is the most important thing about OAMC ,or even TAMC. You may need to change your mindset about eating. You may need to ditch some ideas and habits you have developed in your life. I had to ditch my dislike for eating leftovers more than once. I had to ditch the habit of wanting something different for dinner every night of the week, and every night of the month. Starting the habit of planning my dinners for the week and making sure I stick to the plan instead of just saying “It’s too hot, I’m too tired, I don’t want to cook, let’s order out.” Packaging the leftovers for lunch the next day immediately so they get taken instead of languishing in the fridge until they mold and get thrown out. Realizing how important it is to use the food you’ve prepared instead of throwing it out.

Our lives are busy. We (Eric and I) fall into the trap of not knowing what we want for dinner and just making an excuse to eat out. When we wonder why we’re bleeding money, this is the first place we tend to cut back on, only to fall back because we failed to plan.

Is this a perfect way to cut back on your food budget? No. It’s a good way to do it.

A good START is to plan your week’s dinners. Know what days you are too busy to do involved cooking and make some things ahead of time that only need to be re-heated on those nights. (if the weather is hot, plan salads and grilled protein for those nights.) Then stick to your plan.

Guess what I’m doing today?