“I am in fact a hobbit in all but size. I like gardens, trees, and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking”- J.R.R. Tolkien
Once-A-Month Cooking by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg
I was first introduced to this book after my son was born when I briefly got to attend a MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) group. MOPs is a fantastic resource. It is a network of small group meetings where more experienced moms give mentoring and support to new moms and friendships for moms and kids can be built. Mary Beth Lagerborg is the director of media for MOPs International, and her money and time saving ideas are taught in the groups.
Philosophy – By careful planning and concentration of effort, families can save time and money by grocery shopping and food preparing only ONCE a month.
The book outlines several ways to create a meal plan for either 2 weeks or one month, including recipes and shopping lists, and then describes how to assemble and freeze/store the meals to be prepared in one day and then served over the next month. I read through this book really quickly, especially since I had sat through a couple of lectures that had explained how to create a monthly meal plan and how to shop once a month. It fit our ideas of creating more variety in our meals and spending less time shopping/cooking, but we are both averse to rigid schedules and enjoy make-it-work moments of creativity. So we decided to start with a 2 week meal plan and use the meals to supplement our schedule on nights we wanted a quick alternative.
Attempt #1 – Shopping went overall well. I overestimated the amounts of several ingredients I would need and therefore bought more than I really needed for the meals I had chosen. I woke up early to start the full day’s cooking and was up to my elbows in chopped ingredients that needed to be assembled when disaster struck. I chopped a huge chunk out of my finger on my mandolin slicer. Immediately the whole day’s cooking fell by the wayside as my husband and I spent the next 2 hours getting my wound treated. Needless to say, my hand was out of commission for cooking purposes for about 10 days, and so we ended up using what ingredients we had bought in some of the planned recipes as the days went along and in some unplanned dump-stews, and some of it unfortunately went to waste before we could get it eaten or preserved properly.
Attempt #2 – Shopping went a little better, with over all better choices for ingredient types and amounts. I made the decision to just attempt to do 10 meals instead of a full two weeks. Cooking went much smoother, with only one much smaller and not-limiting finger gouge that required only a tiny bit of treatment. (See post about kitchen gadget I finally bought to hopefully prevent this in the future!) The meals came together in about the amount of time I had planned. Unfortunately, doling them out was more of a challenge than expected. We both had difficulty remembering to plan for enough time to properly defrost and cook the meals which led to several awkward last minute meal substitutions, and therefore the overall time savings seemed to be much less than I had hoped for.
Things we have learned from this book so far:
Challenges – 1) We do not have a predictable schedule and won’t in the near future which, coupled with our aversion of calenders, makes even a two week plan unpractical at this point. 2) Our current freezer space is very limited which puts restrictions on our storage options. 3) We just didn’t like the recipes in this book. We want to use recipes with fewer ingredients and avoid processed foods, and most of these recipes just weren’t to our taste.
Our Adaptation – We have adopted a 4 meal plan strategy for now. When we are cooking any staple/base ingredient, we try to cook enough for 4 meals (that same night’s meal plus 3 portions divided in either the fridge or freezer). So, one whole chicken cooked overnight in the crockpot and de-boned easily yields enough for 4 equal divisions that can be used to make a chicken/vegetable casserole, chicken chili, chicken stir fry, and (using the same stock) southwestern chicken soup. It’s just as easy to cook 4 meals worth of roast, pork, beans or rice as it is to make one, and having a few servings of these base ingredients already cooked makes for quickly assembled fresh meals even on a hurried night. This kind of planning also helps to make shopping trips less frequent and faster as we pick one main base ingredient and then a few fresh ingredients that we know we can use in the next 4 days to add variety to the dishes.
The most helpful parts of this book were the planning tips and the freezing techniques. We did like a few recipes: Heavenly Chicken pg 97, Chicken chili pg 98 and Southwestern chicken soup pg 148.
If you have never read about a Once-A-Month cooking strategy, you will probably find many thought-provoking ideas and helpful strategies that can be adapted to many different schedules. I would suggest when starting the process to not force yourself to be limited to the idea of only cooking the 2 week or 4 week plans, but instead allow the planning and cooking techniques to lead you towards more mindful cooking. Maybe someday we will get better at the process and be able to do a 2 week plan in a way that does save time and money and eliminate waste, but for now we are choosing to move slowly at a pace that fits our current needs.