Editor’s Note: Since the theme this month is Money, on Fridays we will be featuring a money-making or money-saving idea.
Today’s money-saving tip comes from my friend Karen Rosensweig, also known as The Incredible Chef.
Karen spends each day cooking a month’s worth of meals for clients who have food allergies, medical conditions, need to lose weight, or are just too busy to cook healthy, delicious meals. She also has classes to teach people how to do this themselves, and I’ve been lucky enough to have Karen cook for me and teach me to do it myself.
Today we’re going to talk about how you can save money and time by cooking about a month’s worth of meals in less than one day.
Pick 4-5 recipes you want to eat next month and how many meals you want from each. Give it some thought as to how you can jazz it up for different meals. For instance, I like making Karen’s Mediterranean Stew because I can use the additional servings in potpies or serve it over couscous like a sauce and add some chicken. We can eat it several ways from a single recipe.
- If you like to use a crockpot but mornings are hectic at your house, you can prepare and freeze several crockpot meals in plastic bags so you only have to dump them into the crockpot before you leave in the morning.
- Plan to alternate oven and stovetop recipes. If you pick 5 oven recipes, it will take too long. Make the most of the real estate on your stove.
- Make sure you have room in your freezer to store your foo. I like using the flat Gladware products because I have a small freezer and they easily hold a large label. Speaking of…
- Have some labels available. You will not remember what is in the containers, so label with a marker or print your own from your computer. Karen makes her labels with reheating instructions, the date, the name of the food, and the number of servings in the container. She recommends Avery 5163.
- Make sure you have multiple timers and at least one thermometer for cooking day.
Note: Keep in mind that beef and fish do not freeze well. Also keep in mind that this will work in the smallest of kitchens if you plan appropriately. I only have 2 burners (the other half is a grill I never use) and a small galley kitchen and it works fine.
Shopping for the Big Cooking Day
The easiest way to do this is with a giant shopping list. You can easily create one from your recipes by using one of the programs below, but you can also pencil it out yourself or create an Excel spreadsheet.
- Bigoven.com (free for 30 days, $29.95 if you decide to buy)
- Master Cook ($17.99 from Amazon)
Make sure you include any special items, like Gladware, extra foil, or aluminum pans (I like the mini loaves for turkey meatloaf). You can re-use the Gladware – I’ve been using mine for over a year now. I recycle the cleaned aluminum pans because they lose too much shape, but you may be able to reuse yours.
Save money by buying in bulk where appropriate and buying your spices in the bulk section (they are also fresher this way).
Be sure to buy your groceries very close to or on the big cooking day or you may not have enough room in your refrigerator to hold it all with your current food.
The Big Cooking Day
Clean your counters, set out a few towels, put on an apron (you’ll need it), and clean the sink. Wear comfy shoes because you’ll be standing for a few hours.
- Set out your ingredients. You can put them in sections with the recipe if you organize that way, or you can keep similar items together. Whichver works best for you and your kitchen space.
- Review your recipes and determine the order you will start cooking (start with the longest cooking time recipes).
- Remember to over-sauce and slightly undercook all your meals (about 5-10 minutes). When you reheat them from frozen they will be perfectly cooked and not rubbery or dry.
- Try to have a couple of dishes going on the stove and in the oven at the same time.
- Once your foods are cooked, let them cool on the counter.
- After cooling, put your food in containers, label, and freeze.
- Fill the containers to reduce air and condensation. Air is the enemy in frozen foods.
- Freeze them in 2-4 serving containers, whichever works best for your family.
- Make a list of what you put in the freezer and clip it to the refrigerator. You can check off foods as you use them so you will always know what is in the freezer.
Benefits of Cooking a Month’s Worth of Meals in One Day
- No more ordering out when you don’t feel like cooking. Just set out a few containers each week and you can usually microwave for 2 minutes to have a healthy, nutritious meal. Add a salad or frozen veggie, and you can have a terrific meal in minutes.
- You have more control over your grocery budget because your meals are planned and paid for in advance.
- Because the food is already packaged in portable containers, leftovers are perfect to take to work for lunch the next day, saving you additional dollars.
- No more last-minute trips to the grocery store after work. You only shop for incidentals between big shopping trips.
Do you want more information on “investment cooking?” The Incredible Chef has a newsletter with facts, recipes, and tips for hiring a chef or doing it yourself. She also lists her upcoming classes and do-it-yourself downloads. Click here for more information.
Have you tried this kind of cooking before? How has it worked for you?
Betsy Talbot writes about carving the lifestyle you want out of life you already have. When she’s not writing, she’s paring down, saving up, and getting ready for a year of travel with her husband.