Some of advice I ever got about Grad School was from a former professor who told me how batch-cooking and freezing meals helped her complete her dissertation. This simple strategy makes a huge difference in terms of productivity and eating healthy (if you choose recipes carefully). For most of us our leisure time is limited (and sacred), especially if you are balancing family life and a demanding career. Who doesn’t want to spend less time in the kitchen and more time playing, connecting with others, being active, and having a life!
Batch cooking may just be your ticket! The basic idea is that you cook multiple meals on one day and freeze most of them so that you have less prep down the road. I’ve been doing this on a weekly basis for a while now but recently I felt like I was in the kitchen all the time so I started looking for new ways to do this.
After scouring the web I found several menu subscription services but nothing that offered many choices – most had 1 menu a month, take it or leave it. So of course I decided to do it on my own but I got quickly frustrated because there are too many recipes to choose from on the internet and I couldn’t decide which ones I wanted to make. It was taking up a lot of my time and the whole point was to save time and make life easier – not spend hours trying to decide what I wanted to have for dinner!
Finally, I found Once a Month Meals – a group of moms who offer several types of menus (e.g. traditional, vegetarian, paleo, etc.) to choose from and make it easy for you to cook meals for an entire month. For each menu you get the recipes, an organized shopping list, prep day instructions (chopping, etc.), cooking day instructions, thaw list (to help you plan when to take things out of the freezer so you can eat them), serving day instructions (some recipes have add-ons or need cooking), and labels. Obviously it would take a few hours to do all this on your own!
You can also swap meals to make your own custom menu if there is something that you don’t like. Just enough choice to be flexible without being overwhelming. The other great thing about Once a Month Meals is that they provide very helpful tips and resources to help you every step of the way and save you a lot of headaches. For example, starting with a mini menu rather than a full menu was a really good idea.
I signed up immediately and yesterday I did my first mini menu. It was a huge success! Take a look at how my day went:
Before the big day:
- Pick your menu. I chose to do a mini-menu because I only had 1 day free to do everything (shop, prep, and cook).
- Decide how many people you are cooking for. Even though there’s just me and my son I chose to cook for 4 people so that I would get more meals for basically the same amount of work. (Tricky, I know lol) The recipes and shopping list automatically update to correspond to the number of meals you select. Thank you Once a Month Meals! This is super helpful.
- Check supplies and ingredients in your kitchen. Do you really have 4 apples in the fridge for that recipe? Do you have a slow-cooker if you need one? Cross-check the shopping list with your inventory and makes notes so you won’t forget.
- Add other things you want to buy for the week to your list. The menus don’t cover all of your meals and snacks so add in whatever else you need for the week. For us that’s stuff like milk, yogurt, salad greens for lunches, coffee, etc.
- Bring a pen so you can check off everything as you put it in your cart.
- Be prepared to spend more than your typical shopping trip. You are cooking more than you usually would so obviously it will cost more money. However, it also will save money because you will waste less food and make fewer last-minute trips to the grocery store or fast food joints. (If you have time and energy for price-matching and/or coupon clipping this can help you save money too).
- Don’t go shopping when it is busy. Not something that I enjoy anyway but if you are trying to buy a lot of food it can be overwhelming to deal with a ton of people at the same time.
Prepping and Cooking:
I decided to prep and cook each recipe 1 at a time. The fine folks at Once a Month Meals recommend doing prep the night before your cooking day and I think that would be faster, especially if you are cooking a full menu. For example, I ended up chopping garlic 3 or 4 separate times for different recipes instead of doing all the garlic at once. Research shows that switching between tasks takes more time than doing one at a time. Another benefit is that you lower the chance of cross-contamination (meats and veggies) and use fewer cutting boards 🙂
- Clean your kitchen before you start.
- Prepare slow-cooker dishes first. Set em’ and forget em’ while you work on other recipes 🙂
- Wash dishes as you go. This reduced the number of dishes that I used and the cleanup I had at the end.
What I made:
1. Paleo meatloaf:
2. Crockpot sweet potato chili
3. Garlic herb Crusted Pork Roast (sub for pork tenderloin)
4. Almond butter chicken
5. Jalapeno Chicken Burgers
6. Pumpkin walnut protein muffins (my recipe that I added on)
Grocery shopping took me an hour and a half and cooking took me 4 hours (10am-2pm). We had chili for supper (it was awesome!) and now I have a freezer full of yummy meals to help me through this busy month of marking and writing publications 🙂 You can have better work life balance and Once a Month Meals can help. Check it out!