October 08, 2009

Baby Steps to Freezer Meals: Once A Month Cooking

My long time readers know I preach 2 things over and over again;

1) Play with your food - use a recipe for guidance but make it your own
2) If you're going to make one... make

When I was a newlywed and went from cooking meals for a family of six to just cooking for my new husband and I, more often than not it was a 'pan' of something or a 'pot' of something as I knew how to cook for 3 teenage brothers... but I had never had to cook for just
two people before! I think this is when I truly started to do what I called "make ahead cooking" because I would make and then freeze half of the lasagna, the stuffed pasta, the soups and casseroles.

Ten years later I was a busy Mom of three and had taken my 'make ahead cooking' to a higher level because it saved me time and money as well as making it oh-so-easy to serve delicious, homemade meals even on the busiest night of dance, soccer and girl scouts. It was also around this time that more Moms were discovering the joy of freezer meals and cooking in bulk, and idea's like Once-A-Month-Cooking were born.

For those who would like to attempt once-a-month-cooking or at least a one or two week cycle to start out with baby-steps, there is a great book that will take you from the planning stages to the grocery list you'll need to the prep-work time line and all the way through the final stages of how to warm it up or cook it on serving day. It's called Once-a-Month Cooking Family Favorites by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg.

Filled with 1 month cycles, two 2-week cycles, as well as a gourmet, summer and even a gluten-free cycle of recipes, you have the tools you need to buy, prep, freeze and refrigerate for future use. You may try Adobe Chicken, or perhaps Country-Style Ribs or Lime-Grilled Mahi Mahi. My 'test' recipe from the book was a delicious version of a chicken-pot-pie on page 79 that was perfect for the chilly Autumn days we have here in the heartland. If you are willing to give it a try but not willing to invest in the book quite yet, the authors are offering a free one-week-cooking cycle on their website, once-a-monthcooking.com

I hope you find this interview with the authors as interesting as I did; how did they get started and what are their favorite recipes from the book?

Q&A with Mary Beth and Mimi on Once-a-Month Cooking™:

You were the first to publish a book about bulk freezer cooking, and many others have come after you. How did you think of this concept—and what made you feel it would work for so many women?

Mary Beth: Mimi developed this method at a time when we were writing articles together. She wanted me to call The Denver Post to see if they wanted us to write an article about it. I thought Mimi was crazy, and asked her to call. When the paper sent a reporter and photographer to her home within a week to do a food feature, we knew we were on to something. We’ve found over the years that Mimi’s three reasons for creating the strategy—to save time, money, and make possible good times at the table —resonate with most families.

Mimi: As a mother of three young children, I wanted to streamline my life without taking away from the things I loved. At the time, I was working with Hmong refugees in Denver, trying to sell their handwork.

I studied my days by writing down how I spent my time in 15-minute increments. And I found I was wasting the most time in the kitchen. I remember the day I decided I would cook until I ran out of the food I had on hand. I put all the dishes I had prepared on the dining room table. When I counted 30 meals I was ecstatic, because I knew I didn’t have to cook dinner again for a month. Every month for the next year I used the method, once for me and once with a friend, so I was able to perfect it. If someone was having a baby, I’d say “You buy these groceries, and I’ll prepare you a month’s meals.” It became the gift I gave my friends.

What are your top three favorite recipes in the new Once-a-Month Cookbook Family Favorites—and why?

Mary Beth:
1. Country-Style Ribs (This slow cooker entrée provides great aroma-therapy!)
2. Corn Soup with Basil, Avocado, and Crab (This delicious soup proves that frozen entrees can be both elegant and delicious.)
3. Penne in Cream Sauce with Sausage (My son Drew keeps asking me when we’ll have this one.)


1. Lemon Chicken (It’s so fast and tasty! Great for unexpected guests; it can be on the table in ten minutes.)
2. Uptown Joes (Great for picnics or ballgames in wide-mouth thermos.)
3. Beef Pot Roast (I love this one for its smell. There’s nothing like coming into a house that smells good.)

What wisdom could you offer to the busy woman who has never tried this method?

Mimi: Even preparing two of any entrée at one time will show you how much time this technique can save! In the beginning, try this technique with a friend who can help you with the many tasks, even just answering the door, the phone, taking care of the kids, and making sure the ingredients are ready. The first time you try this, I’d recommend trying the free, downloadable one-week cycle from our website once-a-monthcooking.com or a two-week cycle from the book to get used to cooking in bulk. And don’t try to shop and cook on the same day if possible, to conserve your energy.

You say that anyone with a side freezer can implement the Once-a-Month Cooking plan—how do you make it work?

Mary Beth: I’ve frozen even the month’s-worth of entrees without a separate freezer. But I have to clean out the freezer before my cooking day, and I freeze most entrees in plastic bags, which can be squished flat or wedged into corners.

Beyond the obvious rewards of reducing food prep time, hassle, and grocery bills, what are you hoping Once-a-Month Cooking Family Favorites will do for busy families?

Mary Beth: My hope is that this technique will make it possible for families to spend more meals together around a table. The family dinner is a simple concept with profound, measureable advantages for children and parents. We relinquish it too easily to busy schedules. I want other families to discover that a warm meal and good conversation are simple, valuable gifts that anyone would enjoy. Mimi: and I truly believe there isn’t any other family activity that is more meaningful or productive.
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