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Can Once a Month Cooking Help Your Grocery Budget?

If you have read this blog with any sort of regularity, you know that I am trying extremely hard to curtail our grocery spending. I’ve made attempts before, but like tons of busy families, we shopped too much and often restocked the things we eat most rather than coming up with ways to use up existing food supplies. I finally found a way to make myself stay away from the store: By playing the Grocery Game at Canadian Budget Binder. I know I sound like a broken record, but by posting everything you buy, you become much more aware of what you are spending money on. I have noticed that we spend way too much on snacks and convenience foods. I’m convinced Mr. CBB could whip up a yummy, frugal recipe out of a turnip and saltine crackers, so it’s a hard act to follow. Recently I’ve discovered the idea of having a cooking marathon one day a month from Mandy at  Money Master Mom and Catherine at Plunged in Debt. The idea is to cook like a fiend for one day so that you can take a cooking vacation for a few weeks. Also by having ready made meals in the freezer, you aren’t tempted to heat up a Hot Pocket or eat out. Even though I’m from the South, I’ve never envisioned myself as a cook. I actually admit being afraid of gravy, but I wanted to try and see if cooking once a month could help my grocery budget and give me more time in the evenings.

I actually cheated from the beginning. Unexpectedly, my husband and daughter left me alone for a evening to visit with some relatives. What to do with a solo evening, take a bath, read a book? Nope, I started cooking. I got my plan ready and cooked my chicken and chopped veggies for the next day’s big cook. I had gone to the store a day before, but all of the meat and some of the ingredients came out of my freezer and cabinets. Everything was ready for the big day. Wow, is this what the space shuttle astronauts felt like the day before a launch? Could I actually make a month’s worth of meals in one weekend? With fire department number on speed dial, I began cooking the next day.

Look at that cheesy goodness!

Six hours later, I am proud to say, I had a fabulous assortment of delicious, nutritious, affordable meals ready to go in the freezer. In case you’re curious, I made

Lasagna enough for four meals
Cheesy Chicken Chowder enough for three meals
Barbeque Pork Tenderloin enough for two meals
Chicken and Veggie Casserole enough for four meals
Beef Taco Meat for at least three meals
Chicken Taco Meat for two meals
Ground Turkey Stir Fry for two meals
Chicken/Veggie/Tomato Sauce Stir Fry for three meals

Total of 23 meals.

The food just keeps coming

We have been eating the freezer meals for about ten days now. I did not make enough for 30 days, but if we can eat these during the week, I can make breakfast for dinner, pasta, or something easy on the weekends. When each dish was ready to be frozen, I divided them into meal size portions and put them in plastic containers or freezer bags to go on the bottom shelf of our freezer. We decide the night before what we want and put it in the refrigerator for the next day. Heat it up at dinner time, and a salad, and voila! Everything has tasted great with no hint of freezer burn. The best thing, though, is no frantic discussions about what we can throw together for dinner in time to get all the evening stuff done to prepare for the next day. We heat, eat, and have minimal clean up.

Check out that steam!

I’m sure I won’t be this good every month, and there will probably be some Hot Pockets in our future, but I think monthly cooking is a great way to have homemade meals without rushing around at the end of the work day. I am looking for new recipes and hope to do this again in December. I won’t know the grocery budget total until the end of the month, but I think we will be under our limit because all that I need to buy will be milk, bread, and produce. If you want to save some time and money, I would highly recommend trying a monthly marathon cook. If I can do it, anyone can.

How often do you cook? Are Hot Pockets really that bad?

 

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.

52 comments

  1. I’ll probably try this when my kids are older. Right now they are 3 and 1 and they will only eat certain things so we basically eat the same things over and over. I would love to make several meals in advance though. That would definitely make my life easier!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..I Am a Cheap-Ass Santa: A Christmas Shopping RantMy Profile

    • It would be hard to get it all done with them in the house. My daughter is old enought to “help” and she put the lasagna together for the most part.

  2. My wife cooks a lot more than me, but I try to make some meals at home. When I do cook, it’s usually more heating up veggies and cooking Chicken in the oven than making elaborate recipes. This week we cooked way more than normal and have lots of leftovers, which is a double bonus because you have food for future meals. Cooking is something I need to get better at for sure.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..The Cost of Dog OwnershipMy Profile

  3. Good post. My wife has been invited to a few big cooks but has not been able to take advantage of one yet. She will, from time to time, do something similar to what you’ve done. It does save time and money in the long run and makes it so convenient to just pull something out of the freezer.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Tips on Learning Languages FrugallyMy Profile

    • I love it, and will probably continue doing it. I just have no time or energy to cook after work, no matter how good my intentions are.

  4. Great post Kim!
    My mother is notorious for doing cook offs like this on weekends. This way during the week my brother and dad have lunches generally for at least 4 days in the week. Dinner’s are good too for probably 3-4 weeks, and myself gets sent home with fairly decent care packages.

    BTW, the food looks yummy!
    Eddie recently posted..8 Amazing Ways to Save on Car InsuranceMy Profile

  5. Whoo! Go you! I love that you say you’re afraid of gravy, too funny :) If you are though, club house makes a pretty decent powder package gravy if you don’t have the nerve to do it from scratch. I have to partake in Mr CBB’s challenge. I have a pretty tight budget but suck at remembering to partake. Congrats on the cooking! I have some great (taste tested) recipes if you’re interested!
    Catherine recently posted..We’re Switching To Cash! (Our ‘A-Ha’ Moment Weekend)My Profile

    • I am afraid of any gravy if it turns to a solid at room temperature. Just weirds me out. I thought I was going to taste a dumpling once when I was a kid, but it was congealed gravy. I’ve never been the same. I would love any recipes you might have to share for things that freeze well.

  6. You have some good choices there for freezing.
    I’ve never done this on a regular or larger scale. We cook a lot from scratch, every 2-3 days basically, very rarely eat out, but our budget is still high. The problem is that we like salads and roasted meat/root vegetables, and we don’t like how defrosted food tastes. Soups are fine for freezing I usually end up with a couple of containers after making a big pot, meat-heavy stews would do as well, but it seems to us most veggie-heavy dishes end up too mushy after defrosting, just change in taste.
    But in the spirit of saving something I’ll give it some thought, thanks for bringing the idea up. Maybe winter is the right season to try this out

    • Produce and meat can certainly be expensive. I find that if I stir fry veggies, but don’t cook them too long, they freeze pretty well. It isn’t quite the same as fresh, but I guess I’m not terribly picky. A cold winter day is probably perfect. You certainly stay warm in the kitchen for that long!

  7. I hope that turnips can be made into something good, as I bought some yesterday, haha.
    There’s been enough posts on this lately, combined with being busier than normal, that I think I’m going to have to take the plunge and do this one! I should start suggesting it to my spouse so that there’s more ideas percolating.
    Anne @ Unique Gifter recently posted..Creative Cash Gift: Dollar Scavenger HuntMy Profile

  8. I’m always attracted to the idea of cooking for a month but I haven’t tried it. We don’t have a ton of storage space (just 1 fridge) and a lot of what I eat wouldn’t freeze well. I do tend to batch-cook but only for 2-8 meals at a time.
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..The Blogging Scholarship Application EssayMy Profile

    • If you divide the portions into small containers or bags, it doesn’t take too much space. We have ours in the bottom shelf of the freezer. I would not have room to store 5 or 6 casserole dishes, but wow a freezer never sounded so good. Might add that to the wish list if I keep up the batch cooking.

  9. Big batch cooking is a lot of fun! We make and freeze chili (easy) and a German dish that is very inexpensive known as Roladen. I also want to try to make Eggplant Lasagna as I love Lasagna and it freezes so well.

    It is so nice when dinner time rolls around and you don’t have to spend all kinds of time in the kitchen cooking each night.
    Tackling Our Debt recently posted..Fun, Inexpensive Christmas Gifts You Can Make at HomeMy Profile

  10. Hot pockets are delicious…but they’re terrible for you! :) My wife and I cook about 90% of our meals. We’ll go out on an occasion, but it’s rare. I enjoy cooking and it’s fun to try new things!

    She does a few “cooking days” too, but not to the extent you did. Cooking 23 meals in a few hours is really an impressive accomplishment.
    Jason @ WSL recently posted..Recipe: Bacon and Egg MuffinsMy Profile

  11. Haha, yes, hot pockets are gross. I’m seriously considering doing this next time I’m forced to go through post partum. I’ve been worried about the freezer burn taste, though….thanks for alleviating my fears! Maybe I’ll even start earlier.
    femmefrugality recently posted..Help me earn a $10,000 scholarship!My Profile

  12. Good for you realizing where you are spending your money and that is the name of the game. I’m not there to judge but I do see where many could improve their budget but it’s up to them and I hope by posting they can see that. Batch cooking is becoming a favourite for some families to do and it does help make the week or month go a bit smoother. I am all for not eating a hot pocket rather taking a home cooked meal out of the freezer. Although on the odd occasion we may freeze a meal we don’t partake in the battle of the batch cooking just yet. With only 2 of us it’s not too hard but with a family, sports,other activities, work etc.. this may be perfect. You will only perfect and reach your goals if you see what you need to improve! Good for you Kim! Mr.CBB
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted..CBB Family Net Worth Update~October 2012My Profile

    • You hit it right on the head. I work late on Mondays. Tuesdays and Wednesdays we have dance and gymnastics, and I have my Humane Society meetings on some Thursdays. It’s whatever we can heat up and get on the table. I love having something healthy and home made to heat up. I think we’ve had a breakthrough!

  13. Good for you for planning ahead. :) We don’t set aside specific days for batch cooking but I do use both my freezer and home canned goods to help bridge the gap on the nights when I’m tired or busy and don’t feel like fussing in the kitchen. On the nights when I do have time in the kitchen I often make a double batch of whatever is on the menu. I put half of what I’ve prepared in the freezer for another day, and mark it down on my freezer inventory list so that I remember it’s there. It’s nice to know there’s a healthy, affordable meal on hand when I need it.
    Beth @ Aunt B’s Kitchen recently posted..Why You Need This Stuff in Your KitchenMy Profile

  14. I love once a month cooking I have 2 crock pots going the stove and oven and cook all weekend! Saves me tons of $$$ If I don’t feel like cooking we don’t go out anymore I just grab it out of the freezer :)

  15. Mandy - Money Master Mom

    Woo Hoo was to go Kim. I think you may surprise yourself and make this a regular habit. One day of pain for nearly a month of dinner vacations, a girl could get used to that!
    Mandy – Money Master Mom recently posted..My First GiveawayMy Profile

  16. Great job Kim! I used to do that once a week when I was working full time.
    Another thing I loved was my slow cooker, you put a piece of meat and some veggies inside in the morning, go to work, and come back to a delicious hot stew.
    Now I just bought a deep freezer and am hoping to cut the trips to the supermarket (which is $20 worth of gas away!) by batch cooking. My BF is bringing a whole lamb tomorrow from the ranch and I am off to cook!
    Pauline recently posted..What Does Financial Independence Mean to You?My Profile

  17. I don’t cook as often as I should. I’m sure it would help me drop 20lbs! :-) Every once in awhile I do cook something. This week I cooked Lentil soup. It turned out pretty good for my first time.
    Ornella @ Moneylicious recently posted..In The Face of Taxmageddon?My Profile

    • Funny you should mention that. I put on some jeans today that I haven’t worn in a while and they were definitely more loose. I am not actively trying to lose weight, but I’ll take it!

  18. Love the idea of batch cooking!! I’ve done some marathons in the kitchen with baking a number of times. One thing I do is when we have a turkey I pick the bird as clean as I can then toss it into a stock pot with an onion, some celery and a handful of peppercorns for 7-8 hours. Strain this and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Then skim the fat off the top and scoop up the broth, package it and toss in the freezer with the meat you bagged up. The broth will look gross… think brown Jello but it tastes great!! I can then pull a pack of meat and some broth, thaw and heat it up with some left over veggies and rice or noodles and we have turkey soup for supper…. My boys love it!!! Cooking the stock sounds like a lot but you won’t be watching it all that much, just keep an eye on it, stir and add water every so often while you are going about the rest of your day. I remember a book from the local library years ago called ‘No Time To Cook’ that was on this idea but she worked a week at a time with left overs building up over time. I kept an eye out for it at the book sales the library has twice a year but some one must have beat me to it as it hasn’t been seen in a couple of years…..Darn!!! My biggest problem with this would be the hubby….he’s the fussy one in this house….the boys will eat anything you put in front of them. Hubby….not so much…..

  19. I think this is a great idea, but I just love freshly cooked food. Plus I really like to cook, so I feel that I would be removing one of the few therapeutic activities that I have in life.

    I can see the benefits thought and I reckon that once our baby comes along I won’t have as much time and things like this will be a life saver.
    Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted..Opportunity to earn money on your blogMy Profile

  20. “you aren’t tempted to heat up a Hot Pocket”

    I am ONLY tempted to heat up a Hot Pocket if I’m absolutely wasted. Luckily, I’m too old for that now!

    Kim, I wasn’t on board with this whole cook-off thing the first few times I read you and Mandy talking about it, but I’m there. My problem is the same as Glen’s where I like freshly cooked food. However, I’ve gone out to dinner far too many times just because I was exhausted when I could have gone to my “supply” instead. You know how much money that saves? And, it’s easy on “exhausted” days. Thanks for talking about this enough for me to “get it.”
    AverageJoe recently posted..Having “The Talk”: Another Awkward Holiday Dinner ConversationMy Profile

  21. I cant hear about hot pockets without thinking of this, so I thought I would share: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-i9GXbptog

  22. We don’t quite do once a month cooking But we do try to cook a large batch meal each weekend it usually provides enough food for at least five or six meals throughout the week.

    For example, this past weekend we made a giant pot of congee, a type of rice porridge. We’ve gotten about right meals so far and still have half a pot left!
    CF recently posted..Hey, we bought another condo!My Profile

  23. You are a cooking machine! I wish I had the motivation to do that. I honestly hate cooking and only do it to save $. LOL. I cook just once or twice a week and then I get sick of eating that same thing for lunch and dinner. I should probably try cooking a few things during the weekend and then alternate eating those dishes.
    MakintheBacon$ recently posted..Shying Away from Success?My Profile

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