A few months ago during our monthly “family business” meeting (where we decide what bills to pay and budget out for the next month) we realized we had a bit of an addiction to convenience food and take-out, and it was costing us more than we were happy about. So we made the grand resolution and promised ourselves next week would be different.
We went to the grocery store and bought ingredients to make lunches and cook dinners. And then predictably on Monday we were too tired to cook so we grabbed take-out, Tuesday we worked late, and I’m not even sure what happened on Wednesday but we didn’t cook that day, either. By then we had given up. Saturday I was standing in front of a refrigerator full of spoiled vegetables and realized that we had wasted even more money than the week before. So I did what any reasonable woman of the world with an internet connection would do and I went to Pinterest.
That is when I discovered Once a Month Cooking
It was a revelation, I was sure we were saved. I spent more time than is really reasonable planning four whole weeks worth of what we’d eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I carefully planned my trip to the grocery store and adjusted the meals based on what was on sale and then I spent ALL weekend cooking, packing things into Tupperware, wrapping them in foil, and tucking plastic bags into my freezer. It was jam-packed full of food and I was exhausted.
It worked! We ate from the freezer and saved money, but when the next month rolled around and the freezer was empty I had no desire to repeat that process again. It didn’t seem worth the time I was spending, my entire weekend once a month was consumed by meal planning. I enjoy my weekends too much to make that kind of commitment. That’s when it finally occurred to me that I could make a plan for a week at a time and it would be less overwhelming.
Here’s what I do now
When we’re ready to go grocery shopping, I hit up Pinterest or Google around for whatever is striking my fancy and pick five or six meals for the week. The prep for a week’s worth of meals is way less daunting than an entire weekend consumed by chopping, cooking and freezing. This works a lot better (for us).
We prep (chop, marinade, and precook) for an hour or so on Saturday or Sunday and it makes cooking for the rest of the week easier than ordering out or picking up take-out. Plus you’re already kind of invested personally because you chopped the onions or pre-cooked your rice ahead of time. (TIP: When reheating rice, don’t use the microwave; throw it in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water.)
Here’s my advice if you’re trying to break a convenience food addiction
Cut yourself a break — Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you order take out one day because its easier that’s fine — there were six other days of the week that you didn’t, good job!
It’s tempting to pick a bunch of new recipes each week but I caution you against this because you might not like it or it might be more elaborate than you realize and take up a lot of time. I try to get one or two new recipes a week and then rotate through a bunch of our favorites that I know are easy to do. It strikes the balance of keeping things simple without getting sick of the menu and abandoning it.
Lastly, get other people involved. Because I was a slightly better cook and enjoyed it more than my husband, I had just taken it over (especially during our once-a-month cooking experiment). I had pretty much kicked him out of the kitchen, and that was stupid of me. He’s a pretty good prep cook (he chops a mean onion) and, as an engineer, he’s pretty good at following a recipe exactly. It’s also kind of fun to cook with another person, but beware of the possible “how salty is too salty” or “how spicy is too spicy” argument.
Another bonus to this whole meal planning process was a little weight loss and overall more healthy eating. It turns out if you eat take-out five days a week it’s not a balanced diet — even if there are vegetables in your fried rice.