Many people complain that they don’t have time to eat healthfully or frugally. It’s easy to lapse into convenience food, which is both expensive and a poor nutritional choice. This tip at Bankrate suggests one way to combat these two problems is to practice once-a-month cooking:

Our family cooks all the dinners for the month on one day. [...] For a family of 4 (soon to be 5), I’ve been able to keep the cost of dinners down to around $80 per month. That includes meat meals 5 or 6 times a week and a starch, vegetable, and milk for everyone. It really stretches our food budget, relieves stress after a long day, and makes everyone happy since they know exactly what’s for dinner that night.

I shared a similar tip from my brother last June:

A few years ago, [my wife] got a book called Once-A-Month-Cooking. You can choose from a two-week cycle, a one-month cycle, or a low-fat cycle. You get all of your ingredients from the grocery store (a shopping list is included) and then spend eight grueling hours dirtying every pot, pan, and spatula you own. All of the meals are then frozen until they are needed. We always made the two-week option because we found that it lasted us at least a month (with leftovers and going out, etc).

I would have dismissed this idea out-of-hand when I was younger, but now the idea intrigues me. I see how it could save both time and money. I could never do this, though — I’m a moody eater. I generally crave specific foods, and that’s what I have to eat right now.

At Fractured Frugal Friends, Kim Tilley has posted a fantastic (and thorough) beginner’s guide to once-a-month cooking. She writes:

The most important tool in once-a-month cooking is your freezer, whether you have a large one or just the one on top of your refrigerator. Yes, you can fit a month’s worth of meals into that small freezer space — it just takes a little more creativity! [...] Please don’t be afraid to try once-a-month cooking. If a month’s worth of cooking is too much for you to even think about, try a week’s worth and see how you like it.

Tilley’s article offers a bonanza of tips. For example:

  • Use master recipes. Base your cooking sessions around a master recipe each month, some main meal from which you can derive sub-recipes. For example, you might bake a ham and then prepare several dishes from the meat.
  • Don’t overdo it. If cooking all of your food for a month seems daunting, then start smaller. Cook for just a week. Don’t cook or freeze things that don’t save time.
  • Be organized. The first couple times you try once-a-month cooking can be overwhelming, but if you develop systems for shopping and preparation, the method really pays off.

If cooking in advance appeals to you, Tilley’s guide is an excellent place to start. (There’s also Once-a-Month Cooking World!)

Though Kris and I aren’t ready to make this leap yet, we do like the idea of a soup swap, which involves several families preparing large batches of their favorite soups, and then exchanging them with other participants. This sounds like a fun way to save money while trying new food.