Once-a-Month Cooking: Cooking for the Rushed

Get Rich Slowly-reader Kevin comments:

Eating well on a budget requires some thought. But planning out a whole month of meals, and shopping for that month (you only get two paychecks a month) is the real challenge. Is there a website with a month long meal plan of healthy meals, in a spreadsheet shopping list, that can be used at most grocery stores? I cannot find any.

While you can try the 14-day trial of $5 Meal Plan, my brother suggests books might be more useful than websites for long-term meal planning. His family has been using a couple of volumes that do just what Kevin wants:

Getting a decent dinner on the table can be quite a challenge when Stephanie and I both work. On the days I actually have time to make dinner before Steph gets home, I'm usually missing a few ingredients for the recipe I want to make. We have tried planning out our own menus and keeping ingredients in stock, but we never seem to be able to make it work. Fresh vegetables go bad, ingredients get used for other things, we run out of onions, etc.

A few years ago, Steph 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). Most of the dishes were a snap to reheat on the day of the meal, but some still required a decent amount of preparation. Some of the meals, like Linguine Ala Anne and Chili BBQ Hamburgers (our new default hamburger recipe) were quite delicious, while others left much to be desired. If it wasn't for that grueling day of cooking, we would probably use it more often — but I would really hate to see the cooking day for the full month option

A friend told us about Life's On Fire by Sandi Richard, a cookbook for those who don't have a lot of time to get a meal on the table. Steph found a couple of books by the same author, and ended up buying The Healthy Family, part of Richard's Cooking For The Rushed series.

A good portion of The Healthy Family is spent talking about basic nutrition, healthy eating, and exercise — some very good, factual information. The rest of the book is about cooking using Richard's very effective methods.

You choose one of the seven planned weeks, and then go shopping for ingredients using the included lists (which you can also download from the Cooking for the Rushed website). On the day of a meal, you just follow the easy instructions to whip up a full dinner. The recipes are spelled out very much like those in Cook's Illustrated, but much less complicated. It doesn't matter which meal you do first, as long as the ingredients were on your shopping list. (Each week has a different list).

We have completed one of the weeks from The Healthy Family, and we are very much looking forward to the other six weeks. The meals are very tasty, yet very healthy — and nothing gets freezer-burned. Obviously the recipes are not on par with those from Caprial or Marcella, but for everyday dinners, they do just fine.

If your busy life makes it difficult to get a healthy dinner on the table, you may want to check out The Healthy Family. I highly recommend it!

My wife and I rarely prepare in advance like this. We have a rough idea of what we want to eat each week, and shop for these meals, and sometimes we will cook and freeze a batch of soup. But we've never tried something pre-planned on this order of magnitude.

[Thanks to my brother, Jeff, for sharing this info!]
More about...Food, Planning

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