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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There are 7 comments to "Once-a-Month Cooking: Cooking for the Rushed".

  1. Jeff says 16 June 2006 at 09:15

    It should be noted that, at the time I wrote this, we had only completed one week of The Healthy Family, but have since completed most (if not all) of the weeks in the book — some of them multiple times. We have also added Getting Ya Through The Summer to our cookbook collection, and have been pleased with it as well. Now, if we would just get some decent weather so we could BBQ and eat outside!!!

  2. dabrfe says 16 June 2006 at 09:42

    We haven’t tried it, but some friends of ours got together to do once-a-week cooking. There are 3 families, and they each cook 1 night a week and make enough for all 3 families to get 2 meals out of it. On the 7th night, I guess they just pull something together or (heaven forbid) go out to eat.

    This is getting a little off-topic, but we rarely cook only enough for just 1 night (unless it is something quick, like sauteed lemon-pepper chicken). When I grill, I do at least 5 nights’ worth of food (I have a decent sized charcoal grill). When my wife buys boneless/skinless chicken (on sale, so she will buy several packages), she will prep about a dozen chicken parmesans (trimmed, flattened, seasoned, breaded, etc). and freeze them. When we want them, they go from the freezer into the skillet.

  3. The Technocrat says 16 June 2006 at 09:43

    When my wife wanted to do some personal training, I bought a video game instead, because it was cheaper than a trainer and gym membership. (Trainers are a better solution, but she was just looking for workout routines)

    The game comes with meal recommendations for a given daily caloric intake level. The PDF’s are available for free on the game’s web site.

    I’ve eaten most of the meals in the 1400-1800 range, and they’re not that bad! We would cook a few meals with 4 or 6 servings, and pack up the rest for the rest of the week.

  4. Michael Kaply says 16 June 2006 at 09:48

    Our family uses a place that lays out all the ingredients and then she goes and combines them into meals they create.

    So we get healthy meals and a variety of meals, and it is easier to budget.

    Also saves a lot of time in the kitchen, and avoids the impulse eating out.

  5. Andrew says 20 June 2006 at 10:24

    Check out Super Suppers (www.supersuppers.com) or some of the alternatives. These are companies that you go and make 6 or 12 meals designed to feed 6 people that you take home and freeze. Prices run about $130 for 6 and $225 for 12. Meals can be split in half (3 servings each). This makes your meal price per serving around $3-4. Simply take the meal out of the freezer a day or two ahead of time and put it in the fridge to thaw. Then that day decide on side items and cook, most meals take about 30 minutes. Lots of variety and new menus each month. Great for families on the go. Allows you to sit and eat together more often! Healthy ingredents like you would use at home, not processed frozen dinners.

  6. Jen says 02 November 2006 at 11:08

    I know this thread is old news, but Leanne of http://www.savingdinner.com has come up with three Mega Menu Mailers (under “freezer dinners” on the menu bar). Each has 20-22 meals that you can prepare at once, and freeze for later use. I have used the first one twice over now. The first time it took me two hours to shop and four hours to prepare all the meals. The second time I was an “old pro” at it, and was able to shop and prepare all the meals in three hours flat. The food is delicious, and even my picky son eats most everything on the menu. They’re a real bargain at $8.95 each and downloaded from the website.

  7. TheRoosterChick says 06 October 2009 at 11:07

    These were some really great tips – thanks!

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