I can’t even begin to count how many times I have made a list of all the meals my family likes to eat, broken it down into ingredients and planned to make several of those meals ahead of time. I can, however, tell you how many times I’ve made a month’s worth of meals in one day to put in my freezer, and that is zero.

What’s that saying about a paved road and some good intentions and something?

Honestly, Once a Month Cooking is overwhelming to me. I’ve done the research, I’ve collected recipes, I’ve made my lists, I’ve even bought a package of about 50 foil pans (thank you, Sam’s Club). But when it comes down to picking a day to devote to cooking, I just can’t pull the trigger.

However, cooking a bunch of food every once in a while? That I can do.

So here are the top 10 steps to giving up on perfect and cooking a lot of stuff in one day to have later down the road.

  1. Recruit your husband (or daughter or neighbor or mail man) to grill up a bunch of chicken. For me, “a bunch” was two bags of boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
  2. Buy and/or thaw 10 lbs. hamburger. Count them, because if you get halfway into your cooking and then realize you can only account for 9 lbs., well, I’m just saying you might get confused.
  3. Remember that you only have one big pan, so plan your cooking accordingly. Non-meat items first, unless you really want to scrub the meat bits off in between rounds.
  4. Chop up a bunch of onions. Do not attempt to photograph this activity, unless you a) are a professional or b) don’t mind having a shadow over the bottom half of your pictures.
  5. Make one recipe of cheesy potato casserole and split between two pans. Wonder why the recipe insists that you fold the hashbrowns and cheese into the soup and sour cream mixture. I say if I wanted to fold, I’d be doing laundry, right?
  6. Take a moment to note that it’s best not to do this cooking project late at night in the middle of the week all by yourself. I’m not saying you and a partner have to spend an entire Saturday doing this. But traveling the gamut of emotions, from gung-ho to determined to slaphappy (see #5) to dog tired, might be better saved for a project like painting the bathroom or organizing your collection of CDs and DVDs.
  7. Brown 3 lbs. of hamburger at a time (twice). Add onion, garlic and basil. Portion 5 lbs. into 1-lb. plastic containers.
  8. Boil water and add a box of pasta in your other pot that’s not really big enough but will have to do for tonight. Add remaining pound hamburger and spaghetti sauce. Pour into two pans.
  9. Chop and slice the chicken. Portion as you’d like into plastic bags. Double bag it if you’re too cheap to buy actual freezer bags.
  10. Brown 2 lbs. hamburger and add taco seasoning. Put last remaining pound of hamburger back into the fridge to use later.
If you add my husband’s grilling time to the time I spent on this project, it’s a total of less than three hours. And here’s what I got out of it:
  • 2 pans baked pasta (I’ll just need to add mozzarella and bake for 30 minutes.)
  • 2 pans cheesy potatoes (It’s nice to have a side dish other than corn or baked potatoes at the ready.)
  • 2 lbs. taco meat
  • 5 lbs. seasoned ground beef to use for spaghetti, pizza or sloppy joes
  • 1 bag of sliced grilled chicken for fajitas
  • 1 bag of chopped grilled chicken for pizza
  • 1 bag of grilled chicken halves for my daughter’s dinners
That’s about a dozen meals, plus leftovers. And once I use that last pound of hamburger to make some mini meatloaves for my daughter, I’ll have at least that many healthy meals for her, too.

Did I accomplish everything I put on the list this time? Um, no. For one, I didn’t bake a single muffin, even though I was totally prepared.

And for two, I didn’t make chicken spaghetti, macaroni and cheese or cheesy chicken casserole. Maybe next time. Because while spending three hours doesn’t yield a full meals for a month, it makes dinnertime at our house a lot easier. And who doesn’t like easier?

And let’s be honest here. If I have chopped up grilled chicken just a microwave minute away, then I don’t really have an excuse for eating half a bag of tortilla chips with Velveeta and salsa and calling it dinner, now do I?

Not that I would do that, of course…

Originally posted on May 7, 2009, at Once a Month Mom.

For some yummy recipes that you don’t have to make in advance or in bulk, visit A Southern Fairytale.

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