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Category: Baking Day

Guest Post: Tackling Meal Planning–One Month At a Time!

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Guest Post by Tricia from

Meal
planning can be a bit of a challenge to even the savviest of
organizers. Planning each and every week can sometimes be time-consuming or tiring. I use to plan meals one week at a time and found
that it worked for me most of the time, but other times, I was too exhausted or didn't have new ideas or I would make a great plan only to
have plans change and not be able to use the meals, thus ingredients
going to waste! That's when I started doing once-a-month cooking (also
known as bulk cooking, freezer cooking, power cooking, and OAMC).

Most
people are overwhelmed at the prospect of making all of their meals for
the entire month in one day. They hear "8 hours in the kitchen" and
they leave about hyperventilate!

Don't get me wrong, 8 hours in the
kitchen is a long time, and tiring. But when you are finished, you have
enough meals to rarely step into the kitchen for another month! Not
only that, but you can also save money on your grocery bill as well because this method of planning and cooking will save you shopping trips and trips through the fast-food lane.

Here is a look at how a whole day in the kitchen can put more hours in
your day and money in your wallet:

Once-A-Month Cooking Saves You Time
Once-a-month
cooking does require an 8-10 hour cooking day (or split amongst several
days). However, if you do the math on the amount of time that you would
have spent in the kitchen preparing these meals throughout the month,
it would be substantially higher.

Once-a-month cooking saves time
because you are cutting, dicing, mixing, chopping, sautéing, and cooking
"like" ingredients all at once. For instance, instead of chopping onion
several nights each week for the entree you are making, you can chop
that onion all at once, then cook and package the meal.

In
my most recent once-a-month endeavor, I spent 8.5 hours in the kitchen.
At the end of the day I had 30 meals (a mix of breakfasts, lunches, and
dinners). The time I would have spent had I prepared these meals when I
was serving them would have been at least 30 hours. I don't know about
you, but I can find lots of things that I can do with an extra 22 hours
during the month!

One of the other ways that
once-a-month cooking saves time is that you don't have to perform a juggling act to get dinner on the table. The
stretch between 4:00 pm and 5:30 pm has to be the most hectic time of
the day in our household. My husband isn't home from work yet; I am
trying to appease my son so that I can get dinner finished in a timely
manner; and all he wants is for me to play with him—it gets rough! I
find myself frazzled and easily willing to forgo my menu plan to save
my sanity. When I have done once-a-month cooking, I instead pull out
one of my freezer meals, stick it in the oven and go play with my son
until it is ready. That is precious time that I can't afford to miss!

Once-A-Month Cooking Saves You Money
I
am amazed at how cooking "like" meals can really save you money in a
month. The savings comes in the fact that you are buying large
quantities of products at one time, hopefully when they are on sale or
when you have coupons. If you plan to make things that are in season,
you can also save money by buying ingredients when they are at their
lowest price point.

For smaller families, these bulk savings are not
usually possible because large quantities of food often spoil before it
can be consumed. With once-a-month cooking, you are preparing all that
food at once and don't have to worry about it going to waste. And it
will last in the freezer for several months!

In the last two months alone, we have cut our grocery bill in
more than half by doing once-a-month cooking. I decide what we are
cooking, shop the sales all month, and then prepare the meals that we
will be eating the following month. I usually spend approximately $75 to $130 for a month's worth of meals. That is around $2.60 to $4.33 per meal!

If you are
looking for ways to make your dinner time less hectic, spend more time
with your family, spend less money on your grocery bill, or develop an
effective way to menu plan, you should try once-a-month cooking. You
just might surprise yourself at how much you can save, both in your
wallet and by your watch!

Tricia recently had her first child and is getting used to her new
career as a stay-at-home mom in Ohio, where her family resides. She is
expecting her second child in December (don't ask the gender they
aren't finding out). She is trying to show others how to be good
stewards of their time and their money while still providing wholesome
and nutritious meal options to their families. Her website, , is dedicated to "making daily chores
monthly memories" by providing monthly meal plans, grocery lists,
instructions, recipes and more for families curious about once-a-month
cooking and baby food.

Note from Crystal: If you are planning to join us for our Baking/Freezer Cooking Day Tuesday and Wednesday of this week and are looking for a "plan of action", you might try using the  or the new . The  has
many make-ahead Thanksgiving recipes and lots of menu items that you
will find on sale right now at your local grocers. The  is
meant to be shopped throughout the month of November, cooked at the end
of the month, and consumed in December. However, you are welcome to shop
and use the menu now. Each menu includes recipes, a grocery list,
step-by-step instructions, and labels.

The Proposed Baking/Freezer Cooking Day List

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As I mentioned on Saturday, FishMama from and I are planning to host a Freezer Cooking Day on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. We'll be live-blogging our progress and sharing tips and recipes along the way on both of our blogs. If you'd like to join in the fun, you can , follow along on with the #bakingday hashtag, or just check our blogs for updates, pictures, and more!

Since our family is on a new schedule and I'm staying completely offline in the mornings so I can focus all of my energies and full attention on homeschooling and investing in/loving on my children, I'm planning on doing my baking and cooking from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. Check in here or on Twitter for my real-time progress updates.

In the mean time, here's my Proposed Freezer Cooking Plan:

Breakfasts:
Whole Wheat Waffles x 5
Granola

Main Dishes:
Chicken Tetrazinni x 4
Turkey Meatballs x 3
Farmhouse Chicken x 4
Chicken Broccoli Rice x 4
x 3

Snacks/Desserts:
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Sides:

Guest Post: Maximize Your Freezer’s Potential and Minimize Freezer Burn

After I live-blogged my Baking/Cooking Day last week, there were hundreds of questions asked about methods of freezing. I’m hoping to address many of these in future posts, but while you’re waiting on that, my friend Amy from offered to write a quick guest post on a creative way she’s discovered to maximize her freezer’s potential and minimize freezer burn. I think those of you who feel like you don’t have space or pans to pull off Cooking Ahead might just re-think that after reading her guest post!

Freezing meals ahead of time for busy days sounds like a great idea, in theory. But what about freezer space? What about pans? What about freezer burn?

A technique that my high school home economics teacher shared with us many years ago has stuck with me and served my family well when it comes to freezing meals. Here’s what works for us:

Prepare freezer meals in 8×8, 9×9, or other smaller pans. Anything that will fit in a gallon-sized freezer bag will work. Before filling it with food, line the baking dish with aluminum foil or freezer paper.

 

Fold the foil over the top and freeze the meal.

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Once frozen enough to hold its shape, pop it out of the baking dish. Seal the meal in a freezer bag, removing as much air as possible.

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When you are ready to use the frozen, there are two options: you can either remove the wrapping while the item is still frozen and place the food back into the original pan to thaw and bake. Or, you can just slip the whole thing (still wrapped in foil) in a pan and bake it making clean up a snap!

Here are just a few of the reasons I love freezing meals this way:

* The smaller pans prevent leftover burnout (If you have a large family, just pop two pans in the oven.)
* Several meals can be in the freezer while favorite baking dishes remain handy.
* There’s no need to purchase lots of expensive aluminum pans (or clean them!)
* Foil and freezer paper can often be found on sale with a coupon.
* Wrapping the meal and then sealing it in a bag prevents freezer burn.
* This method maximizes freezer space since the baking dishes aren’t stacked up.
* And, in light of yesterday’s post, it’s also worth mentioning that your freezer bags can be reused when food labeling is done on the foil or freezer paper.

Amy is a Tiny Town coach’s wife and mother of three convinced that the offer more joy than anything money can buy. 

Baking Day: Lasagna, Ziti, and a picture of the fruits of my labors

After the girls went to bed last night, I quickly whipped up three pans of lasagna and three pans of Ziti.

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The lasagna recipe was a new one ( to see it) that highly recommended. I'm curious to see how it tastes. It was easy to make and less expensive than usual lasagna since I can often get cream cheese for $0.50 per package (with a sale and a coupon)–which beats the price of cottage cheese or ricotta cheese that I'd usually use in lasagna.

I don't have a recipe for the Ziti because I just made it up on the fly using ground turkey, pasta sauce, cottage cheese, mozzarella cheese, noodles, and spices. I've learned that a great way to be frugal in the kitchen is to learn to be creative and flexible with ingredients!

After finishing up the pans of Ziti and Lasagna, I called it a day. I didn't get to quite everything on my list, but I did get a lot done yesterday–and that's a very good feeling! In fact, I was surprised at how much I'd gotten done when I laid everything out on the table to take a final picture:

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5 batches of Whole-Wheat Waffles
3 bags of browned ground turkey (we'll use this for homemade pizza or possibly pair it with pinto beans to make chili)
1 bag of cooked chopped chicken
1 batch of
5 bags of cooked Pinto Beans
3 pans of
3 pans of Ziti
3 meals of Chicken Tetrazinni
1 bag of Southwest Roll-ups

It was about seven hours' worth of work total to make all of that and I'm figuring it will make at least 20 dinners and 8-10 breakfasts. That is totally worth it to me for seven hours of work. Plus, it means I don't have to worry about "What's for Dinner?" many nights for the next month nor do I have to mess up my kitchen as much!

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Did you have a chance to do any baking or cooking this week? If so, post about it
on your blog and leave your link below to your direct blog post. I'd
love it especially if you could share pictures and recipes so I can get
more ideas for my next Baking Day projects! And I'm guessing many
others would be inspired as well.

Baking Day: Pinto Beans and Chicken Tetrazinni

Did you think I up and forgot about you? Nah, I just had to take a break for dinner and time with my husband. But everyone went down for an early bedtime so I'm trying to make the most of a quiet house!

Here's what I've done since my last update:

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I bought this big 10-pound bag of Pinto Beans at Sam's Club on Saturday for just over $6 so I used some of it to make a big pot of Pinto Beans. You can read how I cook these up here.

Once the beans cool, I will divide them into two-cup portions in bags and freeze them. Then, whenever I make a recipe which calls for canned beans, I can just use these instead. It's much cheaper and better for you, too. In addition, it's so easy to do.

I didn't have any brown rice on hand, otherwise I would have cooked some of that up, too, and then stuck it in the freezer in two-cup portions as well. It's so simple to then pull out a bag of rice and a bag of beans and thaw them overnight to use for a healthful and very inexpensive meal of beans and rice. (You can set out bowls of corn chips, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and cheese along with the beans and rice and let everyone build their own Mexican dinner on their plates. Or just serve plain beans and rice with cheese.)

In addition to the Pinto Beans, I made a double batch up Chicken Tetrazinni. This is an easy and inexpensive recipe which freezes well:

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(For the record, this looks a whole lot better cooked than uncooked!)
 
Chicken Tetrazinni (serves 4-6)

2 cups spaghetti, cooked and drained
2 cups chicken, cooked and diced
1 can cream soup (you can )
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup green pepper (or red pepper, as I used this time since I had some given to us from a friend's garden!), chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, grated

Saute onions and peppers in a little oil. Mix with the rest of the ingredients. Cool and put a freezer bag and freeze flat.

When ready to use, thaw and place in a 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until heated through. (I like to sprinkle with additional cheese.)

I doubled the recipe and split it into 3 freezer bags as it will be enough for three dinners for us.

Next up: Lasagna and Spaghetti Pie (and I haven't forgotten about the Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins; I just keep procrastinating on those!)

Baking Day: Southwest Roll-ups and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

I'm not meaning to leave you all hanging for hours on end, I just find that when I sit down to blog, I lose my focus. So I'm trying to stay off the computer more this Baking Day and just focus on, well, baking!

We also took a break from being in the kitchen to have our afternoon Reading Time. We love reading together and I try to make a point to read to everyone at least 20-30 minutes every day, even on those days when we take a break from our usual routine.

But here's what I've accomplished since I last checked in:

I finished all the waffles! I ended up with a mountain of waffles (five bags!) which should last us for every bit of 8-9 breakfasts. That means we should be stocked on waffles for at least another 5-6 weeks. And that's a great feeling. My picture of all of these will be coming in the final Baking Day photo.

I also chopped up all the chicken I had boiled and made up Southwest Roll-ups. These are one of our family's "staple recipes". You know, the kind that you turn to when you are feeling brain fried in menu-planning or just need a really easy dinner. I've been making these and freezing them ahead of time recently and have found this works well, too.

Southwest Roll-ups (makes 8 roll-ups)

1 can refried beans
1/4 cup salsa
1-2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
8 tortillas

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Mix together beans, salsa, and chicken.

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Spread 1/8 of mixture onto one tortilla. Sprinkle with cheese. Roll up and turn ends under. Stick in a freezer bag or in a 9×13 baking pan.

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When ready to bake, thaw and bake in a pre-heated 350 degrees oven for 20-30 minutes until heated through. Sprinkle with more shredded Cheddar cheese, if desired. Serve with salsa. Serves 4.

I bought this huge bag of chocolate chips at Sam's Club on Saturday so I made some (the recipe is ).

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I've heard there is a canned pumpkin shortage in some parts of the country, but I have quite a few cans which I bought a number of months ago for $0.25 each so I'm well-stocked. And now that I have plenty of chocolate chips, I'll likely be making more of these muffins as they are one of our favorites.

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I made them with all whole wheat flour and I don't think you can even
tell a difference. My husband loves these in his lunches! I stick them
in the freezer once they are cooled and then just pull out a few and
stick them frozen into a baggie into his lunch box. By lunch time, they
are thawed and ready to eat!

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(Picture from )

Next up: Chicken Tetrazinni and Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins