My first experience with OAMC

We ate the last freezer meal yesterday. What a wonderful month it has been – every time I felt I did not quite have the energy to make dinner, or to go shopping, there was something yummy to pull out of the freezer to feed my family. I only made about 10 meals last month when I tried Once A Month Cooking for the first time, but it positively impacted my whole month! I will definitely be doing this again, probably as soon as next week.

For any of you who may want to try this for the first time, I thought I’d pass along what worked and didn’t work for me. First, what not to do…

Don’t do this alone – if you can positively help it. It would have been a marathon and I wouldn’t have succeeded with out the willing hands and good company of my sis-in-law, Elise. Every time I turned around, she was washing dishes again, like she was addicted or something. Find someone who is willing to try it with you – even if it means you have to split the meals, and not get as much stuffed into your own freezer. I found that even just the 10 meals made a huge difference in my month.

Don’t do it all in one day – I did a lot of prep work the day before. Actually, I went shopping Tuesday, Prepped food Wednesday, and did the actual assembly on Thursday, so it was a three day process. Here’s what I did the day before:
-soaked beans, cooked in crock pot overnight
-baked chicken breasts
-made stock
-made cream of chicken soup
-thawed meat
-made mayonnaise
-soaked rice
-soaked pasta dough
I also had already sprouted and dried grain and ground it for pastry, and all my cheese was already grated and in the freezer.
(right- rice and pasta dough soaking the day before)

Don’t try too many new recipes – It’s a lot faster to throw together a casserole you’re already familiar with, then to have to keep studying the recipe that you’ve never done before. Plus, if you don’t end up liking the new recipe, you’re stuck with 2 more of the same dishes in the freezer! If you try a new recipe, don’t make it one of the dishes you make multiples of.

Now for the tips of what worked for me…

Make a plan! You gotta have a plan! List each dish you are going to make, then the individual steps to build each dish. (ie. “Chicken Divan – cook rice, steam broccoli, make sauce, layer, sprinkle with cheese”) Next, figure out which steps dishes have in common (“peel potatoes” was a common step for three dishes). Now, plan which tasks you you will do in what order so the meals can come together smoothly. I began by getting the rice and pasta cooking, then peeling and cutting all the veggies. We cleaned up the veggie scraps, and browned two large batches of ground beef, one with onions, one without, while chopping the chicken I’d cooked the day before. Finally, we made the sauces and began combining ingredients and assembling each casserole as all of it’s components were ready.

Do the math! List all the ingredients to each dish, adding together how many carrots, potatoes, or stalks of celery you need total, then prep these all at once.

Double up! Plan to make at least two dishes from each recipe you use. This is something I didn’t really plan to do the first time, but with just a bit more time, I could have made two of each dish and had 20 meals! That’s how you get a month’s worth of cooking done – multiples of each dish. You’re already filling those burritos and have all the ingredients prepped – why not make another dozen? Just remember to shop for and prep enough ingredients. Also, use the same prep dishes over and over – make a sauce, rinse the bowl, make the next one, use the same spatula, etc. You may still have a lot of dishes, though!

Enjoy! Don’t hoard those freezer meals once you get them all made! They’re meant to be eaten – don’t give yourself a guilt trip each time you thaw one instead of cooking dinner from scratch. You did the work, now enjoy the fruit of your labors!

 Completed meals cooling in the mudroom.

 Finally, here’s a list of some the dishes we made…
Chicken Divan – a family favorite, freezes so well
Baked Spaghetti – the kids devoured this! personally, I felt it needed a little spicing up
Beef and Spinach Quiche – a new favorite – will make multiples of this next time!
King Ranch Chicken Casserole – a little more involved, worth every bite.

Nest time I do this, I plan to have some soups and things like straganoff and meatsauce on the menu, ’cause I can freeze those in bags or jars. I really need more casserole dishes, ’cause I used every one I had the last round. I’m also going to make sure I plan to make double or triple of dishes that are favorites. Oh, and make some breakfasts while I’m at it! My friend, Naomi, the one who inspired me to try this last month, just finished this month’s cooking, and made several breakfast items like egg-McMuffins and breakfast casseroles. Sounds like a great idea! Though maybe concentrate on breakfasts on a separate day. I’m excited for Round Two.

Do you have a favorite casserole or other recipe that freezes well or is easy to make in advance? I would love some new ideas for next week’s menu! Thanks!

And for more tips on fighting what I call “Kitchen Combat Fatigue”, visit this post from the archives,
and be sure to read the comments my awesome readers posted with suggestions of their own!

13 responses to “My first experience with OAMC”

  1. Stephanie Avatar

    I love freezer meal cooking! A little tip I learned for casseroles – if you want to, you can grease your pan and line it with parchment paper, then freeze your meal in it. After it’s frozen you can pop the meal out and wrap it up, and still have your dish to use in the meantime! Then just pop your meal into its dish when you’re ready to cook it.

  2. Trina Avatar

    MissionaryMamma – I'm so glad you stopped by – thanks for visiting and your lovely comment. If you like this post, you'd love my book – it's full of this kind of practical advice for saving time and effort in the kitchen! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. missionarymomma Avatar

    This must sound funny, but I am almost in tears reading this wonderful site. I feel so encouraged and really needed this.

    Years ago I did freezer meals and loved it. I like your tip about not hoarding but going ahead and using them. Giving them away is rewarding too.

    As soon as we get a freezer, i want to do this again.

  4. johnswife Avatar

    i tried this once.. but it didnt work for me.. i kept wanting to save the casseroles for a day when i would really need them, consequently the all ended up with freezer burn!! LOLOL

  5. Trina Avatar

    Sarah, that's when having my sis-in-law over really came in handy! We spelled each other when the kids needed us, so that there was always someone in the kitchen. Oh, and videos. And naps. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Well, Traci, you do have to have freezer room! ๐Ÿ™‚ But you could use the principle and prep dry mixes for muffins for breakfast or cornbread for dinner…

  6. SarahElisabeth Avatar

    How did you manage with the children? This sounds a great idea but trying to cook this amount and amuse little ones seems difficult.

  7. Traci Avatar

    I'm grateful for the tinfoil comment because I've always wondered for a different way.

    We like king ranch chicken too. My husband doesn't like many casseroles (he likes to have his foods separate I think?.. or maybe just bad memories of failed recipes from years ago?) but that one is always a success, along with a couple others.

    What I'm really envying is your abundant freezer space. I can fit one casserole in among the meat and fruit in our freezer usually. *sigh* someday I'll have another freezer!

  8. Trina Avatar

    Stephanie – things do expand when frozen, but there's usually plenty of room for the food to 'swell' upward in a casserole dish. The danger comes in small mouth glass jars filled too full! (voice of experience) Thawing them was a bit of a joke – IF I pulled them out at lunch and just set them on the counter, they were ready to cook for dinner. I usually forgot till 3PM and then I had to put it in the oven, frozen, on low, and some nights it wasn't hot through by dinner so we ate around the edges! LOL Simply poor planning on my part.

    Yes, Natalie – I want to try meatloaf, and I love Shepard's pie as well – I'm putting it on the list…

    Glenda, thank you so much for you lovely comment, and suggestions! I had heard some of these tips before – I was actually out of tinfoil the day I tried this, but that is a good idea!

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    For some reason I am always drawn to your blog, you radiate beautiful inspiration. So finally I have to comment, because I'm rooting you on in your OAMC efforts. Try this so you don't have to buy more casserole dishes, (because it looks like you already have many)- line the casserole pan with heavy duty foil before assembling the casserole. Leave about 8 inches of foil sticking out on both sides so that you can fold it over the top. Once it has frozen, you can easily lift it out of the pan and stack it in your freezer and the pan will now be available for you to use if you want to cook something else in it. Then, when you decide you want to bake the frozen casserole, just place it right back in the same pan to thaw for a day in the fridge and then bake.

    If you decide to freeze some soups or sauces in bags, here's another tip I like to use- Take a gallon size can and you will be happy to know a gallon ziploc lines the can perfectly, which makes it so easy to fill up the bag, rather than trying to hold it with one hand and pour stuff into it. And I'm sure you already do this– be sure to always label the date, etc. on your foil or bags. I will try some of these recipes you shared, thanks!

    glenda ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. newtocooking Avatar

      Thank you so much Glenda for your casserole freezing and gallon can tips! I can’t wait to try them ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Natalie_S Avatar

    Grandmom and Granddad freeze lots of marinara, meatballs, bran muffins, pasta fagioli, enchiladas, lasagna, carrot or chocolate cake, pesto and soup stocks of all kinds, and really just leftovers.

    My freezer is too small to store much (especially considering my frozen fruit smoothie habit), but I've frozen and enjoyed baked shells or ziti, shepherd's pie, chicken and spinach casserole, various soups, and (of course) chicken stock. I imagine that meat loaf would also freeze really well.

  11. Mrs. Guthrie Avatar

    What a FANTASTIC idea!! It seems great for non-pregnant, busy moms, not just pregnant ones!! ๐Ÿ˜€ Thanks for the ideas and advise!

  12. Stephanie Avatar

    Did you really freeze them in the glass dishes? I was wondering what you froze them in.I am always worried about freezing glass since sometimes they break.How did you thaw them before cooking them?Didn't you miss those dishes while they were in the freezer?I know questions, questions. ๐Ÿ™‚

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