Last Saturday I did something I’ve always wanted to really try but have been completely intimidated by: “once a month” cooking or freezer meals or mass cooking or “smell like onions the rest of the weekend” … whatever you’d like to call it.

The idea is that you spend a couple of days devoted to grocery shopping, ingredient prep, and cooking, and then you have a freezer full of meals at your fingertips. It’s certainly an appealing concept when everyone is rushing around and there’s a constant cry of “What’s for dinner?!” It would also be useful for planning purposes so that you can’t default to Pei Wei or Chick-fil-a or whatever your own personal “easy-outs” are for dinner.

I’ve been using Plan to Eat to map out what we’ll have for dinner. (That is affiliate link – I believe in them enough to share them!) I spend about 30 minutes every so often and fill up 1-2 months of dinners at a time. I leave at least one blank day every week for leftovers or Chick-fil-a (let’s be real). PTE lets you build a shopping list for the week, month, whatever.

But let’s be real again — half the time we don’t do the shopping according to the menu plan. Half the time we don’t even have what’s on the menu that night because something else has come up or we realize at 5 pm that it was a slow cooker meal day. (Oops.)

What this DOES help us with is the most annoying question of the day: “What’s for dinner?”  No matter what, there’s something on the calendar. It has helped me get a little more accustomed to buying certain ingredients, so we can almost always make either that day’s meal or another meal from that week.

The once a month takes it even farther — stock the freezer full of meals, have a list of what’s available, and “shop” from the freezer to feed yourselves. It’s a great idea and really useful, but it does have its kinks to work out for each person. Some of the things I’ve learned from this first time out:

  1. If you’re cooking with friends, do one menu per cooking location. Competing recipes really eat up the available cooking and prep space. It’s also easier to share out the shopping, prep, and cooking duties if you’re only working on one menu, in case someone needs to bow out suddenly. (Like for family illness in our group.)
  2. Do what they say and shop, prep, and cook on different days! That is a LOT of food.
  3. Food processor. Amen.
  4. On this particular site we used, you can adjust the servings. I adjusted from a standard 4 servings to 6 servings. I think next time I’ll just adjust in multiples of 4. The recipes adjusted okay for portions, but not for dividing out in freezer bags, etc. I was supposed to end up with 2 meals of each recipe for 6 people. Instead, I ended up with 3 portions of meals … 2×6 = 12 and 3×4=12, and I think it didn’t quite work out as intended.
  5. Prepare to smell like onions for days.
  6. Read the recipe all the way through before throwing in a bag.
  7. If you’re printing double-sided to save paper, you may want to just do one recipe per double-sided. The way I printed (from my iPad), the recipes blended together and I’m pretty sure I read instructions wrong on at least one recipe.
  8. Put ice packs in your cooler when you’re loading up at someone else’s house … the idea of my newly combined bags of chicken sitting for hours without refrigeration freaked me out.
  9. Clear out your freezer to have room!

It’s a pretty good system, but WOW is it a lot of food and work. We’re still reaping the benefits, though, so I’m definitely going to do it again! Just maybe not EVERY month …