I work full time, my husband is in college, I have three kids, and I’m starting graduate school in January. Family meal time is important to us and we eat 95% of our dinners together and at the table. Healthy, delicious meals eaten as a family is a priority to me, but y’all I was on the struggle bus. We’re on a tight food budget and I need to make a $400 a month grocery budget for five people stretch (that figure doesn’t include non-food items). My time is also budgeted as Atticus likes to go to bed well before 8pm and we’re not all at home until 5:30 or later. How to fit in dinner, bathing, chores, stories, playtime, and cuddles in roughly two hours?
I immediately thought of once a month cooking, but in the past I found even figuring out how much stuff to buy overwhelming. The only exception is that when I was pregnant with Atticus my “nesting” took the form of once a month cooking. I made 25 meals in two days just a few weeks before Atticus was born. I had memories of many dishes, puffy feet, and crying into some ice cream. I didn’t know if I wanted to approach once a month cooking again, but then I landed on a perfect system.
The answer: Once a Month Meals.
Here’s how it works as laid out on their website:
Pick a menu based on the 7 different dietary preferences we offer, and customize to make it your own!
Gather and purchase your ingredients from your optimized, ready-to-go Shopping List.
Chop, dice, and slice to prepare all your ingredients according to your Prep Sheet.
Follow our customized, step-by-step Cooking Instructions to prepare your freezer meals quickly.
Cook, package, and freeze your meals according to your Recipe Cards for proper storing and freezing.
Prepare or reheat your meals and serve by reading the Label or your Thaw Sheet. Then serve and enjoy!
I’ve used the meal plans twice and I’ve learned several things along the way.
- Follow the recipes. Every recipe I made from Once a Month Meals was awesome with the exception of when I try to cut corners. For example, I hate making meatballs and meat patties. I tried to turn a Salmon Sweet Potato Quinoa patty into a meatloaf type thing and it really didn’t work. I no longer pick those types of recipes that make me impatient.
- Be smart about cutting corners. Frozen chopped onions = lifesaver. Using bagged “shredded” carrots instead of whirring them up in the food processor = totally not the same and I bungled a recipe.
- Mini-menus. If time and space are an issue, then do two mini-menus a month. This also helps with money. I’m paid weekly so I rarely have enough cash for a month long cooking shopping trip.
- Assess the needs of your family before planning your meals. I’m the only person who takes my lunch to work (my husband eats free in the cafeteria as a job perk and my kids eat at school) and none of us eat breakfast “meals” in the morning except on the weekends (we are much more likely to just grab a granola bar or yogurt). I really only need the dinners. For some odd reason I did two rounds with dinners, lunches, and breakfast. It was kind of a waste of money and time for me. In the future I’m just going to do dinner mini-menus.
I’m having a cook day on Saturday the 17th and I already have my meals planned for my mini-meal making session. I’ll be cooking up:
- Apple Cider Beef Stew
- Fresh From the Garden Butternut Squash Lasagna
- Chicken and Broccoli Bake
- Easy Chicken Lo Mein
- Slow Cooker French Dip
There’s something for everyone here. There is a range of menus to address dietary needs and you can also pick recipes based on preferred cooking methods (i.e. instant pot or slow cooker). If you don’t like a recipe it is easy to swap it for something else and you can adjust the portions and it will recalculate the shopping list, prep list, and cooking instructions.
It is $16 a month, but I’m saving so much money and time. On cook weeks I spend just over $100 to $120 on food and on weeks I’m not cooking I spend $50 on food. Another bonus? No dishes at night from prep work!
Let me know if you’ve tried a system like this and what you thought about it. I’m pleased as punch with Once a Month Meals.
Note: I am not being paid or compensated in anyway to write this review. I just really like this service!