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Once-a-Month Grocery Shopping and Cooking

February 24, 2009 · Filed Under Once a Month Cooking & Shopping · Comments 

Since we’ve had kids, my wife has become much more cognizant of what we all eat on a daily basis.  We certainly eat much healthier now that when she was an internal medicine resident and didn’t have the time to regularly meal plan for us  (let’s just say that I can certainly follow a recipe and do some cooking, but creatively planning a variety of meals is not my spiritual gift – "sure, tacos again…but they are so yummy!")

No, not one meal per month

Anyway, my wife recently got a copy of a book from Focus on the Family called Once-a-Month Cooking .  The basic idea is that you spend one (loooong) day per month preparing your meals (and then go out to dinner that night!).   The result is that you have a month’s worth of home cooked meals ready to reheat at any time.  And though frozen, these are "real" frozen meals – not those frozen TV dinners with who knows how much sodium in each serving.

Well, my wife read this book and is sold on trying it.  It actually makes a lot of sense from an efficiency standpoint.  Think of all the meals you cook throughout the month – aren’t there some that are repeated?  Some that have the same ingredients?  Think of it in terms of economies of scale: If it takes you a certain amount of time to prepare, boil, and clean-up one pound of chicken, it will only take you a small increment more time to do two pounds if you do them at the same time.

The book is actually quite exhaustive in that it lays out an entire month’s worth of meals complete with the exact shopping list for everything! Then it shows exactly how to prepare everything including the order to do each step to maximize those economies of scale.  I’m not sure if this will save any money, but she and I are just so excited for the potential time savings.

But wait, there’s more!

So I was sitting around the other day looking through a copy of an old Economides newsletter (you know – America’s Cheapest Family ) and what do I read there?  Well, I read that they spend $350 per month on groceries and household goods.  And I read that one of their strategies is to shop only one day per month! So, you see where this is going, right?  This dovetails perfectly and now I’m really excited – if we are going to cook only one day per month, maybe we should only shop one day per month as well!

So, we have this huge shopping list prepared and we are gearing up to put this into practice for the first time this weekend.  I’m not actually concerned about saving money, but I really, really would like to realize some time savings. If you’re only at the grocery store once a month, think of all the "quick trips" (that actually take at least 40 minutes) that will be eliminated (saving time) and all the impulse buys as well (saving money).

The downside

So, it is going to be pretty crazy to buy a month’s worth of food and paper goods in one shopping trip.  Actually, we are planning a trip to Sam’s Club to try out their Click’n’Pull deal for the first time and then we’ll hit a regular grocery store for the remainder of the list.  But I’m anticipating having to fold down the back seat in the minivan to fit all these groceries in there.  Certainly, you have to have room to store all of the food too…that might be a bit iffy for us.  We do have a big freezer out in the garage, though, which does seem like a necessity to implement this plan.

And then there’s the bill. It’s not going to be cheap.  But, if it works out right, at least this will be the only trip this month.

Like I said, we are putting it into practice this weekend.  We’ll be shopping Friday and cooking Saturday.  I will let you know how this goes.  Of course, it might not look so pretty on Saturday evening, but I’m hoping that three Saturdays from now, after no more trips to the store and yummy meals each night with no real "cooking," that it will have been well worth it.

Has anyone tried either or both of these before?  If so, did it work?  Do you have any suggestions/comments/warnings?

Photo Credits: Mykl Roventine

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15 Responses to “Once-a-Month Grocery Shopping and Cooking”

  1. D on February 24th, 2009 2:29 pm

    I have heard of it and visited many blogs that are dedicated to it, but I have not tried it myself. I look forward to hearing how it turns out for you and your family. Good Luck!

  2. Debt Free Adventure on February 25th, 2009 11:26 am

    Wow John, this sounds like quite a change in operations!

    I’m glad your wife is not only “on-board” but seems to be the motivating factor. It truly is a blessing when a spouse shares in your passions (and can be very destructive if the opposite is true).

    I would REALLY appreciate an update on this post, because if it works well for you I may consider adopting the philosophy!


    Debt Free Adventure´s latest blog post…A Healthy, Quick, Affordable, & Delicious Breakfast Idea

  3. Carrie on February 26th, 2009 2:49 pm

    We do once-a-month grocery shopping and love it. After a couple big shopping trips you get the hang of it and you can pretty much use the same grocery list everytime. The downside is that the checkers look at you like you’re crazy and it can be a hassle if you use a lot of coupons.
    Good luck. Let us know how it turns out.

  4. John on February 27th, 2009 9:00 am

    @D & @Debt Free Adventure – I am planning on doing another post next week to detail how our first weekend of doing this goes. I placed my Sam’s Club Click-n-Pull order yesterday…so I’m excited to say that it’s in process!

    @Carrie – thanks so much for sharing that this is actually possible! I’m assuming that you have noticed a decrease in time spent at the grocery store throughout the month – have you noticed any monetary benefit?

  5. Carrie on February 27th, 2009 3:51 pm

    There is definitely a monetary benefit. Last year our average spending at the grocery store was $195/month. We cook healthy and eat 90+% of our meals at home too.

  6. Matt Keegan on February 27th, 2009 8:33 pm

    I would be concerned about freezer burn or messing up one the ingredients if I were to cook everything at once. Still, it seems like a good way to save time and money, things we just cannot get enough of.

    Matt Keegan´s latest blog post…Your Needs, God’s Supply — Philippians 4:19

  7. Alissa MacPhee on March 11th, 2009 1:27 pm

    Hi there,
    I’ve been doing this for a few months now, and it is working beautifully! I have 2 small children at home, and am expecting my 3rd any day now, and time is at a premium. I started doing weekly meal planning about a year ago, and found it really reduced the stress of asking myself “what’s for supper” every day around 4:00, and then rummaging through the pantry and fridge to see what I could scrounge up… usually I’d end up calling my husband and either asking him to stop at the grocery store (resulting in a VERY late dinner), or go through the drive-through on his way home. This was clearly inefficient and wasteful.

    Weekly planning was better, but I found I was repeating a lot of meals, and it still didn’t seem as efficient as it could be. So I started by making a list of all the meals our family likes to eat. It’s very important to me to feed my family a healthy, balanced diet, so I tried to incorporate a variety of grains, legumes, and good fats into our menu. Then I drew up a grid, writing Saturday-Sunday across the top, and weeks 1-4 down the side. It was just a matter of plugging in meals. This made it SO much easier to balance our meals throughout the month. I tend to stick to themes which makes it even easier (Sunday is always soup day, Monday is stir-fry on a different grain each week, Tuesday is legumes (a different legume each week), Wednesday is casserole and salad, Thursday is pasta and homemade bread, Friday is veggie burgers, some kind of potato, and some kind of vegetable (again, different each week), and Saturday is homemade pizza night). I just plugged in a meal for each day, and then compiled my grocery list. I have a “monthly” grocery list, and then 4 “weekly” grocery lists for fresh items (which my husband can pick up quickly on his way home from work Friday nights). I added to my monthly list the staples that we also need throughout the month, things like flour, oils, etc., as well as household and personal care items – toilet paper, dish soap, recycling bags, toiletries, etc., and estimated how much of each of those items we’d need for the whole month. On the first Saturday of each month, I get up early, list and coffee in hand, and head to the grocery store, all by myself. 🙂 It usually takes me a couple of hours, and usually I have to do half my load, pay, take it out to the car, and then go back and continue (the cart gets WAY too heavy for me to push!). I should also add that my grocery list is organized according to the way the grocery store is laid out. Trust me, when your cart is loaded to the brim, and you’re halfway through the store, the last thing you want to realize is that you forgot something in produce!

    I do have to have the rear seats folded down in the van in order to fit everything in. Then I bring it all home, and my husband lugs everything in. On that day, I simply get all of the groceries put away – usually I’m exhausted by then! Then the next day, I do some prepping and cooking. We’re not big fans of frozen meals, per se, and we are vegetarian, so a lot of what we eat is fresh produce, grains, and legumes. But there are lots of things I can still make ahead and stick in the freezer. For instance, since we have pizza 4x/month, I do a double-large batch of pizza dough, split it into 4 balls, wrap, and freeze. Same with pizza sauce; make enough for 4 pizzas, split, and freeze. Mozzarella gets grated into pizza-sized servings, and frozen. I prefer to make my own condiments, so salad dressings, etc., can be made ahead of time. Celery can be washed, trimmed, and stored in water. This isn’t exactly once-a-month cooking, but doing things in batches is definitely a time-saver! And then once it’s done, I get to sit back and enjoy the rest of the month. 🙂

    The beauty of the system is that I can recycle my meal plan and grocery list month after month. There might be the odd recipe we get tired of and replace with something else, but for the most part we have a good variety, and it works well. I do feel it saves us a little bit of money, but most importantly it saves time and stress.

    Sorry for the long, drawn-out reply! Thought you might like hearing that this can be done successfully, and that it’s a real sanity-saver! Look forward to hearing how your family makes out with it.


    Alissa MacPhee´s latest blog post…Still here. 🙂

  8. John on March 11th, 2009 11:28 pm

    @Matt – freezer burn is definitely a consideration so we will try hard to get everything eaten within 4-6 weeks. I’m not sure how the food will hold up longer than that.

    @Alissa – Wow, that is fantastic that it works out so well for you. Success stories like yours are great to hear. I feel that using the book we bought that provides all the steps necessary for the shopping and cooking for a month was a good way to get started without feeling even more overwhelmed than we were. I think we will eventually move to a system more similar to yours as we get more adept at the process. You seem extremely organized, Alissa. 🙂

  9. Alissa MacPhee on March 12th, 2009 8:05 am


    Buying a book was probably a very smart thing to do. 🙂 It might not have taken me so long to figure it out if I had done some reading ahead of time! As for the organization, believe me, it was born of necessity! I used to be extremely DISorganized, but I’ve realized that when you have small children, disorganization is not your friend. 🙂
    I’m really enjoying your blog, John!

    Take care,

    Alissa MacPhee´s latest blog post…Still here. 🙂

  10. Breads Recipes on April 13th, 2009 2:59 pm

    So how is it turning out John?

  11. Amish Friendship Bread Starter Recipe on January 3rd, 2010 3:15 pm

    I truly can’t get enough of Amish Cooking.
    They’ve had a lot of time to perfect their craft, that’s for sure!
    Amish Friendship Bread Starter Recipe

  12. THeBAker on March 1st, 2010 7:33 pm

    Great Post!!!

  13. Exact Bags on August 30th, 2010 4:51 am

    Great read, I just handed this onto a friend who was doing a little homework on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him…. smile.. So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!But yeah Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and enjoy learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.

  14. Market Basket Circular on August 14th, 2011 1:27 pm

    Great post, I forwarded it my friend who is a big shopper.

  15. Best Cooking Recipe Book on September 19th, 2011 6:53 pm

    thx for your informations

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