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I Am Not Very Good at Once-a-Month Shopping

June 25, 2009 · Filed Under Once a Month Cooking & Shopping · 4 Comments 

But I LOVE once-a-month-cooking!

My wife and I have been trying once-a-month cooking and shopping for a few months now and it has been a mixed bag.  Personally, I love the idea of only canvasing the grocery store aisles once a month and my wife loves the idea of only cooking once a month (and still having home-cooked meals the rest of the month).

The grocery store beckons…

Unfortunately, we just can’t seem to stay out of the grocery store. We are much better than we used to be but we fall quite a bit short of our once-a-month target.  I’m not 100% sure why we are having such a hard time with it.  It is not just that we have to run out occasionally for an item or two, either.  We seem to be coming back with fairly long receipts (and lighter wallets) whenever we go!

Part of it is poor planning maybe as we’re still trying to get our monthly list worked out.  Part of it is extenuating circumstances like guests coming over for dinner and similar events.  Part of it is simple logistics (we simply do not have enough space to store the amount of milk we drink in a month!).  I do need to be more diligent about analyzing the added trips to the store in order to continue to refine our process and get us heading back toward our once-a-month (even twice-a-month would be an improvement!) goal.

On the other hand, once a month cooking has been awesome

Though there are a few reasons for our inability to stay out of the grocery store, our normal meal cooking is not one of them.  My wife has done a fantastic job of planning for once-a-month cooking, buying everything that is needed in a single trip, and cooking up those 14+ meals.  Yes, I realize 14 is less than 30, but with leftovers, occasional dinners out, dinners with family and friends, we don’t need anywhere near 30 meals for a month.

I am really enjoying the cooking plan as it allows us to have a good meal (did you realize that not everyone considers taco night a “good” meal?  What’s up with that?) even on the days my wife works without requiring me to take a bunch of time from my job to accomplish that.  The single day of cooking is still a significant chore, but my wife has streamlined that quite a bit since our first try.  That first time, we both stayed up late Friday evening preparing food and then my wife and mother-in-law cooked ALL DAY on Saturday (early morning until dinner time).  This last time, my wife got up early on a Saturday morning and was finished cooking by approximately lunch time.

She has used the Once a Month Cooking book since she started down this road.  Though it’s not perfect, I do recommend it as a book to get you started.  In planning for this upcoming day of cooking, however, she has started to adapt some of her other recipes and incorporate them into the plan.  This obviously makes the planning more difficult.  The advantage is that she typically uses a great cookbook (great for me because the meals are quite tasty and great for her because they are very easy to prepare) titled The One-Armed Cook.  The recipes in this cookbook are much easier to prepare than in the other book, so hopefully this will save her even more cook time.

Of course, this is a still work in progress as she attempts to optimize the plan, integrate in some other recipes (and family favs), and figure out the best way to do all of this.  I’m trying to get her to write a blog on something – maybe this would be a good topic for her to add to the once a month cooking blogs out there.

So, in summary, we continue to optimize the plan.  The more I get into it though (we’ve done this for about 5 months now), the more I recommend both once-a-month cooking and once-a-month shopping (I just need to figure out how to be better at the shopping part!).

Some tips on getting started with Once a Month Cooking

1. Try it…but consider starting small – maybe try to cook a week’s worth of meals your first time instead of an entire month’s worth.

2. Get some help – childcare and/or cooking help.  My wife does most of the cooking but I usually tend to the kids and follow her around and clean pots, pans, measuring cups, utensils, etc as she cooks)

3. Follow a prescribed recipe pattern before you try it with your own recipes – this will help ensure that nothing is overlooked while you’re getting used to the process.

4. Make sure you set aside enough time (for planning and cooking)

5. Make sure you have enough space to freeze everything – it doesn’t have to be too crazy though because you can freeze most meals flat in Ziploc bags and stack them to save space.  This is another reason to start small.

6. Don’t shop too far in advance – the ingredients take up a lot of space so you don’t want them overrunning your kitchen for too long.

7. Look over the recipes beforehand to make sure there are no surprises

8. Take your family size into account – some recipes can be split in half to make two meals for smaller families or you may have to double everything if you have a big family (or teenage boys).

9.  Check out blogs for help – I found two blogs after a brief search, please comment below if there are other great ones to read.

10. Seriously, try it – you might like it!

Once-a-Month Shopping and Cooking Checkpoint: Month 1 Completed

April 7, 2009 · Filed Under Once a Month Cooking & Shopping · 2 Comments 

It has been about a month since we started our experiment with once-a-month shopping and cooking.  We spent some major moolah at the grocery store and then my wife spent one very long day cooking.  To get the full scoop, check out the posts where I mentioned getting ready to try it , where I discussed our first weekend , and then gave an update on our experience after a week .

So after a month….

It’s been about a month since we did our big shop and cook, so that means it must be time to hit the grocery store again.  The only problem is that we still have a ton of meals left!  My wife originally made 32 meals (she divided 2 of them in half for freezing) and we still have 12 left in the freezer!  I guess that means we will need to adjust our strategy slightly.  Remember, the month plan calls for literally 30 meals – one for every day.  Our family just does not eat that many meals at home in a month.  We occasionally eat out, eat with friends/family, usually eat Wednesday night at church, etc.

Our non-meal supplies are running out (I’ve been dangerously low on salsa for a week or so), so we definitely need to get to the grocery store again.  We certainly do not need to do a full shop and spend another day cooking 30 more meals, however.

We’re altering our once-a-month plan

For this coming month, we will continue to do the once-a-month plan (I absolutely love not having to go into the store for the entire month!)  We will do our "staple" shopping the same way we did last month.  By staples, I mean all the normal stuff you need for a household – cereal, milk, fruit, veggies, snacks, drinks, toilet paper, salsa, beef jerky (all the essentials).  We will push off the meal shopping and cooking for at least another 2 weeks.  When we do another round of meal cooking, we will only do a 2-week cycle and make 14 meals.  For our family,  I think this will still last a month.  And it will take a lot less money to buy and a lot less time to cook 14 meals instead of 30!  We are also going to take another trip to the store at 2-weeks for fresh stuff like fruits that won’t last a month and milk because we don’t have room to store a month’s worth.

Hopefully this month we’ll save some money

I felt like we spent a lot of money on groceries last month – as I mentioned, we spent over $700 during our shopping weekend.  We actually did pretty well, there were very few things that we had to get during the month (other than milk…a lot of milk).  This month, since we don’t have to do the meal shopping, we are looking to spend much less.  My wife took a trip to the grocery store yesterday and spent a little less than $100 and I have a Click-N-Pull order in at Sam’s Club for ~$150 plus tax.  That is obviously much less than we spent last month.  Even with another trip in the middle for milk and fresh stuff, I am hoping that we will get nowhere near $700 this month.

What have we learned so far

The most obvious takeaway is that we drink a tremendous amount of milk – but I already knew that.  We simply can not buy a month’s worth of milk as we would not have the space to freeze all of it.  So, I’m going to start off with 8 gallons and hope that lasts us at least half of the month.

The main thing I learned is that I consume a vast quantity of salsa each month.  I totally lucked out and found the kind of salsa that I like (second to my homemade salsa based off my buddy Spencer’s recipe) at Sam’s club so I ordered a jar.  Have you ever seen a 47 oz jar of salsa?  It was a bit larger than I expected.  The bad part is that I ate all of it this month – in fact, it was basically gone a week ago!

Once-a-Month Shopping and Cooking Update

March 10, 2009 · Filed Under Once a Month Cooking & Shopping · 9 Comments 

It has been a week since we tried our hand at once-a-month shopping and cooking and so far the results have been great.  Before last week, I discussed how we were going to make an attempt at grocery shopping and cooking only once a month and then followed that up with the results of our first weekend of it .

Once-a-month Shopping

Ok, so I must sheepishly admit that we have already been to the store again…well, sorta.  Neither my wife nor I have actually stepped into a grocery store, but we did have my mother-in-law pick up some milk for us when she was out shopping the other day.  In fact, we asked her to pick up four gallons of skim milk and another gallon of whole.  If you add that to what we bought last weekend, that’s eight gallons of skim milk and 2 gallons of whole that we’ve bought so far this month.  That seems like a lot to me – my wife and daughter drink a tremendous amount of it each day.

When we did our first big shop, I was nervous about how well the milk would freeze so I purposely did not buy enough for the month.  So far we have been happy with the frozen milk (after it defrosts, at least) so I will be more comfortable with buying more next month.  Of course, at this pace I am not sure we’d be able to fit a month’s worth of milk in our freezer anyway.

Other than that, we do have a list started up of things we are already running out of and will probably have to replenish before the month is up.  So far it is not huge so that’s good.  We are treating it as a learning experience as I think it will take a few months before we get a good feel for how much of everything we need to buy to last a month.  Fortunately, we are not out in the jungles of Brazil (like some of our friends) so if we do run out of something, we can make a quick jaunt to the store.  That being said (besides having my mother-in-law pick up some milk), we will probably try to make one more trip to the store about half-way through the month.  We don’t want to fall back into making frequent store trips and the wasted time and impulse buys that accompany them.

It’s actually a pretty nice feeling to not have been in grocery store in a week.  And an even nicer feeling knowing that I probably will only venture into a grocery store one more time this month.

Once-a-month Cooking

Oh, I have eaten very well this week.  Actually, I usually eat very well every week as my wife (who does most of the cooking) is a very good cook and she takes time to plan out tasty meals for us.  So, I guess the big change would be whether it was easier to prepare these tasty meals.

My wife is happy with the time that it takes to prepare the meal each evening.  It is definitely less time consuming that cooking a normal meal.  And these are real meals here, too, not macaroni and cheese from a box.  An unanticipated bonus is that meal cleanup is faster as well.  Instead of using multiple bowls and measuring spoons/cups and pots/pans, all of that is already done and usually a single skillet is used to heat up the meal (with maybe pasta cooked up in another pot).  The verdict thus far is less time cooking and less time cleaning up.

So far we have eaten Mrs. Ringle’s Brisket (phenomenal), Spaghetti with homemade sauce (excellent), some strange ham and cheese thing in a pie crust (so-so), barbecue chicken (excellent flavor), and taco pie (very good).  All but one of the meals this week were really, really good.  Through one week, the once-a-month cooking is a winner!

Photo Credits: hive and karindalziel

Our First Attempt at Once-a-Month Shopping and Cooking

March 3, 2009 · Filed Under Once a Month Cooking & Shopping · 4 Comments 

Well, it was an interesting weekend at our household. We started off with some grocery shopping on Friday, a very long Saturday of cooking (for my wife), and a Sunday of snow culminating in a snow day for everyone on Monday!

Two shopping trips on Friday

Friday morning we stopped by Sam’s Club to pick up our first attempt at a Click’n’Pull order.  We spent $123.60 on an assortment of products.  As it turned out, that was only the preview…the main event was to come later that evening.  After dinner, my wife, son, and younger daughter headed out to Kroger where the real fun began.  After about 2 hours of shopping, we had completely filled up two shopping carts.  And when I say completely, I mean completely – the food was mounded up over the top of both carts.  The final tally was $582.30!  The price was high but the total amount of time expended for all this shopping was not too bad.  About 30 minutes to pick up the order at Sam’s Club and two hours at Kroger.  I think those numbers can be reduced a bit too in the future once we get used to the routine.

At least when you spend almost $600, you get some minor benefits.  My wife stated that she felt like a celebrity.  As we checked out, obviously the clerk checking us out was there and they had to have two guys bag and pack it up and take it out to the car for us.  And the manager came up and was chatting with my wife and gave our kids stickers and ran back and got us another dozen eggs after ours broke.

When we tell people that we’re attempting this, the first question we usually get is "won’t the fruit and veggies and milk spoil before the month is over?"  For the vegetables, we bought mostly frozen ones ready to microwave and my wife saved time cooking buying some (onions, peppers) that were already chopped and frozen.  I realize this was more expensive than fresh vegetables, but remember that at this time, saving time was our main focus.  We are staging fruits to see if we can stretch out the single shop throughout the month.  We bought bananas, apples, and oranges.  We will eat the bananas first and then the oranges and finally the apples which should be able to last most of the month in the refrigerator.  Finally, we are attempting to freeze extra gallons of milk.  The containers bought from Sam’s have a lot of extra space at the top, so we just stuck a few in the freezer as is.

Cooking and Cooking and …

We got started on the cooking Friday evening with chopping and peeling and slicing, etc.  We actually stayed up pretty late trying to get a head start on Saturday.  I have to admit that at the end of the evening, when I was cutting up seven pounds of cooked chicken breasts, I was oh-so-tired and my back was starting to feel very uncomfortable.  I was absolutely exhausted the next morning when I woke up early (seriously, I can’t remember a time recently when I was that tired)

My wife and her mother did all the cooking and childcare Saturday while I was at the Iron Sharpens Iron Conference in Colonial Heights, VA.  Yes, I do realize this was terribly bad timing (or good timing depending on your point of view).  We had discussed this last week and my wife really wanted to put this plan into action, so she decided to go ahead with her mom’s help instead of pushing it back.

She started cooking around 7 am and took a break around 3 pm to take a shower and get ready to go out.  She cooked a little bit more and then had just a few things to finish up after we came back. (Our friend Brian – who also runs – had his ordination service to officially become a Presbyterian pastor – Congrats!). All in all, my wife spent about 9 hours cooking on Saturday.

An exhausting weekend is over, now we’re hoping for some benefits…

The (interim) final verdict is so far, so good.  My wife had an exhausting weekend but is still optimistic overall.  As long as this saves time during the month cooking, then it will be worth it.  The next time that we do this (which will hopefully be for closer to 6 weeks from now) I will be available and we still might get someone to come help with childcare.

Regarding the once-a-month shopping, unfortunately I do not think that we will be able to hit that target this time.  We have already found a few items that we did not purchase and will probably run out of this month.  So, that is a bit frustrating, but we assumed that we would not be 100% successful on our first attempt.  I am going to try to keep very good records on what we bought and what we still need throughout the month in the hope that we can optimize this over the next few months.

That being said, I still think it will be better than haphazardly going to stores whenever something small is needed.  My new goal for the first month is to only take one more trip about half way through to pick up the items we missed.

The review?  Two forks up

So far we have only tried one of the meals.  We ate "Mrs. Ringle’s Brisket" and it was wonderful .  It’s one of those meals where you hope everyone else fills up early so there’s plenty left for you to have seconds (and thirds!).    If all the meals even approach that one, I’m going to be eating like a king for the next month or so!

Of course, if all of this effort was just for one meal, it would certainly not be worth it (even as yummy as that dinner was!).  So, I will periodically update you on how the plan is progressing and whether we still think this is an idea worth pursuing later on in the month.

Once-a-Month Grocery Shopping and Cooking

February 24, 2009 · Filed Under Once a Month Cooking & Shopping · 15 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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