Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Just a week ago I was asked to be part of a panel of homeschool moms to discuss time management. When thinking about how I use my time, one of the points I got the most questions about was "once a month cooking" (hereby known as OAMC because I just don't want to type it out over and over). JT and I started OAMC over 15 years ago when we were both working and just didn't have time to cook dinner every night. It was a constant discussion, "Where do you want to eat?" or "Should I just pick up something and bring it home?" We were tired of eating out and didn't need to spend the money anyway. Oh, if I could go back and have that money we so carelessly wasted!

I heard about OAMC on a morning talk show and immediately found the book they were referencing in a local Christian bookstore. We tried it and it worked for our family. This is KEY. It may not work for your family and/or you might have to tailor it to your family’s preferences and needs. Do what works best for your family’s schedule, dietary needs and what helps you the most!
We still manage to do OAMC about twice a year. Unlike the name suggests, it generally makes enough meals for 2 months for us. Sometimes, I can even go 3-4 months depending on how often I use the meals. We do NOT use them every night. We use them when we need them the most. When we have more time to cook, we do. When we don’t have much time, we pull out a OAMC meal.
Several people asked for my fabulous wisdom ingenious plan tips on how we do this, so here goes:
1. Cook with several other people or alone – this is the choice you must make first. If you choose to work with others, make sure you actually like one another and want to be around one another for extended periods of time first. This is truly critical as you will want this to be pleasant. We tend to cook with 2-3 other families that have somewhat similar family sizes.
2. Make a menu. Choose 8-12 items that freeze well. There are a ton of OAMC websites dedicated to recipes that you can use. Use recipes that you already have (spaghetti sauce, a chicken casserole, chili) and add some new ones that your family might enjoy.
3. Decide on freezer containers that you want to use. We personally prefer disposable aluminum pans that have a top that can be written on. We use two sizes of pans and label them on the top and side with contents.
4. Empty out your freezer. This is important as you’ll want to start with as much space as possible. On our cooking day last time, we actually rented another refrigerator/freezer because we had so much food (it was CHEAP)!!!
5. Be sure to designate an administrator for your group who will collect all the recipes and develop a shopping list. That person will send out a shopping list to each participant. Each person/family shops for their list only.
6. The day before “cooking day” is generally the day when each family pre-cooks whatever meat is necessary (e.g. cooking 20 lbs of ground beef for spaghetti or grilling 100 chicken breasts for sweet and sour chicken and chicken tetrazzini).
7. One person will need to print out labels for all of the dishes. This is simply a label with the title of the dish as well as the instructions on how to cook it. This step is an easy copy and paste job! Be sure to make 2 labels for each finished dish.
8. Recipes should be laminated so that they will not be easily torn or splattered during the process.
9. Each family brings the necessary baking dishes, utensils, etc for cooking day. I’ve heard of some families renting a local church for cooking day. We use my house as my kitchen is open and has plenty of room.
10. The kids are generally gone for the day. I’ve cooked with all of my children here, and I’ve cooked without them. Trust me….let Dad handle the little ones for the day, and you will finish faster! For us our older girls (12 and 14) stay and help with all of the cooking.
11. Since we host the cooking day, we prep our kitchen the day before. EVERYTHING is taken off the counters (phone, cookbooks, utensils, and even the coffee pot). We start with a blank surface.
12. We cover our table, buffet and small side table with large white table cloths). Then, we set out 4 garbage cans (these can just be large boxes lined with a garbage bag).
13. Stations are set up around our kitchen. The first is the sink area. We make sure that there are plenty of dishwashing supplies as there will be a ton of dishwashing to do (people rotate so this doesn’t get so overwhelming). Make sure there is plenty of dishwashing soap, a sponge, a scraper of some sort, a place to put wet dishes and towels for drying (lots of towels).
14. Our French doors that lead to our back deck serve as our menu station. We hang up all of the menus on the doors so that people can easily access them when they are ready. We place them all on one door in the beginning. As each dish is finished, it gets moved to the other door.
15. An ingredient station is made out of two benches we have sitting underneath a high counter. We place all of the dry goods here so that they are readily accessible.
16. Utensils and necessary kitchen items (measuring cups, baking sheets, cutting boards, mixing bowls) are placed on a buffet at the head of our dining area. This keeps everything organized so that we can find what we need when we need it!
17. Pots and pans are placed near the stove for another station!
18. Containers are located in chairs at the end of the table and include the 2 different sized aluminum dishes as well as larger freezer Ziploc bags.
19. The final station is the “office” area. We keep paper towels, Clorox wipes, labels, markers, pens, saran wrap, aluminum foil, tape and garbage bags here.
20. All cold items are either in the refrigerator or in coolers that families bring with them.
21. All families gather around 8 or 9 on cooking day (eat a good breakfast as you’ll be on your feet all day). We use a pre-printed “order of meals” format that is hanging around the kitchen in several places (to keep us on task).
22. We divide into teams of 2-3 and begin working on each meal. Some of the meals are assembly only (tater tot casserole, chicken teriyaki, flank steak in marinade) so they are fairly easy. Others require some cooking (sweet and sour chicken, meatballs) so those are the first priority.
23. As meals are completed, they are labeled and taken to the freezer/refrigerator. We note how many of each meal we have so that they can be easily divided at the end of the day.

There is a lot of work that goes into OAMC when you are first starting it. However, as time goes on, you can use menus you already have laminated, leftover labels, etc. and the process gets easier.

For our family, we are able to incorporate 4-5 of these meals into each week. We simply pull the meal out of the freezer in the morning and don’t have to think about dinner until 5:00. It’s a time-saver for us! An added bonus is that there are times when I need to take a meal to someone very last minute, and I can easily look into the freezer and grab several items! What a joy to be able to share with others in times of need.

So, give it a try and see if helps you…if not, toss it…if it does, try it again.