Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Change in Direction...

Well, I've been busy, and I've obviously not kept up on my blog. But I was thinking today, I think I'm going to expand the scope of my blog, and include my monthly cooking escapades. It would be nice to have a record of it for myself (I've noticed sometimes I make the same thing for months in a row, and wonder why I'm getting tired of it...whoops!). Plus, there've been a few people who have taken an interest in how to take on a month's worth of food at a time, and it would be nice to share some of that info too (it's not really as overwhelming as it sounds).

For a little over a year, I've been grocery shopping and cooking once a month...a whole month of food ready to go in single serve portions in the freezer, to be heated up later at my convenience. When I used to live with roommates and whatnot, I enjoyed cooking for everyone pretty that I live by myself, it's kind of a pain, and it's soooooo easy to just get some take-out instead. So this whole adventure has helped improve my eating habits, free up time in my everyday life, AND is saving me a ton of money every month.

Some tips to get started:

1) This is ALL about meal planning. I plan 5-6 meals, a couple of breakfast items, a couple of snacks, and then I usually have 2-3 random things around the house to make in case I don't feel like eating one of my freezer meals or if I have someone over to visit and want to make something fresh.

2) Make a comprehensive list for the grocery store and STICK TO IT. This was by far the biggest thing for me to overcome. I ALWAYS just picked up whatever looked good in addition to my list when I used to grocery shop. When I first started doing this, I started by limiting myself to five items that weren't on the list. Anymore, I hardly ever grab anything that's not on the list, unless maybe there is some really good fruit on sale or something. This has gotten my grocery bill (and I mean EVERYTHING...paper towels, detergent, etc...not just food) down to $200-250 a month.

3) You have to think about how things are going to freeze and reheat. Let's face it...not everything freezes well...texture can suffer. Things that are heavily cream-based separate, just a solid piece of meat that's not IN something will tend to get dry when you reheat it, things that are supposed to crunch may not upon reheating, etc. Just be conscious of it. A lot of things will reheat better in the oven, but I'm single and busy....and I usually microwave everything :) You just have to try it see what works for you.

4) Do yourself a favor and get a really good knife. As a girl who grew up chopping vegetables with a steak knife and not knowing there was a better way....I can honestly say that I used to avoid making dishes that required any real amount of chopping and dicing. That is, until I got myself a really good knife...and the sky opened up, and light shined down, and angels sang...yada, was amazing. lol :) It makes everything easier and faster...and if you're cooking a month's worth of meals in one day, easier and faster is key.

5) Whenever possible, try to plan meals that aren't all done in the oven or all on the stovetop, etc. That way, you can multi-task and work on multiple dishes at one time. And if you do have to wait to put the next item in, make sure you prep as much as you can while you're waiting. My best time ever for cranking out all of my meals was about 4 1/2 hours...I'm usually pretty comfortable and not feeling like I'm about to spin out of control at about 6 hours though.

6) Wash and re-use whatever dishes you can as you go. I learned this the hard way the first time I did this...I had like 3 dishwasher loads by the time I was finished. If you wash and re-use as you go, it can easily be down to one load (waaaaay better).

7) Just keep going! The first time you do this, it'll feel like you'll be cooking till the end of time before it all gets done. But I PROMISE, when you get to eat a home-cooked meal for lunch at work, and when you get home after work and don't have to cook...every day for like a'll seem like nothing.

8) Know your freezer. There's a few things about the freezer that are important...1) Know how much you can legitimately put in there. I put everything in little gladware containers, because it's easier to just throw in my bag and take to work with me, but if you have limited freezer space, you can save a lot of room putting things in ziploc bags instead. It just takes a little extra consideration when you get to reheating time. 2) You can't put everything in the freezer all at'll drop the temperature too fast, and you'll have unsafe food by the time it actually all freezes.  You'll have to put in small batches every 6-8 hours to keep everything safe and freezing evenly.  (Sidebar:  Don't put anything in the freezer hot...make sure it's all cooled in the refrigerator prior to putting the the freezer).

And I think that's all the info necessary to get started.  I think I'll post all the recipes separately so they're easier for me (or anyone else) to search for and find later.  Enjoy!

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