Years ago, I read an article about cooking one day for the month. It intrigued me, but I never did anything about it. My usual pattern was to cook two or three dishes for the week on the weekend, and it worked even if I often got sick of what I had made by the end of the week. Then I bought the Oct. 2007 issue of Cooking Light. It had a fabulous marinara sauce recipe that you could use as a base in 10 different recipes. I finally decided to give the concept of having one marathon day of cooking for the month a try.
I chose a three-day weekend for my first attempt. I planned out the menu and grocery shopped on a Saturday and then devoted Sunday to cooking. I made that marinara sauce and used it for a chicken, pasta and chickpea stew; a Weight Watchers (WW) lasagna, and the base of a fabulous sausage, peppers and veggies pasta sauce I made up based on one served at Filomena’s, my favorite DC Italian restaurant. I also made a WW beef enchilada casserole and a large soup. I divided everything into individual portions and froze them. I kept opening my freezer to admire the beautiful sight of all those stacks of plastic containers.
My first experiment was a huge success. It saved time, it saved money, and it saved me from food boredom. I loved how efficient it was, and it greatly increased the variety of my weekly diet. Everyday, I could grab something different out of the freezer to eat. I wouldn’t get sick of it, and it decreased waste. I wasn’t throwing out food that had gotten too old, or I could not face eating again. To increase variety, I might make one dish on any given weekend, but I also tended to freeze some of it so I wouldn’t get bored with it. I also did not have to spend a good portion of every weekend meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking anymore.
Whenever my freezer emptied out after a couple of months, I’d do another session of cooking on a large scale. I’d often start with some serious planning and play with what recipes I would use. I might spend time cooking on one or even two days, but I’d then be set for two or even three months before I had to do this again.
It turns out that you don’t even have to spend much time pre-planning. Three Sundays ago I woke up feeling the need for some productive distraction. In less than a week, I was leaving for an annual conference I was putting on for work, and the work stress level was too high. I had brought some work home, but I just couldn’t face doing it. The night before, my 1995 Dodge Neon had broken down, and I feared it was the end of the line for that old car. Buying a new or slightly used car was not going to be cheap, and 2009 just feels like a year that I should not spend much money for lots of reasons.
By 1:00 p.m., I had decided I would do a marathon-cooking day as I had absolutely nothing made in my refrigerator or freezer. I sat down, picked out 9-10 recipes to make, and made a grocery list. I grabbed a cart and some bags and walked to my local Giant as I was without wheels. I hauled all the groceries back and started cooking.
By the end of Sunday night, I had made WW Bella Braised chicken with whole-wheat penne pasta, my version of a WW Kentucky Burgoo soup/stew, WW kielbasa-bean soup, quinoa beef picadillo (Mexican ground beef dish) and WW Middle Eastern lamb slow cooker soup. Monday night after work, I made lentil stew, WW slow cooker lentil soup, WW red beans and barley and WW turkey burgers.
My total grocery bill was $122.31. With the addition of some frozen chicken and other staples I already had, I made 67 individual meals and froze them. I’ve been surprised by how much money this method of cooking has saved me. As you can see from my list, I was in the mood for soups and stews and the meals are very Weight Watchers friendly. By doing this, I’ve given myself a great start on another successful two months in my journey to becoming a healthy writer. I’ll supplement my freezer with some runs for fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products, but I may not cook much more until 2010. Cooking one day for the month (or quarter) is always a great gift to myself.
Have you ever cooked one day for the whole month? Do you have any suggestions on how I can improve this process? Do you have recipes for healthy dishes that freeze well?