Around Christmas time last year I was listening to a favorite podcast of mine, Hungry Squared and they did an interview with the founder and creator of Once A Month Meals (OAMM from here on out), Tricia Callahan. I was intrigued, “I only cook once a month and my family gets to enjoy home cooked meals all month long? Where do I sign up?” I listened to the podcast, used their coupon code, read all the literature online and set my cooking date: January 2, 2017 (the day I was off since New Year’s Day fell on a weekend). Let’s start the new year out with a bang, right?
What is Once A Month Meals, Anyway?
If you are unfamiliar with OAMM, it’s a paid service that helps you plan, prep and cook a month’s worth of freezer meals in one cooking day. You choose and modify a full menu or mini-menu to suit your family’s tastes, diet preferences and method of cooking, as well as, how many servings you need from each meal. There are thousands of recipes in their collection, and they have all been tested by OAMM to freeze and thaw well. OAMM then prepares a master grocery list, master prep list, cooking steps, freezer labels and thaw/reheating instructions. It’s a lot – my monthly instructions were nearly 20 pages long.
In the podcast, Callahan said again and again, first-timers shouldn’t start out with a full menu because they get overwhelmed and then never try it again, but who’s one to listen to warnings? Not me. I chose to go with a heavily modified full easy-prep menu, most of my recipes were dump slow cooker meals. I did, however, listen to her warnings to shop and cook on separate days, in fact, I shopped on two different days and prepped on a third. She was right, starting with a full menu was intense. I chopped something like 5 pounds of onions, my eyes hurt so bad I ended up using swimming goggles to protect my eyes. I lost one of the sets of directions, and so my whole prep/cook process was thrown off. We lost power midway through and I had to stop prepping and cooking for a few hours until we regained power. It was basically a disaster, I’m sure most of it could have been avoided if I would have heeded Callahan’s warning and made sure I had all the literature I needed to accomplish what I set out to complete. Honestly, though, closing our freezer full of meals that evening was one of the best feelings of accomplishment I’ve had in awhile.
Why It Wasn’t For Me:
In case you couldn’t tell from the above, January was the only month I’ve done OAMM for our family. Aside from the easily and uneasily avoided mishaps, there were other reasons I chose to forego additional months. First, I learned really quickly that prepping a ton of a meal neither I nor my family, have ever tried isn’t necessarily a good thing. There was more than one recipe that turned out bad, either the texture was off, the flavor was bland or it just wasn’t something we enjoyed. It’s a real problem when there’s no backup plan because all the meals for the month have been prepared and frozen. Another issue is that OAMM doesn’t eliminate the need to cook during the month, all of their recipes had a protein, most had a grain but few included vegetables. My family likes vegetables and I really like to have at least one green food on our plates at night. This process left me scrambling to find a box of mac and cheese or a can of green beans in our house because, once again, I’ve already cooked our meals for the month. Additionally, it’s a lot of work. From choosing the menu to grocery shopping, to chopping five pounds of onions, to the freezing everything correctly – it’s an entire weekend gone. Sure, I probably saved time, but I lost sleep and sanity over it and it wasn’t worth it for me to complete again, and who wants to spend an entire weekend slaving over meals? Finally, I relearned how much I actually enjoy cooking during the week. There are days I would love nothing more than coming home to a prepared meal cooking away in the crockpot, but as an everyday part of my life I really missed the satisfaction and relaxation cooking brings me. I love spending time cooking in the kitchen while visiting with Livia or watching her stack cans of tomatoes. And, honestly, the time I was saving I was just sitting on the couch and watching Netflix, so it wasn’t really a huge win.
One caveat to my whole experience, I am toying around with the idea of completing a few mini menus before this baby comes in December. I’ve started working on my list of freezer meals to stock our freezer and it seems easier to just let someone else figure out how many chicken thighs I need to triple this recipe or the best way to freeze this casserole. I’m still early in my second trimester and I don’t plan on doing any freezer stocking until after 30 weeks so I have plenty of time to make up my mind, and I’ll probably let you know how that all works out.
Once A Month Meals is a fantastically developed program – the interface, instructions, and community are all top notch. However, it’s a ton of work at one time. Try grocery shopping for all of your food for an entire month in one go, it’s a lot of food and I was really stressed out about getting enough of everything, and accidentally skipping an item on my list, thus throwing everything into disarray. You may not mind chopping a potato or two, but when you need to dice five pounds of potatoes you get really bored, and, then imagine you have to dice another five pounds of onions on top of that. For my family, the effort wasn’t worth the return. I have the time to cook in the evenings right now and I enjoy cooking, it helps me decompress from a day at work and it helps Livia develop an interest in cooking. I’ve streamlined my meal planning and grocery shopping process, and I discussed it here, and it really works well for us at this moment in our lives. But, if we were a busy family, with multiple kids doing multiple extracurricular activities or sports, I would probably be much more inclined to try again.
Have you ever tried freezer cooking? What system works best for you?