Frozen dinner … again. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. For busy families hoping to save time and money, a favorite new meal-preparing strategy involves setting aside one day a month to cook—and then freeze—an entire month’s worth of dinners. Once everything’s squared away in the freezer, “cooking” supper consists of nothing more than reheating.
The technique obviously saves time because there’s no shopping, chopping, and frying to do on a nightly basis. It saves money in two key ways: 1.) You can shop for groceries in bulk, and ideally buy produce, meat, and staples like pasta when they’re on sale; and 2.) Because an easy, ready-made dinner is always within reach in the freezer, there’s no excuse for picking up fast food or ordering takeout or pizza yet again.
Food.com lists over 7,000 OAMC recipes. For newbies, that acronym stands for Once A Month Cooking, and all of the dishes listed are designed to be made ahead of time and frozen. What kinds of dishes are best for OAMC? Think casseroles, and meals cooked in Crock Pots. Soups and many pasta dishes work, too. All of these dishes, by the way, tend to be among the least expensive to prepare for families and bigger groups, regardless of whether you’re freezing them or not.
(MORE: And the Nation’s Favorite Low-Cost Grocery Store Is …)
Among the moms embracing OAMC are bloggers at (of course) Once a Month Mom, as well as Natalie at A Turtle’s Life For Me. Here’s how the latter explains why she’s adopting the strategy:
Have you ever heard the story about the boy who woke up on a gorgeous day and his dad told him he had to go out back and chop firewood. The boy asked why he had to spend a warm, summer day chopping firewood and the dad said it was so he didn’t have to do it on a cold, winter day.
That’s how I feel about freezer meals.
In roughly four hour’s time, she cooks 46 dishes—sesame chicken, Dijon pork roast, tomato basil soup, twice baked potatoes—which are frozen and marked in Ziploc bags.
There are also books devoted to OAMC, including Don’t Panic, Dinner’s in the Freezer!, 30 Day Gourmet’s BIG Book of Freezer Cooking, and Once-A-Month Cooking Family Favorites. The blurb for Frugal Mom’s Guide to Once a Month Cooking, written by Candace Anderson (who blogs at FrugalMom.net), gives a pretty good indication of what kind of cook is a good (or bad) match for OAMC:
This cookbook isn’t for the gourmet chef who enjoys cooking with expensive and unique ingredients – it’s for the rest of us. It’s for the average cook who wants to prepare meals the whole family will enjoy. It’s for those of use who like to cook with simple ingredients we can buy at our local grocery store, or already have on hand in our pantry.
(MORE: Q&A: How to Cook a Month’s Worth of Meals for Your Family in Just One Day)
Finally, here’s a tip that’s even quirkier than cooking a month’s worth of meals in one day. It’s a strategy for quickly thawing frozen foods: The Cook’s Thesaurus (via lifehacker) suggests placing food that’s in waterproof freezer bags into the washing machine, as a way to limit water waste. “Wash” (defrost) only with cold water, and please: Use the machine’s delicate setting, and keep the washer’s lid open to prevent it from going into the spin cycle.
Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.