Photo Credit: Fernando
On the weekends, I usually find myself busy in my kitchen, every burner, appliance and shelf of oven slaving away, a cup of tea and an audiobook keeping me company, while Michael and Naomi play together in the livingroom. I like to spend this day preparing foods for us for the week ahead. I like to do Once A Week Cooking (or OAWC, for short), as it makes things much easier for us.
OAWC is not for everyone, but in our home, it is a very beneficial trick. I thought that I should give you a run-down of how we make it work in our home.
Our first job is to gather our groceries. It usually doesn’t vary greatly, except seasonal fruits and vegetables. We purchase almost entirely organic and/or local foods, and very little pre-made or processed goods. So we usually purchase meats, pantry staples, and fresh produce. If we find a good deal on something specific, we purchase that item in appropriate portions. Otherwise, grocery shopping is specifically for replenishing our ongoing pantry.
Then I plan my menu. Michael sometimes requests a particular dish, but more often than not, I just do what I like, provided I know he will eat it.
With regard to my menu plan, I used to spend hours coming up with various, elaborate meals, including different breads, different sauces, different vegeteables. It was exhausting. Finally Michael pointed out that he really just preferred my simple, old-fashioned cooking. That changed it for me a lot, as I could make simple meals with a starch, a meat, and one or two veggies and he was perfectly happy.
The other change I am going to implement is a suggestion I read from Jules Clancy at thestonesoup.com. She suggests you pick 10 ingredients, include a few (very basic) pantry staples, and come up with five meals that require 5 of those ingredients. It was so ridiculously simple that I had to give it a try. But that’s another post for another time.
Once I have my suppers, I plan what I will make for lunches. Michael has the same meal every weekday at work. Usually we prepare some hamburger or chicken for him, and then either add a pasta or some rice. After calculating the costs, we have determined that not only is it cheaper than purchasing microwave meals, it’s also cheaper than purchasing sandwich or soup fixings. He gets a delicious, filling homemade meal and he also doesn’t have to deal with all the sodium and chemicals he might otherwise ingest. His lunch is always organic. And he’s the envy of all his coworkers.
Because he sometimes has “lunch and learn” meetings without notice, we plan to make 4 meals, as these usually provide lunch for him. On the odd occasion that there is no “lunch and learn” and Michael has no meal, he goes to a small restaurant that makes homemade food for a reasonable price. We could make the extra meal, or we could purchase a microwave meal for such a situation, but we figure the cost of one meal out for one person is at least the same price, if not cheaper, than the possibility of wasted good and/or the cost to his health.
For my own lunch, I usually prepare a soup. I keep lots of frozen tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, spinach, broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower on hand. Then I make my delicious blended soups. It’s easy, quick, and chock full of veggies. 😀
Finally, breakfasts. Again, Michael, who is both picky in his choice of food and use of time, likes a meal that is quick and easy in the morning. The solution? Muffins! We make fruit muffins for him. This normally involves the pulp left over from juices we have made over the week, or a big batch of juice on the weekends. We have a universal muffin recipe that has always been a great success and is a real hit. We have tried apple, orange, berry and banana muffins and they have all been delicious. I sometimes make a second half batch of muffins and make them smaller for Naomi. She loves muffins for breakfast. Myself, I enjoy breakfast smoothies and juices. I will usually give her some in a sippy cup if it doesn’t contain peanut butter or nut milk.
The Cooking Plan
Finally, Sunday comes. I strap on my apron, tie up my slippers and storm into that kitchen!
My process usually goes as such:
- Michael’s Dinner. We use our crockpots, a lot. Most Sundays, the first thing to do is get one of our faithful crocks going with his lunches. Usually we make the starch and vegetables with the meat in the crock. A bit of spices and flavorings, and the crock does all the work for us!
- Juice. We watch for a discount fruit for Michael’s muffins. Usually it is apples, bananas, or oranges. I juice the fruit and we enjoy it as our weekend treat. The pulp is then set aside.
- Muffins. The recipe I use involves a basic recipe for the muffin itself, but allows lots of wiggle room to be creative. It doesn’t take long to mix and prepare. Once compiled, I set them aside.
- Sandwich Bread. This is made one loaf a week, and is used for snacks. My favorite recipe is a no-knead recipe, and is delicious and quick. It also raises while in the pan, which makes it so much easier. I set this aside with the unbaked muffins.
- Roasts. If we are planning for a roast or brisket, this is when I prepare it. Then I pop the muffins, the bread and any meats into the oven.
- Salad. I keep an ongoing salad in a large stockpot in the fridge. I spin the lettuce, chop the carrots, prepare any hard and dry veggies, and then put it in the fridge. Sometimes I will also pre-slice cucumber, zucchini, etc. But usually I wait until I go to eat the salad for that. I enjoy salads in place of potatoes, rice and pasta when we have dinner.
- Roasts, Chickens, Etc. I like to get our other crock going just before bed that night with a chuck of meat. There is little so pleasant to greet you in the morning as the smell of cooking meat in the mornings. Usually I thaw it in the crock with any broth, spices or marinade, and then I either pop the cold crock in the fridge, or I leave it out if it’s soon bedtime, and start up the crock just before bed.
- Extras. This is when I make anything else that might need to be prepared: gravy, sauces, brown rice. This is also when I make supper for us for that night.
By the time this is all over and every item in my kitchen is dirty. Which brings me to my least favorite part…
Groan!. I am so thankful for my wonderful dishwasher. I run through my juicer, blender, food processor, mixer, dishes, mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, etc. I hand wash my knives and cast iron pots and pans. Sweeping, scrubbing of counters and stove tops, and returning everything to it’s proper place.
And finally, exhausted and worn out, I grab my empty mug and boil a fresh cup of tea. I sink down into my chair and smile, knowing the majority of my hard work for the rest of the week is complete.
The Week Ahead
Now that breakfasts and lunches are done with, and with the main portions of supper complete, it is usually just preparing a side dish or assembling a casserole to be ready for supper.
As time goes on and I become more comfortable with this method, I hope to accomplish more, including cookies, pre-assembling meals, etc. It may not yet be as simple as it could be, but it works for us. I will adapt it over time and make it more efficient and beneficial for our home.