I know I’ve done several sponsored reviews lately, so I want to clarify that this is me writing a post about something I paid for and chose to do voluntarily. The people at Once A Month Mom have no idea who I am (other than the two payments I’ve sent their way over the past 6 months!) and I am writing this only because I know it’s something a lot of people are curious about and I wanted to share my experience! Just a note, in this post I frequently refer to Whole Foods grocery store and the Whole Foods menu from Once a Month Mom (OAMM). I tried to clarify each time, but I didn’t want people feeling confused!
A glimpse of my freezer filled with Whole Foods and Paleo menu items before baby comes. All made entirely from scratch!
It’s 5:11pm on a Monday as I sit down to write this post. Can you hold on a minute while I go get a made-from-scratch Chicken Pot Pie in the oven?
5:15pm and I’m back! And that includes yet another trip to the restroom (I’ve lost count of the number of trips I take on a daily basis at this point in my pregnancy). That short interval for preparing dinner is why I love freezer meal cooking. I know there are all sorts of pins floating around Pinterest that describe how to DIY this process, but I didn’t want to spend my time making grocery lists or calculating chopping amounts. That’s why I love the Once A Month Mom site. They feature menus filled with breakfast/lunch/dinner items made with seasonal ingredients to fit all sorts of diets including Whole Foods, Paleo, Vegetarian, and Gluten/Dairy Free. So far I’ve done two different menus, the Whole Foods menu in September, and the Paleo menu in January.
Want to know why you should give them your money? Because other than the chopping/cooking/wrapping, all of the work is done for you. They put out new menus with new recipes each month, they test out all of the recipes several times to figure out how to best adapt them for the freezer, and each of the menus includes Recipe Cards (with initial cooking instructions, freezing/wrapping instructions, and defrosting/reheating instructions), a Grocery List, Instructions (this feature is indispensable as they’ve broken down the best order to make all of the recipes in), and Labels. All of these are created using spreadsheets and you plug in the number of people you want to cook for, and all of the recipe cards, instructions, chopping lists, grocery lists, etc, are updated with the correct amounts. You pay $8 for this and save yourself hours of time.
I have known about this for a long time but chose to wait until we had a larger kitchen and a bigger freezer to store it all in. You can find posts where women have made it work in small freezers, but I have a lot more counter space here in Palo Alto than we did in our apartment in Hyde Park, Chicago. We also were able to find a used stand-alone freezer to keep in the garage.
I think the question I get most frequently about this is “What does it cost?”. I’ll tell you what I paid for both rounds that I did, but keep a few things in mind. First, I live in Palo Alto which is a pretty expensive area of the country to be in. So maybe it will cost less for you. Second, I like to buy organic fruits/vegetables and “happy” meat. I was a bit more budget conscious with the second menu (the Paleo one) and decided to buy non-organic vegetables at Sprouts grocery store so the price was a bit lower, but with the first menu I bought almost everything from Whole Foods grocery store and the Farmer’s Market. Third, the cost will vary based on what you already have in your kitchen/pantry. I did the Whole Foods menu right after we moved and had to buy incredibly basic stuff like flour and olive oil because we didn’t have it on hand.
Before we talk numbers, we need to talk about what you’re actually making. You will specify how many people you are cooking for and that will determine how much you make. For four people you will make something like 60 servings (breakfast, lunch, and dinner items). I didn’t do the math on this myself, I pulled that number from the Once a Month Mom website. I’d estimate that the amount of food you make will last you about 1/2 to 2/3 of the month, including meals where you heat something up (like the chicken pot pie I defrosted at the beginning of this post) and eat as leftovers for a few days.
So, when you’re reading how much I spent on groceries for these menus, keep in mind that I said I was cooking for 3 people.
In September I did the Whole Foods menu and as I mentioned above we had almost nothing in the house, so I was buying basic kitchen staples along with the produce and meat I needed. The numbers that follow are probably a bit high because I was buying other things we needed for the house as well. I went to Whole Foods grocery store and bought organic vegetables and non-organic (but sort of happy, I hope) meat and spent $207.72. I didn’t spend all $207 on produce and vegetables, but I don’t feel like digging up my reciepts to see exactly what I bought (some of the stuff came from the bulk section as well). I remember that I broke down my ingredients between Safeway and Whole Foods grocery and tried to buy as much as I could from Safeway because I assumed it would be a little bit cheaper. My total spent at Safeway was $176.69. The total spent on the September Whole Foods menu was something like $384.41. I’m not going to do the math to figure out the cost per serving because I’m just not that blogger.
In January I did the Paleo menu*. For the numbers for this menu I had the receipts on hand, so I went through and deducted any items that weren’t specifically for the Paleo cooking experience (like my Red Raspberry Leaf tea) in an attempt to be as accurate as possible. First I went to Sprouts (which is like the inexpensive cousin to Whole Foods grocery IMO) and bought non-organic vegetables and a few staples (beef broth, coconut oil, etc), and spent $66.31. Next up was Whole Foods grocery where I bought all of my meat (none of it organic, but all of it rated on the “humane” scale that WF uses, and none of it on sale) as well as almond meal flour, ghee, etc. My bill for Whole Foods grocery came out to $246.35 (the meat alone cost me $194.63**). My last stop was at Safeway where I bought the frozen items I needed as well as the freezer bags and tinfoil, all for $43.21. The total spent on the January Paleo menu was $355.87. And do keep in mind that this total doesn’t include the cost of things we already had in our kitchen (like coconut milk, we had a lot of that already after Christmas spent with a mom who is dairy-free).
My takeaway from this is that if you live in an expensive area and you’re going to buy expensive meat and organic veggies the experience is probably going to cost you somewhere around $350.
Good thing I’ve been raving about this experience thus far, because things are about to feel really overwhelming. Even with a good deal of the work done for me (what to make, what to buy, how much, how to cook it, how to store it) it still takes many, many hours to put this all together. Here is my outline for the Paleo menu (which I did while 9 months pregnant, which is rather stupid of me, but I was waiting for the Paleo menu and I somehow survived… with the help of TH who came home from work and helped me finish everything off!):
Monday – 30 minutes spent signing up for the OAMM site, plugging in the correct servings, and looking over the spreadsheets to make sure everything worked properly and that I understood what I was doing.
Tuesday – 30 minutes going through my kitchen to determine what we already had so I didn’t buy duplicates.
Thursday – 2 1/2 hours of grocery shopping. 30 minutes putting all of those groceries away.
Friday – The big day! I started chopping veggies at 10 am and stopped for the night at 9pm. Chopping veggies and preparing meat took about 4 hours***. About 11 hours of work total and I’m very grateful to TH for all of his help bagging and labeling at the end!
Saturday – 90 minutes spent cleaning up the kitchen and making the Kale Smoothies that I didn’t do the night before. That includes 3-4 rounds of running the dishwasher too.
Total: 18.5 hours
I have to admit though, that I was really dreading this Paleo cooking day, and after it was over it didn’t feel so bad. I sat down as much as possible, and I really liked this Paleo menu because it had several slow-cooker meals on it which means you make a sauce/dressing and throw it all together in a ziplock bag for later. Very easy. Once I have enough Paleo slow-cooker freezer meals that I like it would be nice to do a round where I don’t do any cooking at all on the prep day.
Is it going to taste as good as something made from scratch the same night you eat it? Never. That’s how freezer food works! So far though we’ve really enjoyed the things we’ve eaten from the Whole Foods menu. We haven’t tried everything yet, but so far That Husband devoured the burritos (he liked the Smothered Green Chile Breakfast Burritos the best). I chose to make the tortillas homemade via the included recipe and was surprised by how much he liked those as well. My mom ate the Curried Coconut Chicken Soup (she is dairy-free) and asked where I got the recipe. My favorite is the Spicy Thai Basil Beef, which I’ve actually made several times since then. Why did it take me so long to discover fish oil?
I can think of one thing I didn’t like from the Whole Foods menu, the Carrot Apple Nut Muffins. They weren’t terrible, but they were a bit dry and didn’t reheat that well. One item that I struggled with was the Lunchbox Chicken Pot Pie. Individual servings wasn’t working for me, so I dumped the entire thing in a square disposable pan and made one giant chicken pot pie. It’s a bit mushy, but I add a dollop of sour cream whenever I eat it and it’s great.
I’m going to start eating the Paleo menu items once I move into “weightloss after baby” mode.
DO NOT DO THIS WHILE SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY NUMBER OF TODDLERS/BABIES. I did the Whole Foods menu with T1 at home, and he completely trashed the house (as in, took a bag of flour and literally threw it all over the living room) while I cooked/assembled. I did the Paleo round while he was out of the house for the day. In the future I’d like to find someone to do pair up with. Maybe we rotate back and forth and one of us watches the kids while the other does the cooking, or we bring the kids all to one house and switch off “babysitting” while the other does the cooking.
Don’t do the menus when they are first posted. Wait about a week until any problems/issues are reported by the users and the kinks are worked out.
We technically only have 2 adults in the house, but I always plug in that we are cooking for 3 (I don’t think T1 counts because he so often eats only a bite or two and then tries to make me give him a banana or something). Add in an extra serving or two to your calculations and you’ll have even more in your freezer.
Be ready to adapt. In the Whole Foods menu round I struggled with the Chicken Pot Pie. For the Paleo menu I forgot to put the tomato sauce on the pizzas (I cooked them and have no idea how they’re going to reheat) and had no interest in rolling bacon around individual pieces of chicken when I was so tired so we attempted to turn the Honey Glazed Chicken Bites into some sort of casserole by putting the chicken into a tin, adding in pieces of cooked bacon, and pouring the sauce over it. I have no idea how it will turn out but… what can you do?
Oh! The Paleo menu for January 2013 has a mistake and doesn’t tell you to add all of the required the sweet potatoes to the Crockpot Sweet Potato Basil Soup (when I was putting it together I said out loud “This doesn’t seems like enough”). I realize this sounds like a no-brainer to do on your own, but when you’re managing this much stuff at one time you get caught up in doing exactly what they say and will make silly mistakes that you wouldn’t otherwise.
A glimpse of the aftermath in my kitchen after I finished the Paleo menu. I recommend cleaning up the next morning when you’re rested (especially if you’re pregnant). I ran my dishwasher several times and avoided hand-washing as much as possible and it all felt much less overwhelming than it would have if I had forced myself to clean up the night I finished cooking/preparing all the meals.
Is it worth it?
For me, absolutely. Right now I have a 2-year-old who eats little more than a few bites of whatever I make him, and a husband who only eats dinner at home on Friday, and any meals we eat at home on the weekend. I don’t want to cook meals for just myself four nights out of the week, especially once we have a newborn to manage! Another huge draw for me is that everything I eat from this menu is made entirely from scratch. Those are my priorities. If budgeting is your priority you can read posts like this one that talk about making entrees for $2.87 a serving for a family of four (their total for 60 meals was $171.90).
How do you reheat everything?
Another reason I think it’s worth it to pay for the menus – they have thawing instructions as well as reheating instructions for everything you make! Takes all of the guesswork out of eating homemade meals out of your freezer.
How long do your frozen meals last for in the freezer?
The Once a Month Mom people are the experts on this, and they say 3-6 months when stored properly. The Chicken Pot Pie I opened the post talking about was made at the beginning of September, and I made it near the end of the following January and it tasted great.
How does this fit in your freezer?
We have a side-by-side, and with a little bit of organizing the entire Whole Foods menu fit inside. In November I bought an upright freezer for the garage, so now we have more freezer space than three people could possibly need (I’m hoping that breastfeeding will work out this time and portions of our freezer space will be taken up by that ).
Whew! Now that I’ve written all of that up, I’m curious… who is going to give this a try? And if you’re somewhere near Palo Alto, are you interested in being my freezer meal buddy?
*I’ll try to get to a post in the near future that explains why I’m eating Paleo after labeling myself as a mostly vegetarian for so long.
**If you’re curious what kinds and how much meat I bought for the Paleo menu ($194 worth) here is what the spreadsheet told me to buy. I didn’t worry about the pastured/grass-fed labels although most stuff at Whole Foods fits these descriptions:
6 slices bacon, “clean” (nitrate, nitrite free, etc.)
1.5 pound ground sirloin, pastured
2.25 pounds beef flank steak, grass-fed
3 pounds beef spare ribs, grass-fed
7.5 pounds boneless skinless, organic, free range chicken breast (I bought half this amount because I already had some in the freezer).
3.75 pounds clean, boneless country style pork ribs or pork shoulder
3 pound ground beef, grass fed
2.25 pounds lean stewing beef, grass-fed
****OAMM recommends that you do your vegetable chopping the day before, but I can’t manage chopping the veggies and managing T1 at the same time. It would make the cooking day much less overwhelming.