You were the first to publish a book about bulk freezer cooking, and many others have come after you. How did you think of this concept—and what made you feel it would work for so many women?
Mary Beth: Mimi developed this method at a time when we were writing articles together. She wanted me to call The Denver Post to see if they wanted us to write an article about it. I thought Mimi was crazy, and asked her to call. When the paper sent a reporter and photographer to her home within a week to do a food feature, we knew we were on to something. We’ve found over the years that Mimi’s three reasons for creating the strategy—to save time, money, and make possible good times at the table —resonate with most families.
Mimi: As a mother of three young children, I wanted to streamline my life without taking away from the things I loved. At the time, I was working with Hmong refugees in Denver, trying to sell their handwork.
I studied my days by writing down how I spent my time in 15-minute increments. And I found I was wasting the most time in the kitchen. I remember the day I decided I would cook until I ran out of the food I had on hand. I put all the dishes I had prepared on the dining room table. When I counted 30 meals I was ecstatic, because I knew I didn’t have to cook dinner again for a month. Every month for the next year I used the method, once for me and once with a friend, so I was able to perfect it. If someone was having a baby, I’d say “You buy these groceries, and I’ll prepare you a month’s meals.” It became the gift I gave my friends.
What wisdom could you offer to the busy woman who has never tried this method?
Mimi: Even preparing two of any entrée at one time will show you how much time this technique can save! In the beginning, try this technique with a friend who can help you with the many tasks, even just answering the door, the phone, taking care of the kids, and making sure the ingredients are ready. The first time you try this, I’d recommend trying the free, downloadable one-week cycle from our website once-a-monthcooking.com or a two-week cycle from the book to get used to cooking in bulk. And don’t try to shop and cook on the same day if possible, to conserve your energy.
You say that anyone with a side freezer can implement the Once-a-Month Cooking plan—how do you make it work?
Mary Beth: I’ve frozen even the month’s-worth of entrees without a separate freezer. But I have to clean out the freezer before my cooking day, and I freeze most entrees in plastic bags, which can be squished flat or wedged into corners.
What is the key to preparing a month’s worth of meals in a day without running out of time in the process?
- Reading the cycle through ahead of time so you know what’s coming, and setting up for the cooking (labeling bags ahead, etc.)
- Giving yourself the same margin you do on a daily basic, knowing you will be interrupted by children, the phone, and life. Keep your finger on your emotional pulse, take some breaks. Change your shoes, take a break outside. Give the kids a new coloring book. Little things to break the stress (and give your back a rest).
- Don’t plan or expect to do anything else on your cooking day (like drive carpool).
- Don’t try to make desserts on the same day — don’t do extras.
What are your top three favorite recipes in the new Once-a-Month Cookbook Family Favorites—and why?
1. Country-Style Ribs (This slow cooker entrée provides great aroma-therapy!)
2. Corn Soup with Basil, Avocado, and Crab (This delicious soup proves that frozen entrees can be both elegant and delicious.)
3. Penne in Cream Sauce with Sausage (My son Drew keeps asking me when we’ll have this one.)
1. Lemon Chicken (It’s so fast and tasty! Great for unexpected guests; it can be on the table in ten minutes.)
2. Uptown Joes (Great for picnics or ballgames in wide-mouth thermos.)
3. Beef Pot Roast (I love this one for its smell. There’s nothing like coming into a house that smells good.)
Beyond the obvious rewards of reducing food prep time, hassle, and grocery bills, what are you hoping Once-a-Month Cooking Family Favorites will do for busy families?
Mary Beth: My hope is that this technique will make it possible for families to spend more meals together around a table. The family dinner is a simple concept with profound, measureable advantages for children and parents. We relinquish it too easily to busy schedules. I want other families to discover that a warm meal and good conversation are simple, valuable gifts that anyone would enjoy.
Mimi: And I truly believe there isn’t any other family activity that is more meaningful or productive.
Mary Beth Lagerborg and Mimi Wilson’s original bestseller Once-a-Month Cooking™ started the bulk freezer cooking phenomenon from recipes made for their own families. Both live in Colorado and continue to share a passion to help today’s cooks save time and money while building family relationships over delicious meals.
Mary Beth is the creator of the website dwellingspace.com, providing tools on creating a home full of acceptance and creativity. She is also the former media director for MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers).
Mimi travels extensively to regions like Jordan, Ecuador, and Rwanda, and teaches Once-a-Month Cooking principles and benefits internationally.