Five Really Easy Recipes To Make Once-A-Month Cooking Work For Busy People

spiceMany people look at once a month cooking and shy away because the effort required to make dozens of complete meals at once is quite frightening. To tell you the truth, it scares me a bit, too.

What I’ve found, though, is that some items are actually very suited to once a month cooking. These items usually work well for quick meals, actually, because they’re wholly prepared for you and can usually be microwaved when you want to eat them. You just have to devote a couple of hours to preparing a large number of them. Some of these have been mentioned before in brief, but here I’ll formalize them more, giving you an ingredient list to work with when you go shopping.

Ready? Here are six recipes that will only take an hour or two to make a bunch of. All you need is freezer space.

Breakfast Burritos

What you need:
2 pounds of cured smoked sausage, cubed
4 medium onions, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
2 tomatos, diced
2 pounds of shredded cheese
16 eggs
32 big flour tortillas (10″ ones work well)
1 jar of picante sauce
Saran wrap or Ziploc freezer bags (for packing)

Cut up the meat and vegetables and split it into four separate equal batches. Crack all sixteen eggs, blend them so the yolk is even, then separate this into four equal batches. (If you have a huge skillet, you can do this in two batches instead.) Saute a batch of meat and veggies for about ten minutes, then add a batch of the eggs and stir regularly until the eggs are cooked. Each small batch here makes eight burritos, so spoon some of the egg/veggie/meat mix onto a tortilla shell, put some cheese and a bit of picante sauce on top, then fold it up and wrap it in Saran wrap. Toss the finished burritos in the freezer. I can make 32 burritos in about an hour and a half following this process.

Breakfast Sandwiches

2 dozen eggs
2 dozen bagels or English muffins
2 dozen slices of Canadian bacon
2 dozen slices of cheddar cheese
Saran wrap or Ziploc freezer bags (for packing)

Easy as can be. Just fry the eggs. Each sandwich consists of a bagel/muffin, a fried egg, a slice of Canadian bacon (optional), and a slice of cheese. Pack them up and toss them in the freezer to be microwaved later.

Cold Cut Sandwiches

2 dozen bagels/English muffins (these freeze well, but you can use buns or sliced bread, too)
3 pounds of your favorite cold cut (this assumes 1/8 pound per sandwich)
2 dozen slices of an appropriate cheese
Saran wrap or Ziploc freezer bags (for packing)

Again, incredibly easy. Assemble the sandwiches, then freeze them. All you have to do is defrost them for a minute or so in the microwave, or put them in the fridge at breakfast time to eat them.

Chicken Strips

A box of unsweetened corn flakes
4 pounds of chicken breasts
A half-cup of flour
Salt and pepper (to taste)
Grated parmesan cheese (optional)
A dozen eggs, beaten
Saran wrap or freezer Ziplocs (for packing)

Slice the chicken breasts into strips. Take one of the Ziploc bags, add six cups of the corn flakes to the bag and crunch into oblivion (a rolling pin or a beer bottle turned on its side works well). Add a few dashes of salt and pepper, the flour, and the grated cheese to the bag. Then, take each strip, dip it in the egg, roll it around in the crumbs, then lay it on a baking pan. Do this for as many as you can fit on the pan, then put them in the oven at 375 F for about eighteen minutes or so. Pull them out, let them cool, pack them away. You can quickly reheat them in the microwave and they’re quite tasty.

Quick Chicken Casserole

3 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
3 pounds broccoli
6 cups rice
4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
2 chicken boullion cubes
Freezer Ziploc bags for packing

Steam the rice and broccoli separately using water with a chicken boullion cube in it. Boil the chicken breasts until cooked, then dice the chicken breasts. While everything’s warm, mix the cooked diced breasts, the broccoli, the rice, and the cheese together in a giant bowl, then pack appropriate amounts of it into Ziploc bags (however much you think you’ll need at a meal). Delicious, cheesy, rather healthy, and it takes a microwave and about seven minutes to go from freezer to dinner plate.

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  1. Wesa says:

    Great ideas, though you may want to include non-microwave directions for the few of us who choose to not own microwaves. :) Most of those meals can be warmed up in the oven for 5 minutes or so.

  2. Elaine says:

    These don’t look too healthy to me o.O

    Wesa you’re right, I often make black bean burritos and my recipe makes 16. I eat two for dinner and wrap the rest in tinfoil for freezing. Then they can go in the oven, and I can reuse the foil as well. I can take them to work and microwave them as well, since by lunchtime they’ll have thawed enough to take them out of the foil.

  3. Jose says:

    @Elaine

    I think you will want to look at these as templates not set in stone recipes. You can always omit the cheese if you are worried about calories or use leaner proteins for the breakfast sandwiches. You can add your favorite herbs and spices, use mushrooms and scallions, maybe soy sauce in lieu of salt, and countless of other variations. The point is to have a template of recipes to try out once a month cooking. Also, I don’t understand the fat-phobia, if there is a word. I think its best to avoid trans-fats, processed foods which are full of sodium, and excess sugar more than anything else.

  4. Jake Smith says:

    The breakfast burrito idea is terrific!

  5. Louise says:

    Excellent, I was just going to ask about this:
    I made a bunch of breakfast sandwiches and froze them. When I reheat them, the eggs taste like soggy cardboard. Suggestions?

  6. Louise says:

    These may not be the healthiest recipes, but they certainly beat a bowl of frosted sugary cereal, a donut, and most fast food breakfast menus. Eating any breakfast at all will help deter you from overeating (and overpurchasing) at lunch.

  7. David says:

    @Louise – My guess with the eggs (I’m not an egg-spert) is that the eggs may have been too wet – maybe let them cook a hair longer and see if that makes a difference?

    Did you throw the sandwiches straight into the freezer while they were still warm? If so, let them come down to something around room temperature and then freeze them as quickly as possible in the coldest part of your freezer.

  8. Erin says:

    I’m very interested in once a month cooking and have even purchased two cookbooks dedicated to it. My problem is that none of the recipes look tasty! Your breakfast burritos and breakfast sandwiches look good, but in general I have cereal for breakfast. Although they would be a good dinner alternative.

    Also good to freeze are stuffed pasta shells, lasagna, and turkey meatballs. You can bake, cut into single servings and then freeze, or freeze in the pan.

  9. Elaine says:

    ew, who eats a bowl of sugary cereal and a donut for breakfast? I do just fine on a steady breakfast diet of cheerios, oatmeal, and smoothies.

  10. Brad says:

    I don’t think cheerios are all that nutritious in reality either. :)

    You could substitute boneless/skinless thighs for the breast meat in the final recipe. We find those cheaper and we like that they are not as dry.

    Brad

  11. Mary says:

    Are these supposed to be frozen when you’re done? How do you thaw them?

  12. Kay says:

    A very good idea to make inexpensive home-made convenience foods, but these recipes are not the healthiest. In the long run, medical bills related to the preventable ills of diabetes, coronary heart disease, obesity, stroke, etc. will far outweigh the savings today. (the same argument can be made against eating from fast food dollar meal menus) Where is the fiber? Why the high reliance on cheese? The nitrates in cured meat are way bad for you. These are sodium city. Though your intentions are admirable.

    Check out the classic Swiss Muesli Bircher recipe — raw oatmeal/rolled oats soaked over night in water, skim milk, or soy milk. Next morning, add a freshly grated apple, maybe a little yogurt, raisins, cut grapes, sliced almonds OR cut banana. Way cheap, high-fiber, creamy-tasting, quick, heart healthy, and delicious. One minute to measure out the oats and the liquid. Takes 30 seconds to grate an apple. Another 30 seconds to toss in the other optional ingredients. Voila!

  13. Marilyn says:

    I think the concept is great, but I agree that the recipes could be doctored just a bit to make them a bit healthier.

    For example, with the chicken dish, I would use low sodium chicken broth for the rice and broccoli rather than boullion. If desired, you could use reduced fat cheese (I think no fat cheese also has no flavor!)

    The chicken strips could be made with eggbeaters, which, though slightly more expensive than eggs (if not purchased on sale), would allay concerns about cholesterol and fat.

    On the burritos, I would swap the sausage out in favor of beans (black would be my pick) – you get protein without the fat or additives of sausage.

    My breakfasts this week: oatmeal with some skim milk and fresh berries (on which I got an awesome deal at the grocery.) By mistake, when I made my first pot of oatmeal on Monday, I made way too much. I ended up putting the leftovers in the fridge and nuking them the following days. The taste was almost exactly the same – I will now make a week’s worth of oatmeal deliberately!

    In all, though, I agree that anytime you eat/prepare at home, you are likely better off.

  14. pam says:

    The topic is “easy recipes for busy people.” I think Trent’s purpose to make convenience food to grab out of the freezer rather than take-out food. In comparison, these recipes are healthier than fast food.

    Jose is right – when you see a recipe, tweak it and make it your own.

    Kay has a good Muesli recipe. I like to make my own flavored oatmeal packets. Check out this link: http://www.betterbudgeting.com/articles/frugal/breakfast.htm

    Any other good recipes to share for convenience food?

  15. I began using your breakfast recipes a month ago and it’s worked out VERY well thus far. Thanks bud.

  16. Elaine says:

    Okay, healthier than fast food claims. I got my info here from nutritiondata.com. You guys like numbers, so check these out.

    Trent’s breakfast burrito. Serving size = 1 burrito, ~187g.
    456 calories, 212 from fat.
    Total fat 24g (37% DV)
    Saturated fat 11 g (53%)
    Cholesterol 151 mg (50%)
    Sodium 1003 mg (42%)
    Carbs 40g (13%)
    Fiber 3g (11%)
    Sugar 3g
    Protein 20g
    Vitamin A 11%
    Vitamin C 14%
    Calcium 30%
    Iron 20%

    McDonald’s Sausage Breakfast Burrito Serving size – 1 burrito, 113 g.
    Calories 290, 150 from fat
    Total fat 16g (25%)
    Saturated 6g (30%)
    Cholesterol 170g (57%)
    Sodium 680 mg (28%)
    Carbs 24g (8%)
    Fiber 2g (8%)
    Sugar 2g
    Protein 2g
    Vitamin A 10%
    Vitamin C 20%
    Calcium 15%
    Iron 15%

    My usual breakfast – smoothie made with a banana, 2 T peanut butter, 3 dates, 1 cup soymilk. Plus a piece of whole wheat toast.
    Serving size ~ 509 g.

    Calories 719, 196 from fat.
    Total fat 23g (35%)
    Saturated fat 4g (18%)
    Cholesterol 0 mg (0%)
    Sodium 263 mg (11%)
    Carbs 123 g (41%)
    Fiber 16g (63%)
    Sugars 68 g (from the dates; they can be left out)
    Protein 19g
    Vitamin A 26%
    Vitamin C 17%
    Calcium 45%
    Iron 25%

    If you think something is healthier than fast food just because you made it at home, you’re fooling yourself. It’s always better to check, as you can see here McD’s beats Trent pretty much across the board.

    Of course I’m aware that my breakfast has many more calories. However, it is twice as big (assuming you only eat ONE breakfast burrito) and I burn off a good number of those calories biking to work. I’m well aware of my caloric needs here :)

    Links to full nutritional analyses:
    Trent
    McDonalds
    me

  17. Trent says:

    Elaine: your analysis assumes I’m using perhaps the worst possible fatty sausage on earth (seriously, look at that site’s definition of sausage – you might as well eat lard) and also doesn’t take into account that the burritos in my recipe are also about twice the size of the McD’s burritos.

    These recipes are intended to be frameworks – they’re simple enough that you can modify them like crazy. My actual breakfast burritos have WAY more onion, green pepper, garlic, tomato, homemade salsa, etc. and not as much sausage or egg but most people’s stomach would turn eating them.

  18. Elaine says:

    Oh! I’m sorry, I did post that twice. whoops. And I forgot to turn off the italics. And I think the McD’s should say 20g protein, not 2.

    Anyway… even if you cut the amount of sausage in half to compensate for their database inadequacies – brings the serving size down to 160-ish g (about 40% bigger than McD’s, of course) the golden arches are still slightly ahead, unless the difference in size is enough that the average person would eat one of your burritos, but two of McD’s. Smaller servings are often a good thing, especially if it’s a Tube o’ Cholesterol.

    My point remains, promoting this as a healthy alternative to anything is really misguided. The recipe as you posted it is ridiculously high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and even if it is cheaper to make, it is not cheaper to clean out of your arteries. Especially if people are eating stuff like this on a regular basis.

    And given that this is supposed to be about finance – how much would you say one serving works out to? I figure one of my breakfast smoothies rings in at about a dollar. And that’s using soymilk that costs $4 for 1.89 litres. eek!

  19. Mer @ Living Behind The Curve says:

    Hmm… OAMC can work, but I honestly don’t have the time to cook my food twice. Let’s see what I can do here…

    QuickER Chicken Casserole a la Mer

    3 pounds raw boneless skinless chicken breasts, *snipped into chunks*
    3 pounds raw broccoli florets
    *2.5 cups uncooked rice*
    * 3 cups flavorful liquid (veg stock or chicken stock)*
    *1 cup chopped onion*
    *16 ounces canned mushrooms*
    4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
    *salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, garlic powder*
    *small foil trays, no bigger than 6 cups*.

    Mix all ingredients together except the cheese, portion into foil trays, cover with plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and freeze.

    When you’re ready, remove the plastic wrap, replace the foil, and place in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove the foil, top with cheese and bake for another 10 minutes, pull it out of the oven and let it sit for a minute, and enjoy!

  20. Amber Yount says:

    I made the breakfast burritos for my husband, and also a set of chiciken quesadillas..he says when he heats ups the burritos, the tortillas are hard as a rock, for the quesadillas, he has to eat the cold because he drives for a living, and he says they tend to get soggy when they de-thaw…Anybody have any suggestions? We’re tryjing to save money because he’s spending over $60 a week to eat during work, and most of that is crappy gas station treats.

  21. Trent says:

    If something comes out of the microwave dry, moisten it a bit before putting it in. If it comes out moist, wrap it tightly in paper towels before putting it in.

  22. Em says:

    For cooking on the road, check out Manifold Destiny. There are also several sites on the web that describe this process (using your engine to cook/reheat foods).
    Personally, in my own job, we often eat as we are working, between patients. I have learned that the computer transformers/chargers get mighty hot. I like to take 2 that are next to each other and put my Glad-wrapped or baggied item to heat up and place it between them or under/over them to heat up my stuff. It never fails to have my grub pleasantly hot for meal time. I’ve done this for maybe 10+ years with no problems. You can even put a can of soup on top to warm it up. The shape doesn’t make it really hot, but if you are eating something that doesn’t need to be super hot, go for it.
    As for those complainers about the healthy-ness of the recipes-quit yer gripin’! You can modify the recipe IDEAS in any way you like. And compared to the typical doughnut or sugar cereal breakfast, that burrito idea is one that clearly is a better alternative. I think I’ll make some mixed with pintos and fresh jalapeƱos. MMMMmmmmmm… Thanks Trent, outstanding article!

  23. Em says:

    Oh yeah, I’d like to suggest an idea for dealing with hamburger. Buy in bulk, then boil it all in a large pot on the stove. Seriously. Stir it up to avoid the big chunks. When you are done, strain the grease liquid off. (My dog loves burger-boil night. Alternatively, fireant mounds are a great place to pour that greasy mess into also. heh heh heh) When the meat cools, baggie it up in 1 lb portions. Freeze it and you have something handy and ready to go. Pros: 1-It is cooked. No worries about raw meat. 2-It cannot burn as long as there is water covering the meat. 3-No browning the meat in its own fat-pour off what can come off. 4-The main reason–it is really handy when you have kids in the house who cook. You have less mess and reduced chances of having something weird for supper. (Trust me-Spaghetti with canned tuna is really bad.)

  24. Molly says:

    I do OAMC and joined the 30 Day Gourmet (it’s a Yahoo site)http://www.30daygourmet.com/ and love their recipes. There is also another site that I frequent http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/index.htm
    http://snider.mardox.com/plans.htm
    http://busycooks.about.com/od/homemademixes/Homemade_Mixes.htm

  25. Beth says:

    Trent – thanks for linking to these older posts.

    To those who say these recipes aren’t healthy enough: Change them to suit your needs or find other recipes elsewhere.

    I’ve also used many recipes from the 30 Day Gourmet and find them easy to use, along with the planning worksheets provided if you’re serious about cooking in huge batches.

    Thanks again!

  26. Susan says:

    Well, I think the homemade recipes are great! They are cheaper, you can always find healthy toritllas and use a moderate amount of sausage. Plus it helps my childern learn how to cook and not spend super large amounts eating out. My grandparents ate bacon, sausage and cheese all their lives and lived into their 90′s, but they didn’t eat fast food….go figure, lol.

  27. Kimberly says:

    We’re on this site to learn ways to cut costs (and save time!) and I think these recipes are great for that. If you want recipes specifically designed to be healthy, there are other sites for that. I made a batch of the breakfast burritos last night for my husband. He loved them! I used more eggs and less sausage for the protein. Didn’t use quite as much cheese and loaded it down with salsa. These recipes are awesome, I look forawrd to finding more on this site. So far I think Trent has great ideas on how to save money. I go to school and work full time and these ideas are do-able for people on the go.

  28. Des says:

    These food posts are my favourite.

    I loved the Chicken casserole, but to make it even more affordable used regular chicken rather than just breast meat. I boiled the bones and used the liquid for stock the second time I made it. And you don’t even have to use broccoli, I made it the second time with eggplant, carrots and cauliflower. Things that were lying in the fridge. Just as delicious.

    What gets me though is the instant oats post. Living in a third world country, even the quick oats is quite expensive, so I tried blitzing up some regular oats in the blender. It tastes like cardboard flavoured with wallpaper paste and raisins. I still eat it though :p

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