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Once-a-month cooking saves cash

Deborah Taylor-Hough says she has saved $24,000 on her grocery bill in the last five years. Her secret? Cooking a month's worth of meals and side dishes during one eight-hour session and then storing them in the freezer. She ends up spending less than $150 a month on family dinners. She also does a small cooking session for breakfast foods like waffles and muffins.

"It's amazing how much time it saves, and I'm really amazed at how much money it saves," says the Olympia, Wash., author of "Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month."

With once-a-month cooking, a family pulls ready-made enchiladas or parsley Parmesan chicken from the freezer, reheats it and sits down to eat instead of cooking. All the shopping, preparation and cooking becomes a monthly chore instead of a daily grind.

Stay-at-home moms use once-a-month cooking as a social outlet, while working moms choose it because they don't have enough time to cook meals and then sit down and share them with their families. They are choosing to spend the time with their families, says Nanci Slagle, co-author of the "Freezer Cooking Manual from 30 Day Gourmet: A Month of Meals Made Easy."

Helpful supplies:
Two large mixing containers. Long-handled utensils.
At least one large stockpot. A food processor.
Large glass measuring cups. A Crockpot.
A good can opener. A Salad Shooter.
An electric skillet. A large skillet.

"It's really not a new idea. It's something our grandmothers were doing," Slagle says. She and her cooking partner, Tara Wohlenhaus, usually spend about $3.50 per dinner, and have progressed to cooking once every three months.

"I think so many people live on a daily basis and don't think about dinner until 4 o'clock," Slagle says. She calls this "crisis cooking." "It's that 'not having anything' that's awful and running to the store. When you crisis cook you spend tons of money on food. You just spend whatever (is necessary) to get food on the table that night."

But you pay a price for taking the mystery out of the menu: careful planning, shopping, preparing -- and above all -- knowing how to freeze food without ruining a day's worth of work.

Next: "Plan your once-a-month cooking around what is on sale."
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