Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Once-A-Month Cooking - Tucker Style

A Brief Pre-Requisite Update on the Tuckers - which most of you already know...

Duane is back to work, driving locally, and home every night. He's gone to Hermiston, Prineville, Springfield, and equivalent lengths North, and West. But most of his runs are around Portland, or down to Albany/Eugene. He starts at 7am (just 5 minutes away from home), and gets home around 7:30pm (though sometimes he surprises me by getting home as soon as 5). The key fact though, is that he's home every night. Yay!!! When offered jobs that would take him away for a couple nights a week, he declined, saying that his marriage was more important to him than his job. Major husband points, right there! Somehow we survived for three years with him doing over-the-road trucking, but I just couldn't go back "there" again. He provides so much stability for me, and I just love having him around. I'm glad we get to be a team!

Meanwhile, I'm back to work full-time (30 hours/week) with Child Evangelism Fellowship as Office Manager and Director of Training. I'm also taking full-time online courses through the Degree Completion Program at Multnomah University. I'm majoring in Business Management, as a number of those classes line up with what I am doing at CEF. I attend class one night a week, and have 15 or so hours of homework in preparation for each class.

Currently Duane's weekend is Sunday and Monday each week, and I'm able to juggle mine to Saturday-Monday, so I have Saturday to study before I join him in spending our weekend together. Romeo and Jada don't exactly appreciate the long days by themselves, but we try to minimize that as much as possible.

I've also been going to bed at around 8pm, when Duane does, so I can join him in rising early, as I can. He gets up at 4am, and I get up as early as my still-recovering-body allows. Sometimes that means I'm up at 4:30, sometimes that means I barely stir to receive his good-bye kiss and sleep until 8. Some of you will laugh to hear me say that I found out it's actually kinda fun to get so much done before 8 in the morning! I'm just glad for the days my body cooperates!

Food for the Tuckers

All of that was to say: we're busy!!! Since Duane has been our main chef for so long, it's an adjustment to try and sort out the cooking when he's gone so much. On top of that, most of you know, I've never had any desire to be THE COOK. But now that I'm home more than he is, I'm trying to figure out ways to make this survivable by both of us.

The goals: 
  • Food for Duane to cook when he wants to cook (since he enjoys it so much)
  • Food that we will both enjoy 
  • Food that's safe for me to eat (ie Gluten-free, no/very-low sugar, limited dairy)
  • Healthy food that will nourish our bodies
  • Maintain a predictable budget 
  • Require limited time for food prep and cooking: I need something with about 2 minutes of prep when I get home exhausted after work and the last thing I want to do is cook. Also, Duane often gets home at 7:30, and goes to bed at 8, so not much room for waiting on food!
The Ideas: 
  • We tried the Home Chef program (they box up your prepared food supplies and send it to you, ready to cook)
    • Lovely idea
    • Too expensive
    • No leftovers
    • Not enough "safe" meals
    • Still some prep time involved
    • Duane likes the food, but doesn't get to maintain his flexibility to cook ("recipes are great for YOU, Cora...")
      NOTE: I also looked into Blue Apron, as you can get gift cards at Costco, so that it's basically 20% off, but they don't have gluten-free meals yet. 
  • Growing up, Mom Johnson tried the Once-A-Month Cooking plan talked about on Focus on The Family: Prepare and freeze your meals ahead, then pull it out and cook it.
    • Loved it growing up
    • Great meals!
    • Low-Cost
    • Not enough "safe" meals
  • E-Meals (a menu-planning service to help keep cost down and simplify the planning)
    • Once a week shopping
    • Too much food for us in a week
    • Still too much organization, since I had to cut down the menu AND do the shopping (see above)
    • Great food and variety! Many of the foods on our "favorite" list came from them.
    • Challenged us with new and usually tasty foods!
    • Simple prep and instructions
    • Still requires time preparing and cooking
    • Could work for our budget, but not ideal
    • Again, doesn't give Duane flexibility to cook what he wants to cook
  • Dining out regularly (funny how this isn't the top of the list!).
    • Too expensive (duh).
  • This Project: Once-A-Month cooking, Tucker-style
    • Minimal food prep time
    • Predictable budget (yet to find out: is it IN our budget?)
    • Flexibility so Duane can cook
    • Most of the meals are already favorites (a favorite meal EVERY NIGHT!?!?! Yay!)
    • All the meals are safe. 
So here's the cute little cover for my notebook that I adapted from a gal online
The main plan is this: 
  • I have the same set of meals every month (eventually I can do an "A" month and a "B" month, so we won't have the same meal for two months)
  • I do all the shopping from my pre-planned grocery list (no thinking!) once a month. 
  • I take one day and put everything into packages by meal for the month, ready to freeze (or in some cases refrigerate). If I time this right, I'll rope Duane into helping, and it should only take a couple hours. 
  • Each night, I'll pull out whichever package I want to use for dinner the next night, and put it in the fridge. I chose not to try to plan particular main dishes to go with certain sides, or to establish a monthly "menu". If you're more by-the-book, or have other reasons this would be helpful, I say "go for it!", but I've learned about us Tuckers that life doesn't revolve around a chart. I'd just get frustrated that I wasn't doing it "like I planned", so this plan lets us stay flexible, yet prepared! Depending on the week, I might sit down when I'm planning my week's schedule and sketch in some basic plans, which will help me know what to pick up for the fresh-veggie side dishes, but it's also not a "requirement."
  • When I get home from work, I can get to cooking, and not require any prep. Some meals are crock-pot friendly, so I can get them going in the morning before I leave... like on Thursdays when I barely have time to get home before class time... much less eat...
  • Bonus: I build into the budget $20 once a week, so Duane can go out and pick up the stuff for something else he's in the mood to make, just in case it's not something already on our list. Anyone who's had one of his meals, knows that there are usually leftovers, so really that's a 2+ meal budget! :)
So each week, I plan to: 
  • Pick 3 fresh veggies to buy and serve 
  • 1 meal Chef’s choice ($20)
  • Pick 6 main dishes from freezer
  • Pick 4 veggie dishes from freezer
My suspicion is that we'll still have too much food, so this is, quite possibly, the "Tucker 1.5 Month Plan". Which would make the budget even more likely to work for us. Some of the recipes are really big enough that we'll have two or more meals from each one. Which is handy, because that takes care of our lunches, as well. 

So here's what I did: 

  1. I found our favorite recipes, new and old. There are plenty of favorites left, but I selected some that would have similar ingredients (not as expensive getting a bunch of DIFFERENT stuff). 
  2. I entered these into the free online-and-android app called BigOven (also available in the Apple store for you weirdos those of you who have apple products). This app allowed me to enter and store my recipes from my computer, make and edit a grocery list from the meals I selected, and also have my grocery list with me at the store on my android device. It also has a menu planning feature, but I think that works mostly with the paid version, and I didn't need it for this plan anyway. 
  3. I went through by recipe, and decided how things would be packaged (These ingredients go in bag 1, these other ingredients go in bag 2, a couple items just need to stay in the fridge, etc.). This also helped me figure out what I will need to do on Prep day for each recipe (slice the veggies, cut the meat, etc.). I was pleased to find that most of them don't require much prep: it's mostly just tossing it in my freezer-ready packaging. 
  4. I assembled my handy-dandy notebook with the following sections
    1. Prep: 
      • My list of meals (both main dishes and side dishes)
        NOTE: You'll see that each meal is used twice, but I can serve them with weeks in between, or use them together when company comes!
      • The shopping list
      • Instructions for Prep Day
    2. Frozen Meals - Recipes for the frozen meals
      NOTE: these were easily printed off the BigOven app, with the added bonus that I can re-print them later if I need to do any editing, or add some personal notes.
    3. Fresh Meals - the side dishes that I'll need the recipes for, but won't purchase until the week-of
My Meal List
Each meal is offered twice, and
I can check off each meal as I serve it,
so I know what's left to choose from.
My Grocery List I also have this on my BigOven App
Prep Day Instructions A summary of steps required on "Prep Day"

So you're joining me for the progress. I plan to start this program when I return from a conference next week, so watch for another post after I actually do the shopping and prep day, and probably another after I actually survive the month. I'm sure there will be changes and "tweaks" to the plan. And then again, it may end up as another idea on my list with bullet points of pros and cons as I look for another option. If it DOES survive as our new routine, I'll share my recipes and documents so you can easily make it your own, but until I've had a chance to test it, I'll try not to confuse you with any faulty methods. :)

Now... I'd better go remind Duane to try to use the stuff from the freezer while I'm gone, so there's room for a month's-worth of meals!