Wednesday, September 17, 2008

After taking a bit of a break from doing OAMC, (don't ask me why I took a break, I'd say I was being lazy, but that doesn't quite work because this break only created more day to day work for myself) my food budget and my daily stress levels started screaming at me to get back to it.

One day, I was talking with my cousin who was telling me about her group of friends and how they all make up several freezer meals and swap. I thought this sounded like a great idea only I wanted to improve it a bit for my needs. As I started considering my friends who might be interested in a group of this sort I realized that I could make this a fun event that would benefit all who participate.

I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who does not cook. She will be the first to tell you she doesn't cook, doesn't really like to cook and that her family eats out most of the time. As I considered my group idea, I thought of how this could benefit her and her family.

Then I considered other friends: some I know who have already done OAMC on their own and some who have gone to make and take franchise places. I considered them and decided that I could do this group thing and I could do it well.

So I sent my first email. I explained my idea in as much detail as I could at that time. All three families said they were interested and so the process began. We got together and picked a menu. I made up the shopping lists and did the shopping and we divided up the tasks that could be done the day before our cook day.

When our cook day arrived, I had high hopes that we would be done before mid afternoon, but didn't really know what to expect. Everyone showed up with the cooked meat and chopped veggies and we were ready to start our meal assembly. Our first attempt menu consisted of 15 meals. We got them all put together and were done about 12:30. Our 15 meals cost each family about $95. I was amazed by the money savings of working as a group and the time savings. Think about it, as a group, we did 60 meals in less than 4 hours. WOW!!

I was so pleased by the process that I knew for sure we would do it again. A couple of months later, we were ready for round two. We would have done it sooner but family vacations overlapped and got in the way of scheduling. I sent out another invite to get some new families involved and got started planning. (2 of the families from the previous time opted out this time around for one reason or another)

One of my friends (the same one mentioned above) told me that when the meals ran out her husband started asking when I was going to be cooking for them again. I thought that was hilarious. Though I facilitated the group with my menus, organization, and prior experience, she had actually made all of her own meals.

Round 2 came and this time we had only 3 families participating, and one of them new to our group. One was recovering from surgery so that left two of us to prepare all the meals for the 3 families. We were still done by noon. This time we made 18 meals for each family and our cost was about $120. I figured as we got the process down we could add a few meals each time until we got to what we wanted.

Round 2 was great and we started looking to round 3. This time 4 families participated and 20 meals were planned. Due to a miscalculation on my part, we were short a bit of chicken and cut out one of the meals, but we had 19 meals per family done by about 11:30 and were done with clean up and they were out the door by 12:30. Round 3 cost each family about $150 and that breaks down to about $8 per meal. This month we made 76 dinners in about 3.5 hours.

We are now set on a schedule to get together to cook the second Thursday every month. I am working on our 4th menu right now and am very excited for the future of meals doing group once a month cooking.

Instead of spending 1-1.5 hours daily in meal preparation, I now spend perhaps 5 minutes to determine which meal to take out of the freezer each morning and then 5-10 minutes each evening to prepare the meal and side dishes. We have a home cooked meal nearly every night and I feel fulfilled in my role as chef.

Being the mother of 5 children with a husband who travels out of town Monday through Friday most weeks, my time is invaluable. Every minute counts when I am trying to help 4 kids with homework, manage bath times and bed times, not to mention sports schedules, school events, and church activities that happen in the evenings as well.

When I have my freezer full of meals we eat more healthy foods as they are homemade instead of prepackaged frozen meals, canned foods or take out. I save at least $400 a month off my grocery expenses, and I have so much more time to spend doing the things that are truly important.

By adding the element of doing this with my friends, the savings of both time and money are greater, I have the opportunity to help other families, and I get to hang out with my friends while we are preparing our meals. It's GREAT!!!


Melinda said...

Can I join your group? Wish I could. Curious to many kids do each of these families have? Do you look for family sizes about the same as yours?

Michelle said...

I wish you could join my group too. Most of the recipes are geared for 6 servings. For my family that works great because my boys don't eat much. The others in my group have 5,5, and 6 people in their families. It works good because even the families that are smaller use leftovers for lunches and stuff. I try to get the numbers close or at least the ratios, but you can work it out even if they are unbalanced. A smaller family could divide the large meals into two portions too.

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