It works. It really does!
I really wished I’d been paying closer attention when I set up a little starter system for my friend, Karina. It wasn’t ever intended to be blog fodder. I don’t have photos of the magic. I have very few notes. It was just a friend, helping another friend. However, it’s impossible to ignore what happened after I did. She is now about half her original size… and all kinds of happy, energetic and enthusiastic. I think it’s important to discuss what we did!
However, before I get any deeper, I should point out that this topic and post is enormous. It’s incredibly important information. I didn’t want to leave anything out, but it’s also far too much information for a single post. As you proceed, be aware that this post is split in half and will cut out in the middle. The first half focuses on Meal Planning and Once a Month Cooking. The second half will focus on Freezer Tips and Recipes.
The short version: Karina and I cooked over a month’s worth of food, in 2 days. Then, we packaged it and stashed it. This was intended to give Karina a long and effortless runway, where she could eat what she wanted, when she wanted and have some level of comfort and confidence during the initial induction/keto flu, rabid cravings and more. Finally, it was intended to give her the time to embrace it, see it work, and start working on her own menu planning skills. She lost an incredible amount of weight in that first month and appears to be continually losing a good 2 to 4 lbs. a month, without even trying, well over a year later.
The long version: In all my various writings, menu plans, books, etc. I talk about creating too much of a certain recipe, enjoying some and saving the rest for a rainy day. I advocate cooking in bulk.
Here are two photos of my freezer, on any given day:
It’s FULL of goodies! So much so, in fact, that people make fun of me. However, there are two major reasons for it.
- Hoarding (especially sausages).
I go back and forth between Mexico and Seattle. In Mexico, it’s hard to find certain ingredients. Because of this, when I see a specific item I want, I buy a lot of it. I may never see it again. My subtle food hoarding habit comes from this.
- Plan B.
Plan B is huge to my success. I always know that even if I’d planned to cook a fresh meal, I’ve got alternatives lined up. At the last minute, should I find myself busy, lazy, out of time, out of ingredients, etc. I know that I always have a stockpile of food, all ready to go. It’s also really fantastic for avoiding (or indulging in) cravings. I’m less likely to jump into a dozen donuts if my freezer is full of homemade sugar-free ice cream. Finally, by cooking in bulk, I’m able to cook A LOT of food at once, enough for weeks, which saves me oodles of time in the long run. It’s a super-efficient and affordable way to approach this way of eating.
(I have secret fantasies of starting up little clubs in industrial kitchens where like-minded groups gather and help one another cook massive amounts of food, which is all ordered in bulk. At the end of the cook, everyone walks home with a mountain of prepared goodness…. A great social hang, totally affordable, hyper-productive and it’ll likely lead to better heath and habits!)
I don’t JUST have frozen food, either. I also have stashes ofhomemade granola, fruit, nuts, beef jerky, cheese crisps, chia seeds and more, all queue’d up… for a periodic unplanned late-night graze. Without that stash, I may very well wander mindlessly to the pizza-taco & donut shop.
I have found that having a small mountain of ready to eat foods has kept me on track. I have also found that this exact approach to eating has worked for others.
My personal general approach to eating is to mix and match frozen foods with fresh foods. I personally usually have a big cup of coffee for breakfast, followed by a piece of fruit for lunch (if I’m working out). If I’m not, it’s usually a bowl of soup or a sandwich made with grain-free bread. Dinner is where most of my nourishment comes from.
Likely, my biggest staple dinner is a “Warm Salad“. I’m sure I eat one at least one a week, but liekly closer to 2 or 3. This is a mixture of hot, cooked ingredients and raw ingredients and lettuce, tossed in a bowl and enjoyed. It’s a distant cousin of the stir-fry. I also have lots of other quick little fresh meals I throw together, or frozen bases that I add fresh veggies to. Essentially, though… I mix and match.
At any given time, it’s my goal to have 30 days’ worth of food, cooked and ready to go. So, even if I get stuck in a situation where I simply don’t have time to cook, I’ve got a 30-day stash that I can effortlessly burn through.
At the end of that, however… I need a 2-day cook. It’s the OAMC. Once a Month Cooking.
This seems like a good place to throw Karina’s words into the post. Let’s hear from Guest Blogger Karina Arana!
I wasn’t much of a cook. As a single mom, who worked full time and had a very picky eating kid, my repertoire was limited to packaged things, fast foods, SO MANY pizzas, pastas, and foods with little to no effort. If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a great many years eating a bunch of quick effortless crap and steadily gained weight.
I didn’t realize I was completely addicted to sugar and carbs. I would constantly crash with mood swings, fatigue, you name it, but I wasn’t aware of what was happening. When feeling like that, who wants to take the time to prepare something healthy and delicious? I could barely think when I got home. I would just grab something from the freezer (usually a frozen pizza) and feed the kid and I (don’t get me started on the guilt I have over that, I didn’t know and I did the best I could, at the time).
When I finally decided to fix myself, I knew that I needed to be SUPER prepared. It needed to be easy, effortless and require no thought. I needed the food and snacks, ready to go. The only thing I was nervous about, really, was the actual cooking.
The two-day prep:
I cooked for two days and made enough food for almost 6 weeks. Now I must say that DJ was invaluable. I couldn’t have done it without him, but I got my hands dirty, he put me to work, and I learned so much. It’s impossible to thank him enough!
We went through his recipes to see what I liked the most, what would be most feasible, what would be most satisfying, affordable etc. DJ and I did some shopping and then he organized us. I came over to his kitchen and we cooked until I could stand no longer. I got to sample the delicious food as we cooked. DJ really pushed me to do things I’d never done (like make homemade ice cream). He was the chef in charge, but I worked my butt off! We were both famished, so we agreed to finish up the next day. I’m pretty sure I went home and ate one last pizza before I started my new life.
Day two was also pretty tiring, but less intense somehow. I guess DJ and I found our rhythm. Besides some sore feet (I’m a writer, no longer used to working on my feet), I felt really good as set off on my journey to health.
We worked to make enough food for a month, but it actually amounted to quite a bit more. Most of it was vacuum sealed and frozen. I also had a list of meal “suggestions” from DJ. He told me to eat when I was hungry, as much as I wanted, as long as it was on the approved list! He made sure that I had filling and satisfying foods. To be honest, it was easier than I thought. I never really had to think about what I was going to “make” or rather order for dinner. I had plenty of things to eat and it was quick too!
I didn’t just eat the frozen food, some of the things we made that didn’t freeze as well were dated and enjoyed first. I also had fresh salads on the list, so I’d buy supplies to replenish my salad “stash”, if you will, so I didn’t feel like I was eating just frozen food. When DJ tells you something freezes well, it does, it stays delicious and feels homemade, because it was! No more preservatives, sugar, wheat and overall processed CARBAGE!!!!
By removing the “thinking” element to food preparation that first month, I was able to focus on other things, like what was happening to my body. I definitely experienced the flu-like symptoms that people talk about, but because I knew they were coming I was able to deal with it. Soon after, I felt so much better. After the “flu”, I felt my sugar addiction waning and eventually disappearing. Yes, the cravings were strong at first, but they are essentially gone. They resurface only when I cheat, which has made me want to cheat less and less over the last year.
After 13 months and 80 pounds down, I’m not going back there. I’m just not. I can live this way. I feel better in every way possible. My acid reflux, which at times got so bad I thought I was having a heart attack is completely gone. I can walk for days and not want to chop off my feet at the end of the day from the pain. My thinking is clearer, I have energy, I sleep better, I don’t snore anymore, I don’t constantly compare myself to others, I cook and eat as much organically as possible, I’m not bloated anymore, no more belly, no more horrible gas issues, no nausea when hungry (which I’m sure must have been sugar crashes/withdrawals), no more mood swings, I’m no longer “hangry”, I can breathe properly, and so much more and less, if you catch my drift…
I’m not going back. I love the way I feel!
I’m not perfect, I still have some issues, I constantly worry that I’ve gained weight and that I’m fat again (I’m not, but perhaps I have a little body dysmorphia or something) but I’m so, so good!!!
The first 30 days were most definitely the key to my success. I set myself up to succeed. I didn’t have to think about what to eat. I didn’t have to “give up” and swing through the drive-thru because I was “starving”. I learned to listen to my body and I learned that what I ate was making me so sick. I suspect I lost roughly 20-30 pounds that first month too, which gave me hope. Without hope, we have nothing.
I’m here to tell you it’s real, it’s doable, you won’t suffer (just a little right at first) and you will succeed!!!
Thanks, Karina! Keep up the good work!
For those of you curious to know what she ate, here’s the basic meal plan I created for her. A lot of it doesn’t match recipes on my site, they’re just things I made up, or have yet to document..
Also, here’s the email I wrote, the day after our big cooking session. As you read this, bear in mind that we’re friends. I’m keeping it casual. I’m sure loads of details were left out, but she also knew she could call, email and/or show on my doorstep, ravenous for bacon.
I vacuum packed the meatloaf and packaged the chicken curry. I’ll give it to you, tonight.
Your Meatloaf will contain two individual meatloaves, each. I would take out your smothered cabbage and split it into two halves. Take two meatloaves and slice them. Then put the slices on top of the smothered cabbage. Wrap one and refrigerate. Take the other and defrost it, until it’s warm. Enjoy! Use BBQ sauce or sugar-free ketchup. Let me know if you want me to bring you a bottle. I think I have an extra…
The Curry: Add about ¼ cup of coconut milk to each little frozen “puck” and maybe a pinch of salt. I’d warm this on the stove in a pan. Pour over the top of spaghetti squash. Enjoy!
Sopa sin Tortilla: Needs cubes of Mozz (about 1/3rd of a log) or Monterrey Jack and about ¼ cup of water. Also: Sour Cream, Pork Rinds, Fresh Chopped Cilantro and/or Fresh Chopped Raw Onions.
Chili: Reheat… I top with sour cream and cubes of cheddar cheese. Yum!
Here’s the recipe for “Best Salad Ever“: www.djfoodie.com/Greatest-Salad-Ever-Warm-Chicken-Bacon-Tomato-and-Balsamic
I can’t remember if you got the balsamic. After this, send me a list of things to gather for you and I’ll bring it with your meatloaf and curry…
Shrimp Avocado Salad: www.djfoodie.com/Shrimp-Avocado-Salad (you can tone this down with just tomatoes, salt, avocado, shrimp and pepper. A squeeze of lime would be good. All the rest of it will enhance and make it taste better/richer, but isn’t really required)
BBQ Chicken Salad: www.djfoodie.com/BBQ-Chicken-Salad
Chicken, Strawberry and Pecans: www.djfoodie.com/Spinach-Strawberry-Salad (just use your salad mix, instead of the spinach)
Broccoli-Cheddar Soup: www.djfoodie.com/Broccoli-Cheddar-Soup (make the base and save. Add the broccoli when you reheat and just let the broccoli simmer in it for about 9 to 10 minutes before eating. This way you always have nice fresh broccoli that doesn’t get all old and gray)
Ham Steak Pancakes: www.djfoodie.com/Ham-Pancake
Poorly Cooked Eggs: www.djfoodie.com/Poorly-Cooked-Eggs
Things I can/am willing to provide (for now):
Reduced Sugar Ketchup
Let me know which of these you need. I can’t remember what I sent you with, but… I suspect you need ALL of these.
Things you should grab at the store:
Ok… How’s it going so far? Are you enjoying it? Getting grumpy, yet? You staying faithful?
Let me know about the beach. 5-ish?
Also, let me know if you have any other questions. Happy to help!
How I Roll…
All of this super long blog post is intended to suggest that A LOT of food can be cooked in a day or two, but that it can also change lives. It takes a little bit of planning, as well as two clean and clear days devoted completely to cooking, but this is followed by 28 days of prepared food (we had over 40 days’ worth of food for 2 people [we split it all down the middle and I kept half]). Mix and match these refrigerated, chilled, dried, packaged, frozen meals, bits and pieces and toss together a periodic salad or have a bowl of sweetened plain, full fat Greek yoghurt and some sugar-free jam and you have a WONDERFUL and varied stack of options, all requiring no thought or stress to pull together.
28 days later, you can set aside another 2 days… or you can do what I do. When I have a window, usually once or twice a week, I make a big batch of something (or somethings), chill it down and freeze it. So, rather than setting aside 2 days, I just take an evening and cook up a big batch of pork soup, lasting for 4 meals and/or a massive batch of chili, lasting for 8 meals, etc. In one night, with 2 recipes, I can create 12 dinners… then put it in the bank!
How to Start…
No matter what your goal is, planning, preparing and organization will help it. I do think it needs acknowledged that planning and organization sucks for a great many people (look away, Type A’s!). Cooking for several weeks in a monster 1 to 2 day cook sounds awful. Bad back, bad knees, wonky feet, no time, no money, no substantial desire to do multiple mountains of dishes, sweeping is less fun than a pizza from Dominos, etc. I get it. I toooooooooootally get it.
HOWEVER!!! I also know how freeing and thoroughly liberating it is when done. It’s worth it. The juice is absolutely worth the squeeze.
It’s AMAZING to have several weeks’ worth of food, all set and ready to go. Heat and eat! And, because I stagger these meals with fresh food, a 30-day stash gets stretched out into 2 or 3 months! I cook when convenient, to restock. Heat and eat in a rush!
Suck it up. It’s worth it. Do it. Just do it.
For those wondering where to go or how to get started, take some ques from this blog post. Also, I can’t stress enough how helpful it can be to google things like “Low-Carb OAMC“, “Keto OAMC“, “Paleo OAMC” or get long-winded with things like “Low-Carb Ketogenic Once a Month Cooking“. Various searches will yield different results. Start collecing information and building out a meal plan. Buy the stuff. Cook it, chill it, pack it, save it… then savor it!
Step 1: Find a list of bulk friendly, easily stored recipes that sound perfect for you. The bigger the list, the better. Make sure you know how many servings each recipe makes, so you know how many meals to count and distribute over several days. Make sure there’s a variety of options without a lot of back-to-back duplication.
Step 2: Figure out how many days you want to cook for. Create a list, draw a grid, make a spreadsheet, etc. Somehow document your menu plan. It doesn’t need to be beautiful, but it does need to be thorough. Make sure each meal is accounted for and has a recipe title attached to it. Be sure to include things like snacks and desserts. I’m personally not a snacky dude, but I like knowing I’ve got desserts lying around. I enjoy one roughly 5 out of 7 nights. I always plan for 7, which leaves 2 to roll over into the following week. If you’re snacky, plan for snacks. Include them.
Step 3: Make a shopping list. Typically, I type mine, then email it to my phone, where I cross items off, as I shop. I’ll read a recipe and put the ingredients I need to buy in a list. If 3 different recipes need an onion, I update “1 onion” to “2 onions”, then “3 onions”, rather than having onions listed 3 times on the list. I find that limits the amount of running around I do looking for onions, thrice.
Step 4: Figure out when you’re going to cook. Schedule/invite a friend or three to help out. Be sure to think through the process. Not only do you need to cook, but you also need to shop for everything, put it away, pull it back out, cook it, then chill it all down, package it and freeze. Typically, any big cook takes me 3 days from start to finish. Realistically, this means shopping the night before, cooking all day the next day, then chilling everything overnight. Finally, I package everything the next morning. It’s all done in roughly 30 hours with one massively dedicated day.
Be aware, think through it, set aside the time and have the resources available to make it happen.
Step 5: Cook. Cook like the dickens. Make a list of projects. ALWAYS start with the big projects first. Cross projects off, as they’re completed.
If you have an 8-hour stew, put that on first. Don’t, however, plan 2 all-day slow-cooker recipes, if you only have one slow-cooker. Be aware of your limitations. Start with the big stuff and slowly drill to the small stuff. It would be terrible to spend the day cooking, then hit the bottom of the list and realize that you forgot to get the Brisket in the slow-cooker. Whoops!
Cook. Cook. Cook…. like the dickens.
Step 6: As you cook and finish your foods, cool or chill them. I cannot stress enough how important it is for your hot foods to be chilled THOROUGHLY before packaging and freezing.
- Cooked vegetables can be dropped in ice water, then removed, dried and packaged.
- Soups, stews and sauces can be put into ice baths (submerge the bottom of the pot in a large bowl or sink, filled with ice water). Stir the food, from time to time, to make sure it’s cooling evenly.
- Soups, stews and sauces can also poured into flat plans, so that they’re no more than an inch or two (2.5 to 5 cm) deep, but spread very wide. Place this, uncovered, in a refrigerator where it can chill quickly. If it’s thin, it will chill quickly. DO NOT place this under anything that might drip, especially raw meats or seafoods. Also, be aware that too many of these kinds of chilling projects can heat a refrigerator up, inhibiting the foods’ abilities to chill. It’ll also cause condensation and other issues. So, stagger your chilling projects. It’s not uncommon for me to have a bag of ice in a cooler, to help chill foods quickly, without overly taxing my refrigerator.
Mix and match your chilling methods, so that everything is chilled quickly and thoroughly, without taxing your refrigerator. The goal is to get any hot food under 39 °F or 6 °C in less than 4 hours.
In all cases, it is absolutely vital. Unequivocally important to know that foods need chilled quickly and thoroughly before they’re packaged. This helps to maintain the quality, while eliminating the possibility for bacteria growth. SUPER important stuff.
Step 7: Package. I typically package in 1 to 2 serving packages. I’m a big fan of weighing foods before I divide them, but that’s only because I hate to think that I get more food on one day or another. Yes, I get jealous of myself and my portion sizes. All portion sizes must be equal.
I cannot stress enough how much I love my vacuum pack machine. It’s kind of a pain in the tail, but the benefits far outweigh the cons. I can pull a batch a meatloaf out of the freezer and put it in the fridge and be confident it’ll last for a good week, without losing any quality. It prevents freezer burn. It also allows me to stack liquids in frozen sheets. It saves space!
Step 8: Stash! The bulk of my bulk cooks end up in the freezer. However, I’ll also make things like big frittatas. I’ll chill those down, portion and refrigerate. I’ll eat those first. I also have certain dried foods, which go into bags and are stashed in a basket on the counter, but most is just thrown into the freezer.
Step 9: Eat! Defrosting can be a bit of a pickle. I always have one meal in the fridge, ready to go. I like food to defrost over 12 to 24 hours, as it sits in the fridge. It’s a far more delicate way to defrost foods. In a hurry, I’ll use the defrost mode on the microwave, but mostly I just let a dinner or two bum around the fridge. I have little fear it’ll get eaten in time.
Step 10: See Step 1. It’s at this time that I like to weed out recipes I didn’t love, and roll in a new favorite. Also, as time moves forward, I just layer in a micro-bulk-cook. I also skip periodic freezer meals with fresh meals or nights on the town. I also make sure to include something fresh, daily… even if it’s just a handful of blueberries tossed in chia porridge, for lunch.
Here’s what my stash looks like…
The bulk of my stash is frozen. I freeze baked goods, ice cream, portioned meats, vegetables, popsicles, cooked meat products and various bases, sauces and hearty stewed-like dinners.
Here’s my freezer, today, unpacked (minus all the sausages, simply because I don’t know that they lend much to this discussion)…
I make a lot of ice cream. I’ve probably made a batch a week, for 6 or 7 years. I enjoy a little cup of it at the end of most days. Here you’re looking a range, like Blueberry-Almond, Pumpkin-Spice, Apple Pie, Mint-Chocolate Chip, Rainier Cherry Yoghurt, Salty Chocolate, Brown Butter and a couple of Popsicles.
Here’s what happens when I run out of bags for my vacuum pack machine. Vacuum packing is a FAR better way to store foods, as it lasts longer and you can mostly avoid freezer burn. Foods will freeze like this, but they don’t last as long. In order of priority, these will be enjoyed first. I believe these are Sopa sin Tortilla, Chili Verde, Triple Chi, Tom Kha base and some blackberries.
Here are two photos of my vacuum-packed stash. Here you’re looking at Drunken Cabbage, Green Beans, Brussels Sprouts, Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf, Mushroom Meatballs, Beef Bourguignon, Pulled Pork, Banana Bread, Fauxaccia, Ground Beef Chili, Sautéed Mushrooms, Spaghetti Squash, Chicken Chowder Base, etc.
I know I also tend to buy large pieces of meat, such as whole sides of salmon or whole pork loins. I then butcher and vacuum pack single or double portions. I do the same thing with chickens. I also saw some ground beef poking around in there, as well as some heavy cream, a pork tenderloin, some shrimp and a few freezer sheets for my ice chest on big shopping days, in the summertime.
I pack A LOT of food into that little freezer door!
OK, so what to freeze?
Again, pretty much everything will freeze, but anything delicate might not survive the trip through the freezer. I typically freeze hearty vegetables, some fruits, baked goods and braised meats and heavily cooked stews and bases. Most anything “hearty” will survive. I view anything good in a slow-cooker as perfect for the freezer. Anything that >>> To be continued.
Next week, I’ll focus on freezing, freezer tips and more recipes. Stay tuned!
Finally, don’t forget that I’m running a pre-sale on my brand new book! A grain-free, sugar-free quick bread guide.
The reviews are starting to come in. Here’s one from Dixie Vogel ~ Low Carb Zen
An Easy Guide to Grain-Free Quick Breads
Taking Out the Carbage
AKA The Big Book of Bacon
……… Aaaaaaand Next Week!
Freezer Tips and Meals!
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