North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

August 15, 2013

Better by the dozen: Bulk cooking saves time, money

by Andra Stefanoni
CNHI News Service

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Angela Martino-Lewis does not claim to be a good cook. But she acknowledges that she has mastered a technique that other busy teachers and parents might find valuable as they turn the calendar to begin another school year: Once-a-Month Cooking, also known as OAMC. (Go ahead, Google it -- it will be the first entry you find).

"Except I do it more often," Martino-Lewis said last week as she covered stacks of future meals and snacks with foil before putting them into her freezers.

Martino-Lewis, a reading teacher at Pittsburg Community Middle School in Kansas who cleans houses part time and has four children active in sports, began cooking in bulk two years ago as an organized way of feeding her family home-cooked meals that don't cost a lot.

Armed with coupons, savvy shopping skills -- such as when and where to buy certain groceries at their lowest prices -- and ample freezer space, Martino-Lewis spends a few weekends a month cooking and freezing her family's favorites.

"Then at any time I can pull it out of the freezer, or the kids can, and we have a meal or a snack," she said. "It saves time, saves money and keeps us from driving through a drive-through."

One recent Saturday she cranked out 11 pounds of meatballs, then prepped and froze several loaves of garlic bread.

"I always have packages of spaghetti on hand, which keeps for a long time in the pantry, so this is a very easy and inexpensive meal to make for six people," she said.

While her meatballs cooked, she used her bread machine to create nine pans of cinnamon rolls.

"When you're cooking bulk, you always want to have something else going on the side," she said. "These are handy to have on hand for breakfast, for school events, for all kinds of occasions."

She also prepared five Tater Tot casseroles, packing them in disposable foil casserole containers that she purchased at three for $1 at the Dollar Store. She secures a package of shredded cheese to the top of each one.

"You don't add that until part way through the cooking process, so I wanted to keep that separate but have it right with the casserole," she said.

Martino-Lewis found two recipes that are not only hits with her children, they also are foods the kids can grab from the freezer and heat on their own.

"Frozen fruit cups were a huge hit, and they're healthy. Another favorite was a recipe for pizza balls. I can make 100 at a time, the kids can help, and then they can heat them in the toaster oven themselves," she said.

She researched tips for bulk cooking online and watched YouTube videos before diving in. She also used trial and error.

"I figured out it's best to use pieces of cardboard between things when you stack them in the freezer," she said. "I also learned to freeze things on a cookie sheet -- like meatballs and the pizza balls -- before putting them in a Ziploc bag, or they stick together."

In the top of each freezer, inside a zip-close bag, she keeps a handwritten list of her inventory so she can keep track of future meals. As the family eats casseroles and other items, she adjusts the list.

"I guess this kind of cooking could be really handy for anyone -- if there's bad weather and you can't get out, or if someone is sick and you can't go shopping," she said. "I like it because that way we're always prepared. To me, cooking is about feeding the family, not being Julia Child."

Andra Stefanoni is a reporter for The Joplin Globe in Joplin, Mo.