With my life having been crazy busy and hectic, I've been discovering just how many of the frugal measures I've been doing until now require time and energy that I don't have, at least not every day. But that doesn't mean we can afford to just ditch being frugal now- not at all.
The tough part is figuring out how to do the frugal stuff in as little time and with as little energy outlay as possible.
I wrote a post recently about quick and easy frugal suppers. But sometimes you need to do more than that. Sometimes you need to spend an effort to be frugal, but streamlining your efforts so that you aren't wasting time doing unnecessary things is very important.
Henry Ford revolutionized the automotive industry and the world in general by using the assembly line to manufacture cars en masse.
Using an assembly line to make large batches of whatever it is you're making is much more time efficient and allows you to be much more frugal than making smaller, individual batches as needed.
See, the thing is- if you are short on time, its very tempting to do only the bare minimum, so it'll take as little time as possible. Whatever is fastest works, right?
But the thing is- sometimes spending a little more time at once saves you so much time and so much money at the end of the day.
I had heard about the concept of freezer cooking, or once a month cooking already a while ago- menu planning for the month and cooking entirely for the freezer, so that each night you defrost something you already made and serve it. It never really appealed to me, for many reasons.
First of all, my freezer isn't big enough for a month's worth of meals.
Secondly, I buy food and get food (free and foraged) throughout the month and would need to be able to use those things, not just what is in my freezer.
Third- my freezer usually ends up being a black hole where things that enter end up getting sucked in and only found when spring cleaning the next year.
Fourth- I really prefer my food fresh, and don't enjoy defrosted, reheated food.
Fifth- there are some foods that their texture changes once frozen, and I vastly prefer the unfrozen texture. (Potatoes and carrots are two of those.)
In short, once a month cooking isn't for me.
But if I could apply some of the concepts to give myself some of the same benefits, even if not exactly doing once a month cooking, it would save me time and money.
Doing everything at one go might seem counter productive, because you are doing the same work each time- what is the difference between baking one cake many times, or many cakes one time?
The answer is- prep work and clean up.
Some of the hardest things for me are cleaning up, both before and after cooking. My dining room table and counter are usually covered, and my sinks are typically filled with dishes. Some foods I can cook just by clearing off a small portion of the counter and we can eat at the table by pushing some stuff to the side, but there are other, messier foods that I need a dining room table entirely cleaned or a kitchen counter entirely cleaned before I can do them. Not to mention all the dishes that get dirty because of my cooking.
Streamlining my food prep and doing it in bulk, even if only partially bulk, saves time, because instead of needing to clean the table/counter/dishes each time I want to make those foods, I only have to do it once.
This point really hit home when I needed to grind flour the other day.
I really am happy with my grain grinder- as a gluten free household, making my own flours instead of buying them ready made saves me so much money- I can make my own flours for a fraction of the price of what they cost in the store, and having all these flours allows me to make our own snacks and meal items instead of relying on ready made stuff like bought cereal, rice cakes, etc...
But each time I run out of flour, I dread making more flour. Because flour flies everywhere when I grind it, and it coats the work surface. I can only make flour once the table or counter is cleared entirely first, and then I have to clean up the mess it makes afterward. So I just keep pushing off and pushing off grinding flour.
The other day when I made flour, I thought- why not just do mass quantities at once, so that I don't have to go through this clean up every single time? And so I did. I made double or triple the amount of flour I usually do. And the flour will last that much longer. And it really was barely any more work.
So I decided to try that with pasta making.
I make homemade pasta with my pasta maker. Again, that takes work to mix it, and I need to clear the table entirely first, and then make it, and then clean the mess afterward. I wanted to see how much extra work it would be to make "mass quantities" of pasta instead of a single batch.
So I quadrupled my pasta dough recipe.
I did it assembly line style- first I rolled out each piece of pasta through the pasta maker, rolling them to the desired thickness.
Once I did all that, I ran all those sheets through the pasta maker to cut them into spaghetti or linguini, and set them to dry. (Yes, I used the back of my chair for that. Next time I need to make more pasta drying racks to make it even better.)
And after cooking a pasta meal, here's how much I have left- enough for at least 2 or three more meals. Perfect for when I'm in a rush.
And since they're dry, they don't need to be frozen- just use as is when I want a quick meal.
I decided then to bulk bake muffins. I'll be honest- I do prefer freshly baked muffins and do not always like defrosted muffins or cakes, etc... but at the same time, its best to have these available in the freezer, to use when I need a quick snack or a breakfast or something, and not need to bake them as needed. So I made 48 muffins today- 24 buckwheat lemon and 24 buckwheat banana coconut (both vegan, gluten free, and refined sugar free) and put them in the freezer to use as needed.
I now have a ton of extra food to use in my house for a later date.
Another thing I like to bulk prepare is soak 3 or 4 types of beans/legumes at once, cook them, and then freeze them in small quantities, typically a cup or two, to defrost and use as needed for a quick legume dish, instead of opening a can. At the moment I have 4.5 pounds of white beans soaking, 3 pounds of chickpeas, and 2 pounds of mung beans.
I'm still working out the details of what exactly I can do in bulk to save time and money, and yet not compromise on the taste/enjoyment of my food, but this is progress...
But I will certainly be trying to do more of this assembly line food prep. Because it makes life easier while not costing extra. Who doesn't like making things easier for themselves?
Do you do once a month cooking, or any other type of assembly line food prep? Do you have any other suggestions for me of things to prep assembly line style?