By Elizabeth Scholes
About two years ago a friend invited me to attend a freezer meal workshop with her. We received grocery lists, bought ingredients, prepped them and then met to assemble meals. The result was 10 delicious meals to take home to our freezer. My family enjoyed them and I enjoyed the ease of having something to pull out for dinner. The only drawback was that it was time consuming (about 3 hours plus prep work done at home) and difficult to have enough space for everyone to assemble their meals (since none of us just happen to operate in an industrial sized kitchen). That same friend and I got to talking a few months later about how we could achieve the same result – meals in our freezer – but bypass those challenges. We came up with the idea to form a freezer meal exchange group. We asked another friend to join us and she gladly accepted. We’ve exchanged meals several times since then and all of us are still so pleased with the meals we receive and the little effort it takes to accomplish.
Here’s how we do it:
– Every 6-8 weeks we select a weekend that works for all of us to exchange. Since we happen to see each other frequently, the exchange isn’t hard to plan, but I’ve heard of people selecting a day and time to meet at someone’s home or even a parking lot for just a few minutes. You could also plan to have a fun coffee date and chat during the exchange but that’s not necessary.
– We each choose two meals we will make and multiply the recipe by three (one for our own family and one for each of the other participants). We run ideas for these meals by each other to make sure they’re likable and also to be sure we have variety. For example, this last weekend, between the three of us, we had lasagna, breaded pork cutlets, beef stew, chicken and wild rice soup, chicken parmesan and chicken pot pie.
– We know each other’s preferences and respect them. Our husbands (and kids sometimes) also weigh in to let us know what meals were successes and which were not. We have one family in our group who doesn’t eat mushrooms, so for a stir fry recently, the preparer left out mushrooms from that family’s meal.
– We use disposable pans or freezer safe Ziplocs, depending on the type of food. This ensures none of us have to be responsible to get pans back to each other. You could, however, all agree to purchase extra pyrex dishes or freezer proof plastic containers and return to use for future meals.
– We label everything clearly with name of dish and cooking instructions.
– We generally only expect to receive the main dish. We know each of us will fill in our own sides. Occasionally someone will throw in rolls with a soup, or mashed potatoes with a roast and that’s always a nice treat.
– Some meals are one dish to freeze. Others might take multiple containers and steps (i.e.: stir fry might contain a bag of veggies and meat, bag of sauce, bag of uncooked rice or a container or spaghetti and meatballs with a box of spaghetti noodles).
That’s pretty much it. I can usually knock out my meals in a couple of hours or less, depending on what I’m making that day. Obviously these meals don’t replace regular daily cooking, but after walking away with six freezer meals, we have about one meal a week for the length of time between exchanges. It’s also easy for our husbands to pop in the meal if needed on a busy day. This reduces the number of times we have to eat out and reduces our grocery bill because most of the time multiplying a recipe costs less than making six totally different meals.
The best part is you can cater this to your needs. You could exchange with just one other person or have up to 4-6 people in the group depending on how much freezer space you have. Exchange once a month, or once a quarter or anywhere in between. It also helps to have a similar number of family members, or at least know that similar quantities will be eaten by everyone. I would suggest gathering your group and doing a trial exchange (or two) so there’s no long term commitment if it doesn’t work out well for everyone.
The sky is the limit! I hope you’ll try it!
NOTE: In case you were wondering, we are by no means the first people to form a group like this. We found a lot of helpful tips and recipes from at: 70+ Healthy Freezer Meal Recipes | Thriving Home
(Not sure what you can freeze? Check out this article by Elizabeth to find out what items freeze well. You can read it here.)