Inside: Everything you need to know about starting a freezer meal swap group. Reduce “what’s for dinner?” stress and have fun with your friends and neighbors.
It’s a weeknight. You’re tired and frazzled. Your people are hangry.
And you have no idea what’s for dinner.
You’re ready to hit speed-dial and order take-out, but then you remember the casserole tucked in the corner of your freezer.
You slide it into the oven, flop onto the couch, and give thanks to three-weeks-ago-you for squirreling that sucker away.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of safety net every week?
Meet the freezer meal swap!
Several years ago, a neighbor invited me to join a freezer meal swap group. How it worked: We each made two dinner recipes for every person in the group. Every month, we got together to socialize and swap dinners. And everyone went home with a cooler full of homemade freezer meals.
It was a great way to meet more moms in my neighborhood and broaden our family dinner rotation.
It also demolished my dinnertime stress–because two nights a week, I could pull out a homemade meal to reheat while I prepped a few simple side dishes. Suddenly meal planning became a whole lot easier.
Sound like music to your ears? Want to form your own group? Here are my best tips for a successful meal swap group.
Organize your meal swap group
Gather your group: An ideal group size is 4-5 members for your freezer meal swap. More than that, and it’s tricky to prepare so many meals at once. (And always agree to consult your whole group before inviting other people to join.)
Be sure your cooking styles and tastes align too. What are your family’s favorite recipes? Do people in the group have similar tastes? Do your group members like basic meat-and-potatoes meals–or more elaborate dinners that might require trips to specialty markets for ingredients?
Work out the details: Figure out the number of meals you’re going to trade. You could start by everyone cooking one meal for each person, and increase to two if that’s doable.
Talk to your fellow swappers about preferences and any special dietary needs. Any allergies, intolerances, or other other dietary restrictions? Any ingredients families don’t like? Are organic ingredients important to group members?
Decide on recipes: Plan for a variety of meals and a balance between dinners like soups, casseroles, main dish meats, and meatless recipes. It might go without saying, but avoid trying a brand new recipe for the swap. Test it at home first to make sure it works and tastes good.
Set a swap date: We met every six weeks, which gave enough time for everyone to use their meals between swaps and not get a backlog of items in their freezer.
Make & pack your swap meals
Don’t forget about yourself: When you’re cooking recipes for swap members, be sure to make enough for your family too!
Pack them up: We packaged our meals in disposables like a freezer bag (pressed flat, to save space) for dishes like soups and spaghetti sauce. Disposable baking trays are ideal for lasagna, casseroles, and enchiladas. But your group could also invest in reusable containers (glass or plastic) for the swap, or you could return containers to each other every month.
For disposable packaging, write the date and cooking/reheating instructions right on the bag or foil with a Sharpie. Or you can keep a group Google Doc or other digital file to share, so you can always access the instructions.
Add up your costs: Calculate how much money you spent on your meals, including the portion you made for your own freezer. Include any money spent on items like freezer bags or containers. We didn’t count some things, like a few teaspoons of salt, drizzle of oil, or a couple cloves of garlic. But consider adding a small amount (like $1.00) to your total if you use a lot of your spices, for instance.
Exchange freezer meals
Use a cooler: On the day of the swap, bring your meals packed in a cooler or insulated bag so they stay cold and frozen.
Settle up: Bring a tally of how much you spent on your meals. Compare costs and find the average (download this free cost sheet for a how-to), then settle up so it’s even–cash, Venmo, whatever is easiest for the group.
Keep track: It’s helpful to designate someone in the group to be a sort of “club manager” and keep a record (paper or digital) of the different meals made, which ones were hits/misses, and the average cost per meal. When the group is stumped on what to make for the coming month, you can look back and see what went over especially well.
Plan for next time: Set a date for the next swap and figure out which recipes you’ll make.
Take your meals home and get organized: Here are my best tips for organizing a bottom drawer freezer and organizing a chest freezer. And here’s a free freezer inventory printable you can use to keep track of your stash.
Meal swap group tips for success
- Be honest. If a swap meal wasn’t a hit, be sure it’s not repeated again.
- Keep your stock of swap group supplies separate. If the group pays for your box of freezer bags, for instance, only use them for group meals.
- Be flexible. The point of the group is to be a help, not a stress. So if somebody needs an extra few days to get their meals together, roll with it. If the group wants to go on hiatus during the holidays or other busy times, take a break and resume later.
- Keep in touch with members’ needs. For example, one person in our group wanted less food and another wanted more, so we made changes accordingly.
- Think outside the casserole: You don’t have to supply the entire meal. Making a key meal component is helpful too, such as taco meat, spaghetti sauce, or grilled chicken strips–which can be used in all kinds of different ways. Here are some ideas for this kind of batch cooking.
Freezer meal ideas
These were some of our favorite meals from the freezer meal swap group, plus more ideas: You might also like: 12 ALDI Freezer Meals (With Free Shopping Lists)
- Lentil soup (recipes makes two batches)
- Chicken taco soup
- Chicken chili
- Italian wedding soup
- Butternut squash soup
- Beef stew
- Chicken Tetrazzini
- Chicken pot pie
- Marinated pork tenderloin
- Pulled pork
- Sloppy Joes
- Taco meat (recipes makes four batches)
- Marinated chicken for the grill
- Cooked, shredded chicken
- Marinated steak or chicken kebabs
- Filling for Baked Turkey Tacos
- Homemade pizza dough & sauce
- Twice baked potatoes
- Spaghetti sauce (recipes makes two batches)
- Pizza Bread
- Beef & bean burritos
- Waffles or breakfast sandwiches (breakfast for dinner!)
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