Want to save tons of time on dinner prep? Grab your friends and some favorite recipes and start a freezer meal group. Here’s how!
A few months ago, I joined a freezer meal group with some moms in my neighborhood. Each member makes two dinner recipes for each person in the group, we get together and swap meals, and everyone goes home with a stockpile of homemade dinners for their freezers.
Three months in, and WOW! It’s made a huge difference in reducing my dinnertime stress. About two nights a week, I just pull something out to defrost and reheat while I prep a few simple sides.
Want to start your own freezer meal group? The moms in my group showed me the ropes and shared their best tips on having a successful swap:
Freezer Meal Group: How it Works
1. Agree on 1-2 recipes that each person will make. Plan for a variety of meats and a balance between meals like soups, casseroles, main dish meats, and meatless recipes.
2. Schedule your swap. We meet every six weeks, which gives enough time for everyone to use their meals between swaps and not get a backlog of items in their freezer.
3. Make your meals, package, and label them. An economical option is to use zip-top freezer bags (filled and pressed flat) with cooking instructions written on the front with a Sharpie. You can also use disposable bakeware from the store or dishes that you return to their owner when you’re done.
4. Calculate how much money you spent on your meals, including the portion you make for your own freezer. Include any money spent on items like freezer bags or containers. We don’t count some things, like a few teaspoons of salt or a couple cloves of garlic. But consider adding a small amount (like $.50-1.00) to your total if you use a lot of your spices, for instance.
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5. On the day of the swap, bring your meals, cooking instructions, the tally of how much you spent, and your checkbook or cash. Compare totals and find the average, then settle up so it’s even. Download this cost sheet for a how-to.
Freezer Meal Group: Tips for Success
- Aim for 4-5 members in your freezer meal co-op. Any more, and it’s tough to prepare so many meals at once. Agree to consult your group members before inviting other people into the co-op.
- Be sure your cooking styles and tastes align. Do your group members like basic meat-and-potatoes meals–or more elaborate dinners that might require trips to specialty markets for ingredients?
- Talk about preferences. Any allergies or intolerances? Any ingredients families don’t like? Are organic or GMO-free ingredients important to co-op members?
- Be honest. If a meal wasn’t a hit, be sure it’s not repeated again.
- Keep track. Have someone in the co-op keep a running list of the meals made, the biggest hits (and misses), and average totals.
- Keep your stock of co-op supplies separate. If the group pays for your box of freezer bags, for instance, only use them for co-op meals.
- Be flexible. The point of the co-op is to be a help, not a stress. So if somebody needs an extra few days to get their meals together, roll with it.
- Keep in touch with your group members’ needs. For example, one person in our co-op was wanting less food and another was wanting more, so we made changes accordingly.
Freezer Meal Group: Meals We’ve Made
Soups: Lentil, Chicken Taco, Chicken Chili, Italian Wedding
Casseroles: Chicken Tetrazinni, Lasagna, Enchiladas
Meats: Pork Tenderloin, Pulled Pork, Sloppy Joes, Fish for Tacos, Meatballs
Misc: Homemade Pizza Dough & Sauce, Twice Baked Potatoes
For more freezer meal ideas, check out the cookbook Fix, Freeze, Feast. All the recipes make enough food for multiple meals.