Tips for Setting up a Freezer Meal Exchange Group

Have you ever heard of a Freezer Meal Exchange Group? I had heard of them before, and once swapped a few meals with a friend, but until last month, I had never been part of one.

A freezer meal exchange group is exactly what it sounds like! A group of people agree to make a pre-determined number of freezer meals, and then the group gets together to swap the meals. The idea is that making a bunch of the same dish at the same time can save both money and time!

I’ve been part of a Freezer Meal Exchange for two months now. Last month, I made 10 dishes of Lemon Chicken Farfalle with Broccoli. In exchange for my dish, I got Black Bean Lasagna, Baked Spaghetti, Balsamic Chicken, Chicken Lasagna, Meat Balls, Chicken Divine and a few other meals I can’t remember… 😉 It took me about four hours to make all 10 pasta dishes last month. And we ate it for supper that night too.

This month, I made 10 dishes of Chicken Oreganato and today in exchange for my chicken, I brought home a meal of Sloppy Joes, two meals of Breakfast Burritos (one with homemade sausage!), Chicken Fajitas, Spasagna, Homemade Chicken Pot Pie, Mac & Cheese with Ham, and Teriyaki Chicken for the Crockpot. It took me only 2 hours to make the chicken for this month’s exchange because I didn’t have to cook anything! And my cost was minimal for both dishes because I made use of my extensive pantry and garden produce.

If you’d like to start your own Freezer Meal Exchange Group, here are some tips to get you thinking!

1. Find interested people! I found my group on Facebook. I’m part of a local Crunchy Moms Group and jumped at the chance when someone posted about it three months ago. Other places you might look: MOPS, a church group, La Leche League, co-workers, or any other organization you might belong to.

tips for freezer meal exchange groups

2. If you gather a group outside of Facebook, I highly recommend starting a FB group with all potential members. It’s a very easy way to share potential recipes, talk about food allergies, share good deals, ask questions, and coordinate a meeting spot.

3. Once you have a group, set a date and a swap interval. Our first swap happened about 3-4 weeks from initial contact. That was time to find recipes, share recipes, cook, and meet up. So far, we have swapped meals two times. We’ve had about the same number of participants each time, but not all of the same people. It’s great to be flexible. A couple of the moms from the first swap had babies and weren’t interested in cooking a huge amount of meals and the timing isn’t always convenient for everyone involved.

4. Discuss ingredients. Make sure you find a like-minded group of people. One downfall to a freezer meal group is you lose some control over ingredients. You’ll want to consider trade-offs and make sure you’ll get food you’ll eat. Can there be meatless meals? What about canned cream of soups? Local meat? Hashing out the details ahead of time can save frustration later on.

freezer meals

5. Carefully choose your recipe! Consider ingredients you already have on hand and any produce that may be growing in your garden. Think about how much time it’s going to take to make the recipe and how much all of the ingredients are going to cost. It might be a good idea to buy in bulk to save money on ingredients so think about what you can get in bulk. You might want to discuss cost with your group to make sure meals cost a similar amount of money. Or, you might not care about that!

6. Make room in your freezer! Space is important if you’re storing a bunch of pre-made meals. You’ll want to make sure there’s room for all of the meals you make, knowing they will be replaced with everyone else’s meals.

7. Carve out a block of time to make the recipe and get cooking! Although it does save time to cook 10 identical meals at the same time, it still takes longer than you might think. So make sure you have plenty of time to get your meals made before the swap.

8. Meet up and exchange! If you don’t know the group that well, it might be helpful to have phone numbers in case someone is delayed or gets lost. We had that happen today and one person missed out because we didn’t know how to get a hold of her.

It’s also beneficial to have some order to the exchange so that everyone gets what they’re supposed to have. It can be quite the chaos with 10 moms and kids running around trading meals! Two of my meals accidentally went home with the same person today and I couldn’t quite figure out where my last meal went until after the fact. I swore I could count to 10 and that I made and brought 10 meals. But until I got home and posted on FB, I wasn’t sure what happened to that last meal. So it’s a good idea to double check everything too, before driving off.

9. Enjoy meals you didn’t have to cook when you’re busy and need a quick meal! These meals have saved my family from take-out pizza a few times now. I really enjoy the freezer meal exchange and am convinced we’re eating better and saving money in the long run. Plus, my kids get exposure to new foods.

Pros to Freezer Meal Exchange Groups

  • Save money buying ingredients in bulk
  • Save time cooking a huge portion of the same meal
  • Try meals you might not otherwise try
  • Make new friends

Cons to Freezer Meal Exchange Groups

  • Less control over ingredients
  • Might not like the meal {but that’s the case anytime you try a new recipe}
  • There’s a significant amount of waste involved in all of the foil pans that I just don’t like. I’d love to figure out a way to reduce the waste!

Need recipe ideas? Here are some of my favs ~

 What do you think? Have you ever participated in a Freezer Meal Exchange? Do you have any tips I left off? I’d love to hear!!

Linking up: Frugal Tuesday; Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways; Frugal Friday; Monday Barn Hop;

Thanksgiving Menu

 

I realized a couple of days ago that Thanksgiving is next week already. I’ve been in living in cave for the last couple of weeks since my daughter’s surgery. Fortunately, some lovely friends came over today for a delightful afternoon and I’m feeling a little more inspired to tackle life! I finally decided it’s time to start thinking about the Thanksgiving menu.

This year marks a new adventure in Thanksgiving meals for our extended family. In previous years, we’ve either been far away from all family and have enjoyed lovely meals with military friends, or I’ve hosted one or both sets of parents (pre-kids). Since we moved to Iowa in 2006, though, we’ve always had Thanksgiving at my husband’s Grandpa and Step-Grandma’s house. His grandpa died last year, however, and his Step-Grandma isn’t able to host the enormous group that the two families were in her new apartment. So we won’t have the big extended Thanksgiving we’ve had for the last 5 years.

Instead, we’re enjoying Thanksgiving at my Mother-in-Law’s house. We’ll have my daughter in a spica cast and her 10-year-old cousin who has hip dysplasia surgery on both hips tomorrow and will be in a wheelchair. Sara is in fine spirits after her surgery and I hope her cousin will be doing well by next week, too.

None of that has anything to do with my Thanksgiving Menu, I guess, but I felt like writing it! 🙂 I won’t be making all of these dishes this year, but this is my standard Thanksgiving fare when I am in charge of the meal. I’ll be sharing some of the recipes in the next few days:

World’s Best Turkey
World’s Easiest Crock Pot Ham
Streuseled Sweet Potato Casserole
Rosemary, Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Grandma’s Best Three Bread Stuffing
Mandarin Orange and Almond Salad
Whole Grain Artisan Bread
Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Parmesan Cheese
Cranberry & Orange Relish
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Real Whipped Cream
Apple Pie with Homemade Ice Cream

What do you eat for Thanksgiving? I’d love to know! I’m linking up to Simple Lives Thursday, Real Food Wednesday, and

February Meal Plan

It’s been such a crazy couple of weeks. Between the blizzard and the move, things have been just a little hectic around here. Combine those two things with no pre-made meals in my freezer, thanks to my Eat from the Freezer/Pantry Challenge, and meals have been a little sketchy lately.

February Meal Plan

I finally sat down to get a handle on meals for the rest of the month and here’s what I came up with

February Meal Plan

Feb 13 – Shredded pork burritos on homemade tortillas, guacamole, beans
Feb 14 – Steak, twice bakes potatoes, cauliflower & salad, special Valentine’s dessert
Feb 15 – Chicken Florentine crockpot lasagna, crusty bread, salad
Feb 16 – Fried potatoes & ham, glazed carrots, cauliflower
Feb 17 – Beans & ham, homemade cornbread
Feb 18 – Bean burritos, Mexican fried rice
Feb 19 – mini vacay to Ikea…
Feb 20 – meals out
Feb 21 – BBQ pork sandwiches, potato salad
Feb 22 – Beef & barley soup, crusty bread, salad
Feb 23 – Cheese Quesadillas, Mexican corn & black bean salad
Feb 24 – Homemade Pizza & salad
Feb 25 – Crockpot chicken, rice & gravy, veggies
Feb 27 – Spaghetti with red sauce
Feb 28 – Pork roast, mashed potato, veggies

Since my freezer’s pretty empty of quick meal components, I will be doing a version of freezer cooking. I plan to make scone and muffin packets, beans, tortilla dough, and I’m going to try my hand at freezer mashed potatoes in a couple of weeks too.

So, I need a good idea for a special Valentine’s dessert tomorrow. Any ideas? 🙂