Organizing your own freezer meal swap

by Emily from Frugal Living NW on February 10, 2011

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Freezer meals are a handy way to get dinner on the table in a hurry. They designed for those days when a meeting runs late or you need to deliver a last-minute dinner to a friend or you have zero desire to pull out a pot at 5 o’clock.

I’ve used several different methods for big batch freezer meal cooking. Some involved doubling and freezing one recipe at a time as I made dinner. Others required spending a whole day in the kitchen with 1-3 other people and divvying up the dinners at the end. Each one worked well for different reasons at different times. These days, I usually just stash a meal in the freezer when I have the time or the desire.

If you’re tired of the same ol’, same ol’ when it comes to making dinner, this might be a fresh idea for you: meal swaps.

Last July, my sisters and I were hanging out on my deck, talking and flipping through magazines. I stumbled across an article on meal swaps in an old issue of Real Simple. I immediately turned to my sister Gretchen and told her, “You should try this!”

Because that is what sisters are for, right? We discover something new and exciting and say to our sibling, “Here, you do it first. If it is successful, I will try next.” It could be jumping off the slide or dyeing one’s hair an unfortunate shade of red or… trading dinners with friends.

Gretchen, always up for a new cooking challenge, agreed. She went home, shared the idea with two of her girlfriends, and a new meal swap group was born.

Basic Idea:

  1. Gather a group of several other likeminded cooks to swap dinners once a week/month. You want people who have similar diets, budgets, food preferences, family sizes, etc. It’s also helpful to have a group who is comfortable together and not afraid to be honest with eachother.
  2. Make a plan & a schedule. You could meet together, use email or Facebook, or set up a Google calendar to arrange meals and schedule pick-up/drop-off times.
  3. Cook big-batch, freezer-friendly meals. Gretchen and her two friends swap meals every Monday afternoon. She spends Monday mornings, her day off, making one dinner for that night and a triple batch of one other meal (one to keep, two to trade). After one morning of work and one meal swap, she has four different dinners for Monday through Thursday. Most are freezer-friendly and can be saved for a later date.
  4. Invest in a shared set of dishes. Gretchen and her friends purchased inexpensive glass 9×13″ pans. It’s much easier to have a group set than trying to keep track of everyone’s individual dishes.
  5. Evaluate. Try it for several weeks, then get together for coffee to see how it’s going. You can use this time to tweak menus, times, or amounts. If you’re not comfortable saying, “My family wasn’t crazy about that rice casserole last week,” then use an anonymous survey instead.

Benefits:

  • One day of cooking = one week’s worth of meals
  • You get to try something new. Not only are you experimenting with different recipes, but you get to sample other food made by other people. Gretchen’s kids turn their noses up at her lasagna, but they devour her friend’s lasagna. Go figure.
  • You save time, money, and sanity while getting to know your friends better.

Resources:

Recipes & Ideas:

  • Apricot Chicken and Sour Cherry Pork Loin Chops (two favorites from Once a Month Cooking)
  • Enchiladas or Lasagnas or Rice & Chicken Casseroles
  • Chili or Soup or Stew (What Foods Don’t Freeze well)
  • Ham & Cheese Roll-Ups: Roll out bread dough (homemade or store bought) into a rectangle. Cover with chopped ham and shredded cheese. Roll up and freeze. Thaw and bake at 375.
  • Freezer-Friendly Recipes

This idea might not have a long life-span, as families and schedules change, but it could be a fun way to mix things up for a few weeks or months.

If you came up with 101 reasons why this freezer meal method would not work, then it’s probably not a good fit for you. If it sounds interesting, tweak it to fit your needs, call some friends, and give it a shot. Give it a few weeks to take and then evaluate it. If it works, you could have a week’s worth of meals for very little effort. If it doesn’t, scratch it and go back to your old method.

Or you could always call your sister and tell her to try it first…

Leave a comment! Have you ever been involved in a meal swap? What is your favorite method for stocking up on freezer meals? What is your favorite freezer-friendly meal (besides ice cream)?

This post may contain affiliate links. See the disclosure policy for more information.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jackie Brown August 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Hi all,
I’m planning a meal swap too and I’d love to have your input and recipes. Beginning next week, I’m hosting freezer-friendly meals every week to foster meal ideas. Will you link up? I cook for my family while serving the poor and needy in our community at http://www.momonamission.me I can’t wait to read about your ideas. This post is excellent!

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Carla M February 10, 2011 at 9:57 pm

This is my favorite blog for freezer meals.

http://freezerfriendz.blogspot.com/

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Bre February 10, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I LOVE this post, this is something that I’ve really wanted to do for a while now, and this has just given me the motivation to get it started!!!

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Melody February 10, 2011 at 1:40 pm

I’ve been really wanting to start something like this, I have a few totally like-minded friends with similar family sizes. Thanks for the kick in the you-know-what. :)

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Katie Nunes February 10, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Beef stroganoff is really easy to make a double batch of. I usually do this and then freeze the other half in easily defrostable portions. Then, all you have to do is make noodles and dinner is ready!

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AnnMarie February 10, 2011 at 1:08 pm

I have a group of friends that do a freezer swap in the West Linn/Lake Oswego area. We’ve had a couple people drop out and are hoping to find a couple more soon. My 2 favorites that I’ve made are a Mexican Gumbo and Mirabella Chicken. The Mexican Gumbo is a take off of the Tortilla Soup recipe (I believe that is what it was called) in your E-book for using Chicken.

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Rebecca B February 10, 2011 at 11:46 am

I did this a couple years ago with about 6-8 friends from church. We swapped monthly for about 8 or 9 months, then it died off when I got busy. We had great success! There were some really good cooks in the group, and only a couple flops. My favorite meals were lasagna, sweet & sour chicken and fried rice, meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes, chicken pot pie, and a chicken/rice casserole. We just said it had to be a 9×13 size, either be a casserole or meat and side, and no tater tots. :) We had a working single mom of teens who was going to school, had very little time to cook, and who absolutely loved the convenience. Most of the kids involved ate everything because we could say “Jack’s mom made this! Jack loves it!” It was a lot of fun. I’ve moved and stopped eating meat since then, but I do miss it!

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Vanessa Beckett February 10, 2011 at 11:25 am

Thanks for listing my meal swap blog under resources!

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Mom of 9 February 10, 2011 at 10:28 am

Our church group got together and put together a double batch of meals for some mommies-to-be. We had a blast and the new moms had a good dinner in reserve.

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Krista S. February 10, 2011 at 10:22 am

I love my Freezer Dinners . . . I wrote a post for you ladies back in August 2010 about my system of freezer meals . . . check it out here!

http://www.frugallivingnw.com/tips-tricks/guest-post-freezer-dinners/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+FrugalLivingNW+%28Frugal+Living+NW%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

Thanks for all you do to help my family!! You are appreciated today :)

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