Freezer meals are a handy way to get dinner on the table in a hurry. They’re 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.
If you’re tired of the same ol’, same ol’ when it comes to making dinner, this might be a fresh idea for you: Freezer 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.
Gather a group of several other like-minded 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 each other.
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.
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. (Soup is a super easy option to double or triple, check out these Soup Swap ideas from Deena Prichep.)
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
This Once-A-Month Cooking cookbook gets great reviews and has great tips for using your freezer, cutting down on prep time, grouping kitchen tasks and more. There are several different variations of this particular cookbook, but you could also check your local library for freezer cooking or batch cooking options.
Looking for more?
Be sure to check out our Frugal Living NW Recipes page for tons of great freezer-friendly options, soups, casseroles and more.
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