12 March 2012

Start a dinner club to share making freezer meals

Amazon: Glad SimplyCooking OvenWare 8x8, 3-Count Packages (Pack of 6)In her comment on our freezer organization post, Christine mentioned she organizes a monthly dinner club devoted to swapping freezer meals. How could I possibly let this go uninvestigated?

I emailed Christine, and she was kind enough to reply with the details of how her freezer meal club works:

Our "Cook & Freeze Among Friends" dinner club meets once a month on a Saturday at noon. We prepare and freeze meals at home in aluminum pans, and then we meet to swap meals. Everyone who participates each month goes home with that many meals to store in their freezers.

You don't have to participate every month...so it works out great! I coordinate the club using a Facebook group. We figure out how many people are participating each month. That determines the number of meals each of us needs to make. For example, if five people are going to participate, you make five servings of your meal (that includes one for you). You then freeze it so it will keep well and be easy to transport.

We accomodate different families' food preferences and allergies, so that helps us narrow down what to cook.

We then decide the swap date by majority vote. We usually meet at a member's house, but if everyone's busy, we've also just met at a park or in a parking lot. I love this group!

I'm totally fascinated by the creative ways people collaborate on the work of running a household. Brings to mind quilting bees and barn-raisings.

Too often we feel we must tough it out by ourselves. We think we should be able to handle it all, or that we'll inconvenience others by proposing shared work, or that the planning itself is too much work.

But consider the benefits here, beyond the stocked freezer:

  • A tangible way to help others
  • An opportunity to introduce your family to new meals
  • A money-saver when compared to take-out
  • A chance to be social with actual grown-ups!
  • A time-saver (making five pans of the same meal takes WAY less time than making five different meals)
  • A sanity-saver (meals in the freezer is like money in the bank)
  • A community-builder

I can't think of anyone who wouldn't want to be a part of that.

I'm inspired to think of other ways domestic jobs can be distributed among families, for the benefit of all.

Are you part of a dinner club, or some other job-sharing group? Tell us about it!

A practical aside: Christine buys lidded foil baking pans in bulk at a restaurant supply store for about $.30 each. But for smaller-scale cooking and freezing, I've had good luck with Glad disposable ovenware. It's sturdy, reusable, and readily available at the grocery store. If you keep your eyes open for coupons and sales, you can stock up relatively cheaply.

More: Hacks for meal planning and freezer cooking

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Two of my friends and I meet every few months with our kids for a play date/meal prep. We each bring ingredients and recipes to make 3 meals for 3 families that are freezable. We each go home with a cooler full of 9 meals that we can freeze and then heat and eat or thaw and cook in the crock pot.

This is no small undertaking. It does take a few hours, which is why I think we do it less often than we should. But it is fun to cook with friends and the kids get to play. The meals save us time in the long run, and we try new meals that we might not have normally tried! Some of my favorite family staples have come from this meal exchange.

Hi Asha,
We're in a couples only (meaning without kids)dinner group that meets every other month for socializing. It's a pot-luck dinner with host/hostess serving a main dish (and choosing a menu) and other members bring salad, appetizer and dessert. It's very fun - and frugal!
Our dinner group also meets occasionally to make food together. We recently made dumplings and all went home with 5 dinners of dumplings. They were tasty and different from our regular cooking. I also meet annually with a group of friends to make pesto which is frozen and enjoyed for the year.
I'd love to be in regular food prep group - hint hint:)

This sounds wonderful!

Homemade frozen food is such an asset. When we got home from a week at the children's hospital, our friends from church had prepared *weeks* worth of frozen meals for our family. It's a relief to have delicious, wholesome food during a time when we'd normally be eating nondescript carry-out.

I'm going to have to give a club some serious thought in the future.

I'm in two! I liked the one in my the town where I grew up (about 90 minutes away) so much that I started another one in my hometown!

I just went yesterday, and I ended up with beef for tostadas, some sort of chicken/vegetable/rice soup, a beef roast, marinated chicken, shepherd's pie... We had four participants and we each made two meals, so I came away with 8 dinners.

The trick is remembering to get something out the night before and thaw it!

We use a Google spreadsheet to figure out a cost per meal for each entree, then we figure out what the total of the meals cost (so the average cost of one of each meal added together). Then we subtract what we spent from that amount, and end up with the amount owed to the group or owed to the individual. One person plays "banker" and writes checks to the others (or takes their checks). That way if someone makes something vegetarian (cheap) and someone else makes filet mignon, no one gets cheated - everyone pays the same amount by the time the groceries they bought for their meals and the checks are all sorted out.

I'm planning a post about the specifics of how our group works. When I get around to writing it, I'll link back to it.

i'm a member of an awesome mother's group. i host recipe swap once a month. everyone brings copies of a healthy recipe to share. we vote on our favorite recipe, everyone returns the following week, we cook it together, and we enjoy a yummy meal.

it's a great way to pick up new cooking tricks from one another. the best part is it makes feeding a family less of challenge.

we're thinking about switching it up so everyone can go home with a family dinner to throw in the freezer.

It's not a food prep group - but one of my friends and I swap 'chores' kind of. We usually plan something for every other week in the summer. 3 - 4 hours at her place and then 3 - 4 hours at my place. The kids mostly keep each other entertained (though, that's part of the help that the visiting friend gives.. child minding) but if the kids are self sufficient, we can lend a hand getting a particularly big chore out of the way. Closet cleaning, cupboard reorganization, small repairs, etc. Something that benefits from an extra pair of hands around or some quiet time to focus on the job without the kids interrupting. And the task is loads more fun with someone to talk to.

This is absolutely brilliant! I'm a part of a dinner club that meets once per month, and we've done holiday cookie swaps before that follow the same procedure you're suggesting, but we never thought to do this for prepared meals. Can't wait to bring this idea to my group of gals. It's going to make our lives so much easier, especially now that we are all starting families and have very little time to cook. Thanks for sharing!

YES! I am part of a freezer meal group. It has been sooo life changing. We create ready-to-cook meals, and package everything in Ziploc freezer bags so that we can fit a month's worth of food in our freezers... I even write a blog about it! http://blog.dinnerthismonth.com, and we just started a SERVICE that helps other groups get started.

Www.crowdkitchen.com

We have a tool for planning frozen dinner swaps, plus our main site offers a similar meal sharing concept!

I'm in two! I liked the one in my the town where I grew up (about 90 minutes away) so much that I started another one in my hometown!

I just went yesterday, and I ended up with beef for tostadas, some sort of chicken/vegetable/rice soup, a beef roast, marinated chicken, shepherd's pie... We had four participants and we each made two meals, so I came away with 8 dinners.

The trick is remembering to get something out the night before and thaw it!

We use a Google spreadsheet to figure out a cost per meal for each entree, then we figure out what the total of the meals cost (so the average cost of one of each meal added together). Then we subtract what we spent from that amount, and end up with the amount owed to the group or owed to the individual. One person plays "banker" and writes checks to the others (or takes their checks). That way if someone makes something vegetarian (cheap) and someone else makes filet mignon, no one gets cheated - everyone pays the same amount by the time the groceries they bought for their meals and the checks are all sorted out.

I'm planning a post about the specifics of how our group works. When I get around to writing it, I'll link back to it.

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